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Saying that a movie starring Bill Murray is strange hardly seems a revelation, but "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is certainly out there in its own little universe. The obvious cinematic reference point for this 2004 film is 2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums," since Wes Anderson directed both of them, but this quirky film has a better payoff, although I would be hard pressed to argue out exactly how that is accomplished. Murray is the hook to get people to see this movie, but the rest of the fishing paraphernalia belongs to Anderson.
Steve Zissou (Murray) is either a parody of, or a homage to deep sea explorer Jacques Cousteau (it works either way but I lean towards the latter interpretation). Zissou has been making documentaries for decades, but now his star is in decline and to add insult to injury, his best friend is devoured by a "Jaguar Shark." This turns Zissou into Captain Ahab but before he can set sail on the good ship "Belafonte" (famous for his calypso singing, which, it turns out, was the name of Cousteau's own good ship), a couple of newcomers show up for the ride. Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), appears to be the son that Zissou never knew he had, and Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) is a journalist who is doing an article on Zissou and his quest. Zissou is smitten with Jane, who takes a fancy to Ned. Meanwhile Zissou's estranged wife, Eleanor (Angelica Huston), continues to be the brains behind Team Zissou, Klaus (Willem Dafoe) remains Zissou's right-hand man, Bill (Bud Cort) is along to count the money, and even rival Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) lends assistance, even if he does not know about it until it is too late to say "no."
Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") does the animation for all of the underwater sea life in glowing pastel colors, and that aspect of the film helps to clue us into the wry surrealism of its humor. The other big clue is that one of the crewmembers sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese. Oh, and then there is the fact that the there are scenes taking place on a cutaway version of the "Belafonte" that would also be a clue. The problem is that there are patches where you think we are supposed to be taking things more seriously than we are, especially when the title character emerges from his lethargy to try and do something about all the down spiraling in his life. Still, despite the steady sense of unease that afflicted me through most of the movie, I liked the ending of "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," both in terms of the underwater climax and the on shore resolution. Just do not ask me to show my work on how I came up with the rating.
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on August 31, 2007
This is a brilliant comedy. The problem is that the comedy is subtle, or relies on you paying attention to previous seemingly mundane scenes.

I can definitely see how some people would find this film boring. It's not the typical slapstick comedy that comes out every 4 months. The comedy in this flim relies mostly on portraying the ridiculous character of Steve Zissou and his equally oddball crew. You'll see Bill Murray delivering brilliantly witty lines, as well as a couple of memorable sight gags. You can't really rate the acting in this movie, since all the characters are over the top.

Typical comedy of this film...scenes are occasionally interluded with a guitar player strumming out tunes. It might take a few songs before you realize he's playing David Bowie songs in Portugese.
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Wes Anderson has had a sterling track record up until now: the hilarious "Bottle Rocket," pensive "Rushmore" and darkly funny "Royal Tenenbaums." With "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," he's not quite in top form. The movie is far from bad -- the cast is sterling, and Anderson's style is intact -- but it isn't quite as good as his past work.

Steve Zissou (Billy Murray) is a Jacques Cousteau-like marine biologist and explorer, who seems to be baffled by his own species. After the premiere of his newest documentary, Zissou informs the crowd that he intends to get revenge on the legendary Jaguar Shark that devoured his friend. Why? Revenge. So he starts cobbling together a new expedition.

Among the odd ducks who join the expedition are Ned (Owen Wilson) who believes Zissou is his father, a pregnant British journalist (Cate Blanchett) and an emotionally insecure German (Willem Dafoe). Ned and Zissou try to work out their odd relationship as their whimsical Moby Dick quest starts zoning in on the Jaguar Shark.

"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" has an intriguing beginning and a glorious finale. The middle just lacks a bit of the necessary meat -- it needs a bit more than a whimsical Ahab quest to keep it moving. But Anderson makes up for storytelling gaps, by using his unique style and the quirky talents of his actors. I didn't know Dafoe -- also known as the Green Goblin -- was so darn funny.

Actually, the whole idea of the movie is pretty intriguing -- Jacques Cousteau with Ahab's revenge thang. And Anderson takes his cinematic quirks and turns them on "high." Dancing fish, Porteguese covers of David Bowie, and pirate attacks take place, surrounded by colorful costumes and impossibly bright settings. The sea never looked so blue. And rarely has comedy been as dry and quirky.

And Anderson also fills the gaps with his unique way of conveying... well, the best term is deadpan emotion. It kicks off with "I'm going to go on an overnight drunk, and in 10 days I'm going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it," and proceeds with a mixture of comedy and pathos, lurking just under the surface. Nobody bursts into tears or howls with rage -- Anderson prefers to just let the actors take over their characters. The only problem with this is that sometimes he tries to cover the overstretched plot parts with it.

Bill Murray is at his best when he plays quirky, deadpan men, and he does an excellent job with Zissou. Zissou is, like Royal Tenenbaum, an aging child-man who is stubborn, insensitive, and very clueless. Somehow, possibly because of Murray's acting charm, he's likable. Wilson restrains his goofball comedy for a more poignant role, and the supporting cast -- especially the outstanding Dafoe and the wonderful Blanchett -- are also quite solid.

"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" suffers from too little plot in some places. But don't forget, Wes Anderson at his worst moments still swims far above the average director -- and so does the movie.
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on July 4, 2014
This movie is an awesome display of cinematic art. The comedy is smart and subtle at times. One of my favorites for sure.
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on May 21, 2015
I feel like maybe Wes Anderson, The Royal Tanenbaums aside, just isn't for me. The dry humor is bone dry. The awkward moments are painfully awkward. I didn't care enough about the characters to want to follow their journey. Having said that, there's such a unique aesthetic to this film that kept me watching. I felt like I was reading a Victorian pop-up book by way of The Beatles album covers.
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on January 8, 2009
If you don't know anything about this film, please realize that you aren't going to laugh like you might have in Meet the Parents or Old School. It isn't that kind of movie. It's a lot like The Royal Tenenbaums (Widescreen) [Criterion Collection] so, if you liked that film, this one is a good fit for you. I found the story pretty creative and fun to see what came of it, but I didn't have expectations of things being realistic or easy to follow. I also think the acting in this movie is terrific.
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on March 16, 2016
I give 3 stars not to a movie (it's a 5-star one for sure, I wouldn't buy it otherwise). But the Criterion Collection in the title is very wrong, the DVD case is cheap and there's no 2nd disc with the extra from Criterion.
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on December 11, 2014
You either love this movie or hate it. I love it. I think its one of my best movies of all time.

As for the package I received it was in perfect shape. Will buy from again.
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on September 10, 2015
I am very happy with this item. I am a big Bill Murray fan and this sits nicely with the other B.M. movies i already have. Looking very forward to watching it. :-)
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on December 23, 2014
It's Wes Anderson. Meaning, it's a quirky story with subtle & random humour at it's best. I also love the music and Bill Murray. Solid movie.
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