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The film stars Bill Murray as the eponymous Zissou, an eccentric oceanographer who sets out to exact revenge on the "Jaguar shark" that ate his partner Esteban. Zissou is both a parody of and homage to French diving pioneer Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910–1997), to whom the film is dedicated. Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson, and Seu Jorge are also featured in the film.
While oceanographer and documentarian Steve Zissou is working on his latest documentary at sea, his best friend Esteban du Plantier is eaten by a creature Zissou describes as a "Jaguar shark." For his next project, Zissou is determined to document the shark's destruction.
The crew aboard Zissou's research vessel Belafonte includes Pelé dos Santos, a safety expert and Brazilian musician who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese, and Klaus Daimler, the German second-in-command who viewed Zissou and Esteban as father figures. Minor crew members include Vikram Ray, a Sikh cameraman, described in Zissou's film documentary as a man "born on the Ganges"; Bobby Ogata, a frogman who is usually seen eating; Vladimir Wolodarsky, original score composer; Renzo Pietro, screen editor; and Anne-Marie Sakowitz, script girl, who is often topless. "Team Zissou" also includes a pack of unpaid college interns from the fictional University of North Alaska.
Ned Plimpton is a polite Southern gentleman whose mother has recently died. He believes that Zissou is his father. After they meet at a film premiere, Ned takes a break from his job as an airline pilot in Kentucky to join Zissou's crew. As no one else will finance the latest documentary, Ned agrees to support the new film with his inheritance. A reporter, Jane Winslett-Richardson, comes to chronicle the voyage. She is also pregnant with her married boss's child. A rivalry develops between Ned and Zissou, both infatuated with Jane. Klaus also is envious of the attention Zissou pays to Ned.
On their mission to find the Jaguar shark, the Belafonte crew has to deal with an attack by pirates. Sakowitz, along with all but one of the interns, jumps ship after the raid. The interns who leave receive "incomplete" grades for the course. The Belafonte crew launches a sneak attack on the pirates to retrieve their money and rescue a "bond company stooge", Bill Ubell, who had been hired by Zissou's producer Oseary Drakoulias. They also discover and rescue Zissou's nemesis, Alistair Hennessey. Hennessey is successful, suave, and rich, and was once married to Zissou's wife Eleanor.
While searching for the shark, the ship's helicopter crashes, injuring Zissou and fatally injuring Ned. A puzzled Eleanor reveals to Jane that Zissou is actually sterile and therefore Ned could not have been his son.
Zissou finally tracks down the shark but decides not to kill it, both because of its beauty and not having any dynamite. Viewing the shark finally validates an existence that Zissou himself had feared might have become meaningless. Eleanor is moved by this and falls in love with Zissou all over again. The finished documentary is a hit and Zissou wins an award, regaining respect worldwide.
- Bill Murray as Steve Zissou
- Owen Wilson as Edward "Ned" Plimpton/Kingsley Zissou
- Cate Blanchett as Jane Winslett-Richardson
- Anjelica Huston as Eleanor Zissou
- Willem Dafoe as Klaus Daimler
- Jeff Goldblum as Alistair Hennessey
- Michael Gambon as Oseary Drakoulias
- Bud Cort as Bill Ubell, "Bond Company Stooge"
- Noah Taylor as Vladimir Wolodarsky
- Seu Jorge as Pelé dos Santos
- Robyn Cohen as Anne-Marie Sakowitz
- Waris Ahluwalia as Vikram Ray
- Matthew Gray Gubler as Nico, Intern #1
- Antonio Monda as himself
- Isabella Blow as Antonia Cook
Though the characters were inspired by such American novels as The Great Gatsby and The Magnificent Ambersons, the plot has been compared to Moby-Dick.
Writing about the metaphorical aspects of the film's setting — somewhere in the Mediterranean — film critic Elena Past says that the underwater scenes, because they are central to the storyline, make The Life Aquatic similar in some ways to Respiro. Both films set out a "Mediterranean state of being" where "having left the security of land, the characters in both films are suddenly confronted with the precarious nature of human existence, as the films that depict them tackle the challenges of representing the submarine world."
The soundtrack to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou contains a style typical of other Wes Anderson films. Mark Mothersbaugh, a member of Devo, composed the score for the soundtrack as well as for many of Anderson's other films. The film also features many rock songs from the 1960s-1980s, and several instrumental pieces composed by Sven Libaek for the underwater documentary television series Inner Space. Additionally, the film and soundtrack feature Seu Jorge performing David Bowie songs in Portuguese on the acoustic guitar. Jorge, who also plays the character of Pelé dos Santos, performs some of these cover songs live, in character during the film.
The film was a box office flop with a total of $24,020,403 after twelve weeks in release, barely half its production budget. It took in a further $10,788,000 internationally, bringing the total gross to $34,808,403.
Critical reception was mixed, with a 'rotten' 53% score on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is getting soaked by many critics, who call it smug, ironic, and artificial. Still, others have praised the movie's sheer uniqueness, eccentricity, and whimsy." The film has a 62/100 weighted average score on Metacritic, which translates to "Generally favorable reviews". Murray's performance was praised, and some critics predicted that he would be nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award.
Anthony Lane, a film reviewer for The New Yorker, agreed with the conventional criticism of Anderson's deadpan style: that the underreaction of Anderson's characters used to be "hip" but has now become "frozen into a mannerism." He said that "some stretches of action" in the film are being "lightly held within quotation marks," with an "unmistakable air of playacting" in even the most violent scenes. He also criticized the film's deliberately "weird" set ups, which leave the viewer with "the impression of having nearly drowned in some secret and melancholy game."
|List of Accolades|
|Award / Film Festival||Category||Recipient(s)||Result|
|Art Directors Guild||Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design for a Contemporary Film||Mark Friedberg, Stefano Maria Ortolani, Eugenio Ulissi, Marco Trentini, Simona Migliotti, Giacomo Calò Carducci, Saverio Sammali, Nazzareno Piana, Maria-Teresa Barbasso, Giulia Chiara Crugnola||Nominated|
|Berlin International Film Festival||Golden Berlin Bear||Wes Anderson||Nominated|
|Boston Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Cast||Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Bud Cort, Anjelica Huston, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, Noah Taylor||Nominated|
|Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards||Best Acting Ensemble||Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Bud Cort, Anjelica Huston, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, Noah Taylor||Nominated|
|Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards||Actor of the Year||Cate Blanchett||Won|
|Costume Designers Guild Awards||Costume Designers Guild Award for Excellence in Costume Design for a Contemporary Film||Milena Canonero||Won|
|Golden Trailer Awards||Best Comedy||The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou||Nominated|
|Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Cate Blanchett||Won|
|Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA||Best Sound Editing in a Feature||Richard Henderson||Nominated|
|Best Music - Feature||The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'||Nominated|
|Golden Satellite Awards||Best Actor - Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy||Bill Murray||Nominated|
|Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy||The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou||Nominated|
|Best Original Screenplay||Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach||Nominated|
Two home video formats of the film were released on DVD in 2005: a 1-disc version and a 2-disc version, both as part of the Criterion Collection. This is Anderson's third film to be released in the collection, after Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou at AllRovi
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou at Box Office Mojo
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou at Metacritic
- "Captain Neato" Christian Lorentzen's review of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in n+1 (23 April 2010)
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