'Life Aquatic' nearly sunk by hipster attitude

I picture Wes Anderson when he was a kid getting a Rubik's Cube for Christmas.

He'd twist it into all sorts of colorful patterns, unique in their design, and he'd snicker at his own cleverness. He'd show a few of his friends, and maybe they'd laugh, too.

But he'd never solve the thing. That would be too predictable. Or maybe he never COULD solve it.

Now filmmaking is Anderson's game. The writer-director of "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" adds a fourth film to his indie-chic catalog. Like his previous efforts, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is vibrant, quirky and a total meaningless mess.

Who better to star in Anderson's latest ode to ironic hipsterism than Bill Murray, the patron saint of the form. Murray portrays Steve Zissou, a renowned (though fading) oceanographer whose most recent documentary, "Adventure No. 12: The Jaguar Shark," was marred by the fact the subject ate his seafaring partner. Zissou and his team decide to hunt down the predator.

He's asked, "What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?"

"Revenge," he responds.


Buena Vista Pictures Photo

Bill Murray, center, pilots an oceanography crew intent on hunting down the "jaguar shark" that killed a colleague in the comedy "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."

They're joined by Ned (Owen Wilson), an Air Kentucky pilot who believes Zissou may be his father. Also tagging along is a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett), who both men seem to be romantically drawn toward.

Throw in Filipino pirates, kidnappings, a three-legged dog and a lot of well-known actors taking bit roles, and you've got "The Life Aquatic."

There's been no shortage of movies lately that stress condescending hipsterism over such luxuries as plot, emotion or momentum. (The overpraised "Napoleon Dynamite" comes to mind.) While some viewers may be amused by the sense of superiority it grants them, I'd rather spend two hours with characters I care about.


Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou **


Filmmaker Wes Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums") continues his streak of crafting movies more concerned with their own ironic hipsterism than such luxuries as plot or emotion. Bill Murray portrays a famous oceanographer on a quest to hunt down the "Jaguar Shark" that ate his seafaring partner. It's the embodiment of style over substance.

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Therein lies the fundamental problem with Anderson: He is unable, or unwilling, to build any sincere connection to his characters. When they are hurt or killed, we feel nothing because they don't seem to exist in the first place.

Anderson's lack of focus is astonishing. It doesn't help that the story (co-written with Noah Baumbach) starts off as a kind of "Moby Dick"-type quest with Zissou in the Capt. Ahab role. Murray spends many scenes lamenting the loss of his slain friend. But midway through, the pursuit is all but abandoned, with Murray not giving a second thought to the death. It's almost like Anderson got bored with the idea and decided to follow arbitrary plot lines that were springing up around him.


Special to the Journal-World

Cate Blanchett, left, and Owen Wilson join an oceanographic documentary team in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."

Still, after sitting through "Life Aquatic," I've come to the realization that Anderson is a singular talent.

He knows how to construct a bizarre environment. He's comfortable with his camera and the other technical tricks of filmmaking. The soundtracks in his movies are always memorable -- in this case it's comprised solely of Portuguese acoustic versions of David Bowie songs. Is that supposed to represent something? I wouldn't bet on it.

More than anything else, "Life Aquatic" looks like no other movie. From its amazing cross-section set of Zissou's ship, to the oddball digital animation used to bring an array of garish sea creatures to life, the picture is always entertaining to watch.

If Anderson can ever focus on actually making a MOVIE -- instead of proving how "zany" he is -- the man may create something of lasting value. Otherwise, he's just spinning in place ... like an unfinished Rubik's Cube.


kidmystic 15 years, 5 months ago

pencer863...GOOD POINT. hey "homies", listen to this user.

as for wes anderson, i think he would probably agree with your review totally. anderson isn't setting out to make citizen kane. he's also not setting out to make a will smith blockbuster that will make everyone happy. it's the distance he creates that allows you to laugh at his characters. if you fell in love with them, you would just feel sorry for them. your review is comporable to looking at a rothko abstract and complaining that their are not enough details. go watch ocean's twelve.
on another note, you're right on with napoleon dynomite.

ps-can you get me free movie passes : )

pencer863 15 years, 5 months ago

I haven't seen the film yet, but the "Hipster Attitude" comment struck me, because I've always thought that such an attitude definitively sinks the "Lawerence.Com" newspaper that is attached to my front doorknob each week. Do these folks write and print this thing for the general public, or for each other? Most of the time the paper is just incomprehensible, but when it does make some sense it is smug, parochial, immature, and downright unfunny. I mean, how impressive is it, really, to be a hipster in this town?

3rdBird 15 years, 5 months ago

I saw the movie and I still don't know what to think. I didn't laugh nearly as much as I wanted to, in fact, very little. I love Anderson's other movies and might grow to love this after repeated viewing. I think this will be one of those movies that will be cited as an influence by some geeky director in 30 years. Sounds like the reviewer feels the same way... he wants to like it... so, yeah Wes Anderson is a talent.

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