The Film (4/5)
Wes Anderson for all intents and purposes is the indie film director probably closest to the heart of the mainstream. Some fans might argue that position for a Tarantino or a Rodriguez, but both of those filmmakers tend to offer mostly genre offerings that at least have something for a mainstream audience to grapple on to such as action, violence, or the promise of some nudity. Anderson on the other hand has built his career on making what could be described as quirky dramedies. Not an avenue that moviegoers are usually eager to explore, and yet Anderson tends to have greater success with each successive film culminating with his most recent indie blockbuster the Grand Budapest Hotel.
That success was well earned, but toward the middle of his 8 film (and going) career Anderson at least in the view of audiences stalled. His fourth and fifth films The Life Aquatic and the Darjeeling Limited did not seem to connect with either critics or fans at the time of their release. The former of which, having just been released on Criterion Blu-ray has been reevaluated over the years, and is slowly becoming a firm favorite amongst the director's fans, while Darjeeling Limited is still considered amongst the man's lesser works.
Life Aquatic is an ensemble comedy, which takes on the behind the scenes world of a Cousteau-esque documentary crew lead by Bill Murray as the title character Steve Zissou. As the film opens he emerges from the Red Sea, his best friend Esteban having been swallowed whole by a new breed of shark which he names the "Jaguar Shark". Zissou then turns to the camera, and does the opposite of what a marine activist would typically do, and declares the hunt on for the shark, at which point he will kill him. The film then takes off with the crew of Zissou's ship the Belafonte as they engage in preparations for the next documentary which will take them on the search for the Jaguar Shark. During this mission the crew will be accompanied by an airline pilot, who is convinced he is the illegitimate son of Zissou, and a pregnant news reporter.
The funny thing about the general dislike of Life Aquatic at the time of release was how much of it's filmmaker was structured into the film itself. Until Anderson's most recent release the Grand Budapest Hotel, Life Aquatic could easily have been considered the most Wes Anderson-y of his output.
The film takes the obsessively quirky visual style that is one of the director's trademarks to an almost absurd degree to the point where everything in the film down to the ocean and it's nature based occupants have been designed by Anderson. The film was an early entry into the Bill Murray, indie film career resurgence (which it should be said seemingly came along because of Anderson's Rushmore). Murray and the rest of the supporting cast are absolutely fantastic in this film, and not a single character moment is wasted, and because of these moments the film at times feels less about it's main character’s journey, and more of an accomplished ensemble piece about the journey of the crew and the people surrounding them.
The film between it's direction, design, and performances creates something that is certainly one of Anderson's strongest works. It is truly surprising that the Life Aquatic is only in recent years getting the attention it has so earned.
Criterion have done an absolutely brilliant job bringing Wes Anderson's the Life Aquatic to Blu-ray. The transfer is 2:35:1 1080p with an MPEG-4 encode. The colors are absolute lush, with black levels inky and deep, and detail excellent. There is a nice level of grain present through the film, and only a few soft moments to complain about.
Life Aquatic has a splendid 5.1 DTS-HD MA track in English. The track sounds similarly excellent with dialogue, music, effects, and score coming through and being mixed nicely. I did not detect any issues with the audio such as pops, cracks, or hissing.
If you have the SE DVD, you have everything present here. It is still an excellent package with a commentary multiple documentaries, interviews, deleted scenes and more.
The Blu-ray of The Life Aquatic is a visual stunner, the extras are all the same from the prior Criterion release, but they are elaborate, entertaining, and informative. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.