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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Widescreen
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Commentary by Anderson and cowriter Noah Baumbach
  • New interviews with actors Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum
  • This Is an Adventure, a documentary by Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, and Matthew Prinzing chronicling the production of the movie
  • Mondo Monda, an Italian talk show featuring an interview with Anderson and Baumbach, hosted by Antonio Monda
  • Interview with composer and Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh
  • Ten performances of David Bowie songs in Portuguese by Brazilian recording artist and actor Seu Jorge
  • Intern video journal by actor Matthew Gray Gubler
  • Multiple interviews with the cast and crew, featuring behind-the-scenes footage
  • Making-of featurette
  • Nine deleted scenes
  • Behind-the-scenes photos and original artwork from the film
  • Trailer

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, Bud Cort, Seu Jorge, Seymour Cassel
2004 | 118 Minutes | Licensor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #300
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: May 27, 2014
Review Date: May 13, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

Internationally famous oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his crew-Team Zissou-set sail on an expedition to hunt down the mysterious, elusive, possibly nonexistent Jaguar Shark that killed Zissou's partner during the documentary filming of their latest adventure. They are joined on their voyage by a young airline copilot (Owen Wilson); a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett); and Zissou's estranged wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston). Wes Anderson has assembled an all-star cast that also includes Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, Seu Jorge, and Bud Cort for this wildly original adventure comedy.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Wes Andersonís The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou finally gets a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion (the last of the Anderson titles they previously released on DVD to be upgraded) who present the film in a new high-definition digital transfer (taken from a 4K master) on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1. The transfer is delivered in 1080p/24hz.

Of Andersonís live-action films this one is the one that easily screamed out the most for a Blu-ray release and now that we finally have it it certainly does not disappoint. The DVDís transfer handled some aspects of the film rather well, specifically the colours, but it just wasnít as sharp as I would have liked it to be. It always had, for me, the slightest bit of a haze. This high-definition transfer corrects that multiple times over: the image is so much crisper, with a better rendering of the finer details, and a far better sense of depth. The hairs on Zissouís face are all clear and distinct, the intricate details in the costumes, sets, and stop-motion sea creatures come through so much clearer. Textures are also rendered nicely, along with every little imperfection on Zissouís sea equipment. And finally, one of my biggest pet peeves on the DVD, the moment where Murrayís character suffers from hydrogen ďcrazy eyeĒ psychosis, is rendered superbly here. This moment involves fine red rings forming in Zissouís eyes and the DVD couldnít handle this all that well, presenting red rings that blended into one another. Now the rings are distinctly defined, sharp and crisp, and never blending or bleeding into one another. To me this aspect of the release was a huge improvement.

As I mentioned the DVDís colours still look fairly good, and that was probably the DVDís strongest aspect. The Blu-ray does provide improvements in this area as well, with a better saturation of the blues (the filmís primary colour) and yellows, and those red caps come off as a purer red than what any DVD could only dream of doing. Those red caps also bordered on the edge of bleeding on the DVD and thatís not so much an issue here. The film also retains the same warm tone, with a noticeable yellow tinge to everything (except for one sequence where everything has a colder, bluish tone to it.) The colours really just pop and offer a subtle but noticeable improvement over the DVDís.

Film grain is very fine but itís there. No digital processing has been done to smooth out the image. Surprisingly there are a few minor marks found in the source: a couple of specs pop up, and a hair is noticeable in one instance in the back ground of the scene where an orca appears to be swimming in a tank behind Zissou, though itís possible there was some sort of projection being used and itís an artifact of that. Otherwise this really looks beautiful and I think the filmís fans will be more than pleased with what they get.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track also offers a clear improvement over both the DVDís Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks. Though easily Andersonís most ďaction-packedĒ film, his sound design still remains relatively simple. Most of the action remains in the fronts, with some nice ambient sounds spreading to the back, more noticeable in underwater sequences, and dialogue can pan nicely between the fronts while also remaining clear and intelligible.

Even the heavier action sequences, like a couple of shoot outs that occur, remain mostly to the front. Gunshots in Andersonís films (including his recent The Grand Budapest Hotel) have more of a popping noise, rather than the explosions weíre used to hearing nowadays, so these scenes arenít all that loud, but a nicely placed explosion offers a nice jolt. Bass is good and dynamic range is excellent, best displayed in the filmís music, whether it be Mark Motherbaughís score or the various David Bowie tracks that pop up (some sung in Portuguese by Seu Jorge.) Itís actually these cues that present the most noticeable enhancement in comparison to the DVDís tracks, sounding clearer with far better range.

Overall itís a sharp presentation, much better than the DVDís.

9/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion ports over the supplements from their 2-disc special edition, starting with an audio commentary by Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach. This is an odd commentary track in the fact that it was recorded in a bar/restaurant (the one they wrote the film in) during business hours so there is all sorts of background noise. It's an interesting idea, but I don't think it was too necessary as I sometimes got distracted by what was going on in the background.

I feel somewhat mixed about Andersonís commentary tracks: I never truly dislike them but I canít say Iím a big fan of them at the same time. I find them more enjoyable when heís with someone else, preferably Owen Wilson. Here heís with Baumbach, who does make a decent enough partner, as the two talk about the development of the script, the thought process on incorporating music, their many influences, and working with the cast and crew, with Anderson focusing on a lot of little details. A few anecdotes are shared, and in the end the track comes off enjoyable and informative. Interestingly the commentary still *bleeps* out any mention of Jacques Cousteauís name. Iím not sure if this was requested, or maybe it is related to some fear of Disneyís, but it seems especially bizarre considering the film makes no attempt to hide Cousteau as a reference, with Cousteau even receiving a credit of sorts at the end of the film.

The remaining features are presented under the ďSupplementsĒ section, starting with This is An Adventure, a decent, 51-minute documentary from veteran documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, as well as Antonio Ferrera and Matthew Prinzing. It hangs back, simply capturing the action, with some focus on certain sequences, as well as the development of the look. There is some footage of shooting in the water tanks (including Murrayís screaming of ďEsteban!Ē over and over.) Itís a decent documentary, offering a decent inside look into the film.

Moving on we also get 10 deleted scenes running about 4 and a half minutes. These are worth checking out as most of them are fairly amusing, especially an extended leech bit which has the best deadpan delivery (not) in the movie, and an extra second after the hotel blows up gives a decent chuckle. Thereís also a couple moments that were in the ads but were missing from the finished film, and Iím not sure if the final bit is supposed to be a goof or was the intended shot. Unlike the DVD, though, these do fill out the widescreen television. Also odd some are presented in actual high-definition (at 24hz even) while the others look to be interlaced upscales.

Mondo Monda is a joke, like the interview on the Tenenbaums DVD. I think Anderson likes doing these after doing the Charlie Rose interview seen on the Rushmore DVD, which was real and sort of funny in itself. This one has the same sort of dry humour one would expect from Wes, as Antonio Monda interviews Anderson and co-writer Baumbach, and asks him some ridiculous questions about the film, how it will change the world, searches for ďmetaphorsĒ and so on and so forth. There are some actual decent comments on the collaboration between the two, but the commentary covers this stuff better. As it is it is fairly amusing and worth a view. It runs a little over 16-minutes.

A series of interviews with members of the cast and crew follow, starting with Jane, which is a conversation with Cate Blanchett. She focuses on working with Wes and having to go through the process of getting a fake pregnant-belly prosthetic only to find out she was actually pregnant at the time. It's actually a good interview but it's pretty short and some of the stuff (like with other interviews here) shows up in the featurette that appears here in the supplements.

Ned focusses on Owen Wilson. He actually doesn't participate much on this release, which is disappointing, and even this segment only lasts less than 3-minutes, and only half of it is interviewing Wilson. The rest is Blanchett and Murray talking about him. This feature isnít a must and does sort of feel like a fluff piece.

Costumes looks at the costumes and Anderson's attention to detail. It has interviews members of the cast and their opinions on the costumes. You also get a nice chunk of it with Bud Cort talking about how his costume looked like diarrhea. This runs over 4-minutes.

"Aquatic Life" is an excellent 7 minute featurette on the sea life created for the film, featuring interviews with Henry Selik and some of the other members of the effects and design crew. It looks at most of stop-motion puppets and shows how they work, including the blowfish and the Jaguar Shark of course. For a short featurette it manages to pack in quite a bit. I wish it was longer, as I find this the most fascinating thing about the film, especially now that Anderson went on to direct the stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The Look Aquaticm is a short little feature (about 7 minutes) on the production design and overall look of the film. Its main focus is the recreation of the Belafonte used for a couple scenes in the film. I found it fairly interesting, though maybe too brief.

Creating a Scene lasts about 4 minutes and takes a look at the party scene at the beginning where Murray and Goldblum's characters meet for the first time. You also get to see Goldblum give some input in a way only Goldblum could.

Esteban is a wonderful interview segment with Seymour Cassel. He travels around looking for a cigar shop. When they finally come across one and enter he takes a moment to go over some of the cigars he is fond of. The owner even starts talking to him about John Cassavetes and his work with him, and Seymour fondly recalls the man and his work. It then continues on showing Anderson direct Cassel in his underwater sequences. One of my favourite supplements on this release. Running 7-minutes itís another that I wish was longer.

Mark Mothersbaugh pops up next to talk about his score and his work in Andersonís other films. He talks about working in the industry, moving from a band to composer and his relationship with Anderson as well. He even points out a neat trick to how he used a bit from Tenenbaums for a piece in Aquatic. This segment mixes in clips from the film and Andersonís other films, as well as some ?behind-the-scenes stuff and still shots. It lasts about 20-minutes. I assume this might be the only piece exclusively shot by Criterion (though the making-of was apparently produced by Criterion.)

Next up you'll find Seu Jorge Performs David Bowie, a collection of ten performances running about 40 minutes in total, where Jorge performs Bowie's songs in Portuguese. This includes performances like "Rebel, Rebel", "Ziggy Stardust", "Starman", "Changes" and the other ones in the films, except for "Queen Bitch", which is played in whole during the closing credits anyways. Some of them are actually quite good, while others are "meh." Your reaction to this depends on your reaction to this addition in the film.

Another nice little feature is "Intern Video Journal", which runs about 15 minutes and is nice light and fun, catching the atmosphere of the work environment. It's filmed by Intern #1, Matthew Gray Gubler (who was actually an intern) and he goes around getting little bits with some of his co-stars (Gambon amusingly gives him a rough time) and some of the goofs and pranks being played. The best bit is probably when the cast is in the submarine chatting it up as they wait for filming to begin, and hoping the set doesn't catch fire. Nicely put together and worth a look.

A selection of Photos are next, which is a basic gallery of photos. There's a lot of behind the scene shots, publicity photos and some nice scenery shots, and quite a few of Anderson either directing or ďcontemplatingĒ I guess. You navigate using the left/right arrows on your remote.

Designs is another still gallery, though very short, looking at various concepts and drawings (some by Eric Chase Anderson) for the film. I usually always like the artwork and designs in Andersonís films so I always enjoy when we get galleries of the artwork, also found on the other Criterion releases for Andersonís films.

Thereís a fluff Making-of-Featurette "Starz on Set" piece, which takes a look at the making of The Life Aquatic, giving interviews with various members of the cast, director Anderson and animator Henry Selik. Itís promotional material obviously, feeling like everyone is trying to sell the movie, but you can find some good comments from Murray, Wilson, Dafoe, and Anderson. It lasts only 15 minutes, but it can easily be skipped.

The disc then closes with the filmís theatrical trailer. The insert includes an interview between Criterion, Anderson, and his brother, Eric Chase Anderson. The two go over the artwork that appears in the film and Andersonís others up to that point. Oddly there is no critical essay of any sort.

Sadly Criterion had originally announced new interviews with Murray, Dafoe, and Goldblum, but they have been dropped. Iím assuming they were filmed around the time that The Grand Budapest Hotel was either being filmed or toured. I would have loved some sort of retrospective feature with the cast and/or crew but for some reason this was decided against. Iím hoping these interviews make it onto the inevitable (Iím sure) Criterion release of Hotel.

The supplements are still fairly good, though overall not up to Criterionís best work. Itís mostly making-of materiel, which is interesting, but I would have again loved some new material with the cast and crew, or possibly maybe even an analytical feature of some sort (other maybe Matt Zoller Seitzís excellent visual essay on Criterionís release of The Darjeeling Limited I canít think of any scholarly material on Anderson's other releases, other than the gag ones.) A bit of a missed opportunity.

7/10

CLOSING

Supplements are in no way upgraded disappointingly, but the audio and video presentation offers a wonderful improvement over the DVDís, delivering a sharp and vibrant image with crisp audio. It comes with a very high recommendation for fans.


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