8A - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 5, 2004
fits quirky film well
Director Wes Anderson, an underground favorite
since the 1996 release of "Bottle Rocket," gained
a rabid mainstream following from the success of
1999's "Rushmore" and 2001's "The Royal Tenen-
baums." Dedicated adherents to the cult of Wes will
readily leap to the defense of his excessively gauche
Courtesy or oucnstone
"She'll make .5 past lightspeed. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
of struggling oceanographer and filmmaker Steve
Zissou (Bill Murray), a man documenting a search
and destroy mission targeting the shark that killed his
best friend. Zissou risks the lives of his colorful crew
while dealing with a nosy reporter (Cate Blanchett),
his disgruntled wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), a
rival oceanographer (Jeff Goldblum) and his purport-
ed long-lost son Ned (Owen Wilson).
The film is Anderson's most plot-driven effort
since "Bottle Rocket." Zissou's quest for revenge and
his relationship with Ned are at the forefront of "Life
Aquatic," and the film's colorful life blooms from
these two primary themes. Where "Tenenbaums"
struggled with the breadth of its material, "Life
Aquatic" thrives because of Anderson's emphasis on
The story, too, is enthralling, albeit thematically
ordinary; Anderson manages to put his personal
touch on the film's substance. Zissou's nascent rela-
tionship with Ned is thrown into oblivion when the
two become infatuated with Blanchett's character.
To normal directors, such a scenario is standard
fare, but Anderson injects Ned with a boyish south-
ern charm while Zissou smolders with the rage of a
foul-mouthed, frustrated sailor. Zissou's character
is perfect for Murray's wry humor, and his perfor-
mance rubs off on the supporting cast, especially
Blanchett, who provides a wonderful foil to the
It is also refreshing to see the film's humor adapted
primarily from Murray's brand of comedy. Subtle
irony dictates the film as it did in "Bottle Rocket"
and the humor is more consistent than it has been in
Anderson's last two films. Unlike "Rushmore" and
"Tenenbaums," the new flick doesn't take itself too
seriously, exemplified in a comical battle between
Zissou and a crew of Filipino pirates.
Anderson's trademark quirkiness is also augment-
ed by the animation of the bizarre sea life in the film.
With the exception of several live dolphins, he spurns
the use of real animals and opts instead for the stop-
motion animation of Henry Selick ("James and the
Giant Peach"). The art itself is wonderful - its arti-
ficiality allows Anderson to exploit his own creativity
and invent ridiculously beautiful sea creatures such
as leopard sharks and glowing jellyfish.
Though well-made, "Life Aquatic" is still burdened
by a weak script that recalls the shortcomings of
"Royal Tenenbaums." Anderson and co-writer Noah
Baumbach ("Kicking And Screaming") struggle to
maintain a consistent vibe in the film. The drama
and comedy are done quite well, but they never fully
intertwine, making "Life Aquatic" seem like two
The star-studded cast, however, is more harmful to
the film. Like "Tenenbaums," the film is essentially
over-cast with actors who appear to flock to Anderson
for indie salvation. As a result, "Life Aquatic" ends
up cluttered with characters that are underdeveloped.
Anderson's latest is an entertaining and visually
beautiful film, but it struggles under the weight of its
potential. Months of rapid hype culminate in a good,
but unremarkable film.
rator of Anderson, the score has no epic-
journey feel, but rather a mixed variety
of quirky and catchy orchestration.
The "Life Aquatic" soundtrack
presents no change in the champion
molding of the Wes Anderson fusion
of absurdist film and aesthetically
perfect music. The collection is com-
posed of original eclectic jazz and folk
orchestrations by Mothersbaugh and
Sven Libaek, as well as classic offer-
ings from David Bowie, The Zom-
bies, Devo, Joan Baez and Iggy & The
Stooges. The searing, ballsy early work
of Iggy in "Search and Destroy," off of
1973's Raw Power, parallels the som-
berly sweet vocals of Baez's "Here's To
You." The disc flows seamlessly, yet
simultaneously reflects the odd pacing
of the film. The orchestrations and rock
tunes are broken up wonderfully by a
selection of solo acoustic Bowie covers
by actor Seu Jorge, translated into Por-
tuguese for a rare and fascinating treat.
His version of "Starman," sung with
a hint of jazz influence, is undeniably
catchy and sounds surprisingly fresh
for such a glam classic.
Mothersbaugh conjures up some of
the more quirky score material of any
Anderson film thus far. "Let Me Tell
You About My Boat," the high-step-
ping celebration of Zissou's ship, The
Belafonte, soars with arpeggios and
piano scales that can't help but force
a smile. Sven Libaek's delightfully
"Open Sea Theme," is strangely com-
parable to elevator music, but is none-
theless pleasing and fun. There is such
a variety in the score material here that
the theme of a Spanish guitar duel ("La
Nifia de Puerta Oscura") is followed by
one of the most comical, marvelously
composed electronic blip tunes of the
film ("Ping Island/ Lightning Rescue
Op," as heard in the movie trailer).
Wes Anderson has proven once again
that he's a master of combining film
and music. His eccentric stories are
shadowed by their colorful scores and
song choices, with each film yearning
to challenge the last. But the real stars
of the soundtrack are the musicians
- like composer Mark Mothersbaugh,
who has proven to have the keenest
eye for creating fitting scores for such
offbeat and deadpan comedy. The Life
Aquatic collection, though suffering
from some inadequate recording qual-
ity in Jorge's Bowie covers, will stand
as another near flawless soundtrack
offering in the ongoing dream of hybrid
perfection from Wes Anderson.
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