The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Blu-ray Review

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"Nobody knows what's going to happen. And then we film it. That's the whole concept."

by Casimir Harlow Jun 26, 2018 at 10:26 AM

  • Movies review


    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £17.99

    The Life Aquatic Film Review

    Wes Anderson's fourth film is a magnificently offbeat masterpiece that remains amidst the best in the director's near-flawless film history.

    After rough beginnings in Bottle Rocket, writer/director Anderson hit a real stride with the trifecta of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and this, The Life Aquatic, forming a thematic trilogy on elusive father figures.

    The story, co-written by Noah Baumbach, is dedicated to French icon Jacques Cousteau. It's an amazing blend of biography, parody, satire, comedy, drama and fantastic adventure. Cousteau was famed for filming his daring underwater explorations, although his relationships with his first wife and second son offered just as much colour to his legacy, and both aspects inform this wacky tale of an eccentric filmmaker and explorer whose entire life of self-importance is driven by staging shots and doing second takes.

    Bill Murray's Steve Zissou is so caught up in his own celebrity that he claims that he first learned about the son he never knew he had whilst reading an article about himself. After a devastating encounter with a 'Jaguar Shark' costs him one of his most loyal crew members, Zissou sets about trying to track down the elusive beast, with his protracted voyage testing the relationships he has with those around him.

    Arguably one of the best of Anderson's whopping eight collaborations with the legendary Bill Murray.

    Arguably one of the best films in Bill Murray's career (whose irreverent deadpan humour defines the character here) Anderson's Life Aquatic is - unsurprisingly - as much an acquired taste as any of his other films, with the energy and colour of his more audacious films, from the fabulous Fantastic Mr. Fox to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but also the dramatic underbelly.

    The superb all-star cast includes Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Anjelica Huston, throwing Cate Blanchett into the mix for good measure, all on fantastic form colouring out the peripherals in this wonderful little oceanic fantasy.

    Playing quite hard with themes of family, friendship and fatherhood, as well as identity (it's no coincidence that Anderson's antagonists across his father-trilogy - played by Murray twice and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums - are all escapists who think of themselves as visionaries), The Life Aquatic is also an adept study of filmmaking and directorial eccentricities.

    Almost every moment in Zissou's life is judged by camera angle or lighting, redoing life events 'for the camera' and constantly changing natural dialogue so that it will sound better in the film, with Anderson doing stunning work highlighting the juxtaposition between the overly-dramatised faux documentary sequences and the actual, much more touching real-life drama.

    If you enjoy the filmmaker's work, then The Life Aquatic is top tier Anderson, arguably one of the best of his whopping eight collaborations with the legendary Bill Murray - whose latter career has been defined by Anderson highlights - and a great little offbeat drama fantasy faux documentary adventure.

    The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Picture

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Picture
    Criterion's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Blu-ray hits UK shores complete with a new 4K digital restoration scanned from the film's original 35mm camera negative.

    Cleaned up and pristinely resolved by their labs, the new scan looks tremendous on this 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 widescreen.

    Simply never looked any better.

    Supervised by Anderson himself, the video looks excellent, affording the film superior detail on close-ups, costumes, diving suits, the ships and the weathered faces. Softness is never an issue, and whilst this is hardly big budget blockbuster territory, the film has a very distinctive visual style which has simply never looked any better than here.

    The colour scheme is tweaked slightly yellow, giving it a hazy dreamlike quality that pervades the scenes out of the water, and accentuates the green-blue underwater look. Skin tones are healthy, whilst the more unusual silver blue diving suits, green background environments and deep blue sea shots all impress, with Murray's vibrant primary red hat standing out as one of the many popping visual flourishes.

    Of course the underwater sequences look the best, with the stop motion animation only further lending flair to the shots, rounding out an excellent video presentation of this great little gem.

    The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Sound

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Sound
    Criterion's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Blu-ray delivers the film with an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track too, offering up keen presentation of the dialogue, a few nice little effects, but highlights on the score front.

    As unique as the visuals and narrative, the memorable score helps define the movie.

    Whilst dialogue is given presentation across the frontal array, and whilst the effects do bring the underwater sequences to life around you, with the rolling waves under the ship, the various equipment utilised and - latterly - the rather random assault sequence affording the array plenty of life across the duration.

    It's the score really that stands out, with regular Anderson collaboration Mark Mothersbaugh producing one of the most distinctive and unusual little scores not just from any Anderson film but from any film over the last decade (although the imaginative David Bowie cover work almost steals the show). As aurally unique as the visuals and narrative, it's a great - memorable - score that helps define the movie.

    The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Extras

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Extras
    Unsurprisingly, Criterion's release of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou boasts the same stomping selection of extra features that adorned their earlier DVD set.

    Headlined by an Audio Commentary from Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, there's also a whopping near-hour-long on-set Documentary shot during the shooting of the film (creating a film within a film within a film), aptly entitled This is an Adventure, and complemented by the quarter-hour Intern Video Journal from the shoot. There's a further quarter hour Making-of Featurette more traditionally involving soundbites from the cast and crew but also a little behind her scenes from the shoot.

    The same stomping selection of extras that adorned Criterion's DVD.

    The Interview material is comprehensive, affording interviews with most of the cast and crew, an entire segment dedicated to the composer, and a Mondo Monda Interview with Anderson and Baumbach for the Italian show.

    There are also some Deleted Scenes, Photos, Designs and a fantastic selection of the David Bowie covers by Seu Jorge.

    The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Verdict

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou The Life Aquatic Blu-ray Verdict
    The Life Aquatic is top tier Anderson.

    Criterion's release of The Life Aquatic by Steve Zissou is a fantastic release, boasting 4K-remastered video, great audio and a superb selection of extras. As much an acquired taste as any Anderson film, if you enjoy the works of the colourful filmmaker then it's utterly unmissable and highly recommended.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99

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