The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

May 13, 2014 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Quick! What do David Bowie, a three-legged dog, Jacques Cousteau and a giant Jaguar shark all have in common? They’re all loosely related in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. I’m a big fan of Anderson’s work, dating back to Bottle Rocket which helped introduce the Wilson brothers (Owen and Luke) to the world. Bottle Rocket had a quiet pleasantness to it, and I found it enjoyable (that and Owen Wilson’s ‘Digden’ was a hilarious character. Anderson’s next work was Rushmore, in which we were introduced to Jason Schwartzman and a very understated performance by Bill Murray. Even the most casual viewer will certainly have heard of The Royal Tenenbaums, a film I think should have won (or even been nominated) for Best Picture. I must still be under the assumption that life is fair, though. A majority of the gang from Tenenbaums is back, along with a few new faces in Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett. Before I go into the plot I do have to say that Wes Anderson’s films have helped resurrect Bill Murray’s career. Murray, a staple of late 70’s and 80’s comedies, shows that he does have real talent and was drastically denied a Best Oscar statue (Sean Penn won for “Mystic River”). Before Rushmore, Murray was doing films like “Larger than Life”, “The Man Who Knew Too Little” and “Wild Things”; whereas he’s now had the chance to explore some deeper roles like “Lost in Translation”. Suffice it to say, the ensemble cast is just one of the many things that I enjoyed about The Life Aquatic.

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a Jacques Cousteau-type of documentary filmmaker. He travels the seas exploring new territory and was evidently some sort of a cult hit back in the day. “The Day” is now over and his corporate sponsorships have fallen by the wayside and to top it all off his partner, Esteban (Seymour Cassell) has just been devoured by a giant Jaguar shark. When promoting the documentary (Part I of II I might add), he realizes that it will most likely be his last voyage. Ned (Owen Wilson) is revealed to be Zissou’s son and with the help of his funds, the expedition is on again. Revenge is the driving force, but the eccentric crew is sprinkled with college interns, a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett), Zissou’s wife (Angelica Huston) and a man who plays David Bowie songs in Portugese (Seu Jorge). Suffice it to say this is typical for a Wes Anderson film, but not comparable by any other standards. As the voyage continues, a love triangle forms, the ship gets hijacked by terrorists and a yacht sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Will Zissou find the peace he’s looking for and kill the shark or will the crew disband and all won’t live happily ever after?

If you’re into quirky, well-written comedies then I can safely recommend The Life Aquatic and no doubt Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Bottle Rocket. I’d have to say that The Royal Tenenbaums is a much better of a movie in terms of how it flows, but I found myself laughing out loud several times with this one. The colorful cast is going full tilt and if that doesn’t do it for you perhaps the stop-motion sea life will? No? How about Cody, the three-legged dog that belonged to the pirates? At any rate, Wes Anderson has that special quality as a filmmaker in which I’ll see any movie he makes. On a more serious side, I like Paul Thomas Anderson (no relation) as I think he has a way to tell drama the as Wes Anderson does comedy. There are different shots, different ways to tell a story and certainly a different plot line in all of Wes Anderson’s films. He surrounds himself with creative, talented actors who seem to really enjoy their characters – making The Life Aquatic a lesser film than The Royal Tenenbaums, but just as fun to watch. Highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

Amazing that this film is now a decade old and even more amazing is that Criterion went back and gave this film a new 4K HD transfer.  If there’s any doubt that Criterion doesn’t pull out all the stops when it comes to their titles, let it end by watching just a few of their releases.  The Life Aquatic was originally a Criterion title and wasn’t released (at least in the US) by a major studio and then licensed to Criterion. No, it’s been that way since the get go.  Having said that, the 2.35:1 AVC HD image looks stunning.  I went back and watched the standard DVD (a bit dusty in my collection) and this Blu-ray does seem a bit more clean and polished. Colors seem a bit brighter, detail a bit more refined and the film even a bit more film-like.  Suffice it to say, they’ve made what I thought couldn’t have been better – better. Kudos.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original DVD had dual Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks, though this Blu-ray has a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack only.  The film was never much of an audio powerhouse, but it had a few moments when the track did shine. The sound here is a bit more crisp, polished and refined, but it’s still nothing that’ll shake the room.  Vocals are sharp and strong, free of any distortion and sonics are well-balanced.  Surrounds, used sparingly, do come into play at some key moments.  The LFE have a moment or two as well.  It’s as if they took the soundtrack and turned everything up a notch on the dial.  Well done.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Criterion’s original DVD came in a stand alone single disc version and a two-disc set with more features. This appears to have all of the features from that two disc set and since we were originally sent the single disc version, it was a nice treat to see these supplements (albeit a decade late).

  • Audio Commentary – Wes Anderson and writer Noah Baumbach (who sound like they’re at a dinner party while this was being recorded) gives some insight into how the script was translated and a bit of information on some of the scenes. Evidently Anderson has wanted to do this movie for quite some time and he does provide a lot of little details that are interesting.
  • This Is an Adventure – Evidently this is something that was found on the two-disc version, but this expansive documentary takes a look at the making of the film and pretty much everything in between. This was a real treat to watch.
  • Mondo Monda – An Italian talk show interviews director Wes Anderson and writer Noah Baumbach.
  • Interview with Composer Mark Mothersbaugh – Essentially just that, an interview with the film’s composer who adds some comments on the film’s production and score.
  • Seu Jorge performs David Bowie songs – It’ll make more sense once you see the movie, but just as the title states – these are some rather memorable adaptions of some of Bowie’s hits.
  • Video Journal – Intern Matthew Gray Gubler’s makeshift video diary has found its way to the Blu-ray, an interesting and candid watch.
  • Interviews with the Cast and Crew – Anderson and the ensemble cast comment on the film.
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Still Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Conversation: Wes Anderson and sibling Eric Chase Anderson – Ahhhh…brothers.


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