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PCR # 247  (Vol. 5, No. 51)  This edition is for the week of December 13--19, 2004.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Life Aquatic"

Movie review by:
Drew Reiber
Four stars

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Touchstone Pictures     
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum.
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 58 mins

With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, oceanographer Steve Zissou (Murray) rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife (Huston), a journalist (Blanchett), and a man who may or may not be his son (Wilson).

I find myself vehemently disagreeing with a growing and unfortunate sentiment regarding The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. In my opinion, people are trying too hard to compare this film to The Royal Tenenbaums when they are in fact quite different. First off, that was an ensemble character film, while this one is about Steve Zissou. I will try and make this is as spoiler free as I can, but if you guys go into this movie with any preconceptions or expectations of what Anderson will try to do, you might harm your experience.

First and foremost, the entire film is about Bill Murray's Zissou. The supporting characters are just that, they are not as fleshed out or as integral in their arcs as his journey is. The film is about how he is percieved... for his work, his celebrity, his skills, his reality/fantasy, his family, his friends, etc. As we never actually SEE his life in the past except through a few of his films, we are challenged to continue our critical analysis of who he truly is through his self reflection, choices in crisis and the perceptions of him by those who actually know him. I think, overall, the film is about faith. In our imagination, in our dreams, in ourselves and in others.

As it's a film about filmmaking, you really have to have your head on for this. It says so much in every scene, and it's extremely subtle most of the time. I believe the plot is about the adventure that is had in trying to find the supposed "jaguar shark". The story is really the mystery of who is Zissou, a man, a fake, a filmmaker, a father, an oceanographer or everything? The message of the "story" is that we should not allow our weaknesses or failures to consume us.

Though I would argue that the supporting characters are not entirely three dimensional, their discoveries and their actions support not only the reconstruction or solution to the puzzle of Zissou, but they also must face their own obstacles in life. If you're looking for easy answers through exposition or other traditional forms of gathering information, you're in trouble. It is through action, implication and the absence of certain behaviors or choices that tell us what is going on.

The deeper dimension of the film is an analyzation of how we allow that which is produced onscreen (in film) or that which we are told to guide our perceptions. You've really got to pay attention to the levels of artificiality and realism that is depicted through the camera, editing and performances to enjoy that path. The techniques of the film - image flatness, jump cuts, lack of location image linkage/continuity, rarity of intersecting planes, and so many others I am too lazy to mention - combined with the more subtle and minimalist narrative design that Anderson challenges our senses and our thoughts at every turn.

I really think people need to take their time when they take in this film. It is the most stylized, complex and polished film from this auteur to date, in my opinion, and I really think with time that we will all come to find more detail, depth and appreciate for what it succeeds in accomplishing.

Oh, and by the way, it's about TIME that someone did something from influences of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eigth Dimension. That film was waaaay ahead of it's time and truly took the consciousness of formula to new heights. I only hope that the little obvious nod in Aquatic gets people thinking back to how essential it is to strive for fresh combinations in genre filmmaking. And THAT'S why you can't nail down what it's about, because maybe... just maybe... it's a film that is developed enough that it's not easily labeled.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou  Four stars

This week's movie review of "The Life Aquatic" is ©2004 by Drew Reiber.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2004, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.