Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)


Talking about movies isn't anything new on this blog. Apart from "The Heroic Trio" (1993) back in June 2011, I slipped in bits and pieces of my thoughts on "Alien" (1979) and "Predator" (1987) in their respective first postings of the title characters' Sci-fi Revoltech reviews. I talked about movies on and off on my old blog as well. "The Dark Knight" (2008), "The Mist" (2007), "AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem" (2007) and a couple others are on the list. As a matter of fact, after checking, a brief review of "Underworld: Evolution" (2006) was actually the fourth posting of that entire old blog of mine, which totaled to over 5,000 postings in the end. Therefore, it's fair to say that movies were an important part of my blog - they used to be until I set focus on Gundam and other hobby merchandises. ^^; Time was a big issue for movie reviews to be sidelined. When more time was dedicated to finding news on merchandise releases, there was less time for pretty much everything else on the blog. ^^; Even my personal reviews on Gunplas plummeted in terms of posting number as compared to what it used to be in the older days. ^^;

For a very long period of time on this blog, movie reviews were sidelined (again) in favor of reviews on Gunplas' and other collectibles' since those were severely lacking in the last year or so of the old blog. However, regardless of the various Gunplas, plamos, action figures, gashapons and other collectibles I continue to get over the years, watching movies has always been a huge part of my life, and there are many great movies that deserve audience attention even though they aren't the latest summer blockbusters. ^^

Realizing that, the only two factors that stopped me from talking more about the movies I watched are (1) a dedicated segment, (2) procrastination. XD I can deal with (2) well and often surprise myself by being productive at writing up postings every now and then so that's fine on the book. With the creation of this new dedicated segment called "Sunday Movie Theater", (1) has been solved as well. ^^

As the name implies, this segment is only featured on Sunday, without any fixed interval I should add. On average, I watch at least one new movie per week, but that doesn't mean that frequency is going to apply to "Sunday Movie Theater" since writing up reviews is a lot more time-consuming than actually watching those movies, obviously. ^^; Also, I don't want to burden myself with a self-implied obligation on having this segment every week. ^^; Trying to fill the quota is never a good idea when the objective of the segment is to talk about something that I actually like. ^^

Like all the new review series on the blog, how the segment works will become clearer when there are more postings in it I believe. ^^

On the back of my head, there are tons of movies I can think of right now to talk about for this newly created segment, but none is better to kick things started than this movie I think:

Movie poster is from IMDB.

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", a 2004 movie directed by Wes Anderson. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB.

Played by Bill Murray, Steve Zissou is an old oceanographer who is out of luck, and money (severely). In the midst of wearying about not been making better documentaries he used to do back in the old days, he set out to hunt for a mystical shark who ate his close friend in his previous adventure. Tagging along with him on his latest adventure is a young man who is supposedly Steve's son he wasn't ready to acknowledge all these years, an emotional journalist due to become a single mother, a somewhat timid and by-the-book bond company stooge and Steve's existing bunch of ragtag crew members.

While it seems like an ocean adventure movie, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" talks more about life conflicts more than anything in my opinion. It's more of a lighthearted comedy about life with ocean adventure as its cover. ^^ There's very little action throughout the movie, most scenes featured one-to-one dialogue between the different characters, and the shark that Steve is supposedly persuading from the start only appears at the very end of the movie, and it doesn't even look very special. ^^; Most scenes were filmed using middleshot featuring two characters, sometimes panned in a linear fashion as the characters move from one location to another. So if you're expected something like "Jaws" (1975) with this movie, you've come to the wrong planet. XD

About the characters, Steve Zissou is definitely the center of the entire story. ^^ While seemingly very determined and well liked at the beginning, the movie quickly reveals his internal struggle. He's not making the movies he's happy with and he knows it, he takes others' opinion about him seriously and becomes dejected when the comments he hears are negative, he tries to project a more positive image about himself and often runs into all sorts of trouble. When the man supposedly his son, Ned (played by Owen Wilson) comes aboard his ship, I can see that Steve was trying project his own image upon him for a while, and was every so often outsmarted by Ned. When Ned is becoming increasingly closer to Jane the journalist who is supposed to write a cover story on Steve's adventure (played by the ever so lovely Cate Blanchett ^^), I can see Steve's frustration in trying to impress her as well. It's most certainly not out of love interest, since he seems to love and care about his estranged wife Eleanor (played by Anjelica Huston) very much. It's more of a "if my son can look good in her eyes, I must be impressive too" intention in Steve's mind I think. ^^ His actions to "impress" her really seem bad and awkward in that sense, and are certainly not helping at all in mending his image due to some prior conflict with Jane. ^^;

Having said that, Steve Zissou is hardly an upstanding citizen who makes ocean documentaries for the betterment of the human race. XD He looted his nemesis Alistair Hennessey's (played by Jeff Goldblum) science lab to steal equipments so he could track his shark (and lied about it later on XD), charted a course through unprotected maritime areas which put himself and everyone on board the ship into huge trouble. Yet, he's a very likable character in my opinion. From a seemingly carefree documentary movie maker at first to the revealing of him being an old man with personal problems his was forced to face one by one, he is indeed the story's protagonist that audience members can understand and would root for. ^^ There's little doubt that the very likable actor who played the character is another huge reason for my support of Steve in the movie as well. ^^

Steve Zissou is played by Bill Murray - Bill no-one-can-be-more-awesome-than-this-person Murray. XD Grizzled and looking somewhat sad and tired most the time, Bill Murray is just perfect for this role. ^^ His acting really brought out the stubbornness, desperation, slyness, carelessness and constant out-of-luck of the protagonist throughout the movie. ^^ Despite the character's miserable fortune, Bill Murray manged to create humor out of Steve. Certain lines of dialogue and burst of action by Steve are very typical of what you would expect of Bill Murray. ^^ I have no one else in mind who could possible replace Bill Murray for the role of Steve. ^^

Another actor whose performance I deeply enjoyed, who would usually headline movies himself but played a more minor role in this movie is Willem Dafoe. I'm more used to seeing him playing either the villains ("Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003), "xXx: State of the Union" (2005)), or serious characters with very powerful performance ("Platoon" (1986), "Daybreakers" (2009), "Antichrist" (2009)). In this movie however, he played the character Klaus, an overly sensitive, emotional "B Squad Leader" of Steve's team. XD The weird German accent is just tip of an iceberg I suppose. XD The really funny scene of him throwing a fit at Steve like a child after being ignored by his parent is pure comedic genius (a part of the scene can be seen in the trailer posted above). And then it made me think, "That was from Willem Dafoe? Seriously?" XD

As a matter of fact, everyone in the movie is very interesting and likeable, even the designated "rich arrogant bastard" of the movie, Alistair provided some funny moments in the movie. Like a very strange family, everyone pull through all the troubles together to support Steve's quest in locating his shark. There's no good versus evil, or man versus nature in this seemingly ocean adventure film. It's just one old man versus his internal struggle with a whole bunch of friends supporting him throughout his journey. ^^

The end of Steve's hunt for the supposedly nonexistent Jaguar Shark is tremendously heart-warming to me. Apart from finally meeting face-to-face with what triggered his whole series of adventures and misfortunes in the movie, I think Steve finally realized that what he learned, and lost through the journey was way more meaningful than finding the shark itself. It was revenge for his friend's death that set him off to hunt for that shark at the very beginning, but redemption for his own personal feelings is what he received in the end. While vowing many times to kill the shark at the beginning of the film, I can certainly understand why he couldn't do it anymore in the end.

And Sigur Rós's "Staralfur" which kicked in during Steve's confrontation with the shark was absolutely touching and lovely. If that song is the reward for the audience for accompanying Steve on his journey in the movie, it's totally worth it.

Music is another huge part of the movie, and I don't mean just the special background music. Many scenes in the movie were accompanied by solo guitar performance by Pele (played by Brazilian composer and singer Seu Jorge), and they are absolutely lovely. ^^

In the end, I think the movie is about adventure after all, but the real "ocean" where all the struggle happened, the courage to face the problems and discovery of new things were actually in the protagonist's heart, not the actual ocean where the movie is set in. It's a very clever metaphor used by the story teller really. As mentioned earlier on, it's very lighthearted from the beginning till the end, so it's a movie you can watch and get a good feeling out of it in the end. ^^ But of top of that, there are a lot more to be enjoyed from the movie. ^^

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