Wes Anderson has been a breath of fresh air since he hit the Hollywood scene in 1996 with his first feature length film Bottle Rocket. Since then, Anderson has continued to stretch the imagination of film-goers with fabulous films such Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and now with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). Anderson’s films are not for every joe-schmo film fan; his work could even be described as an acquired taste. But from a creative and visual perspective,…Wes Anderson’s work stands by itself.
Anderson has a thing for using actors that he is comfortable with, so in The Life Aquatic, we see many return actors from his previous films – Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, & Anjelica Huston. Fresh to this film, and with a good chance of appearing in future Wes Anderson projects, include Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, & Jeff Goldblum. With a cast that reads as a whos-who of Hollywood, how could this film not be entertaining?
One thing that can definitely be said about Anderson’s films is that they are visually stunning. With a subtle mixture of digital animation mixed into the live action film, and a genius cinematographic mindset, The Life Aquatic is made to feel like you are right in the picture. Anderson’s style has started to appear in other Hollyword works, such as David O. Russell’s direction of I Heart Huckabees.
This DVD offers up a perfect 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors are vibrant when intended to be vibrant and washed out when intended to be washed out. The blacks are extremely deep, helping to create wonderful contract. The stunning visuals all come to life in perfect clarity. There are no noticeable defects to make mention of… another great Criterion presentation.
All of Anderson’s films seem to have a quirky yet appealing mix of score and soundtrack elements, and The Life Aquatic is no exception. This disc sports both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS ES audio tracks… both of which are equally good (with a slight edge, as usual, to the DTS track). The soundstage is used effectively, and the score sounds great. There could have been a touch more activity from the surround channels, but they were used adequately. I found the dialog a little muffled at times, but for the most part, it came across clearly and accurately. While not as good as the video quality, this disc still sounds very good.
Not only has The Life Aquatic been welcomed into the Criterion Collection, it has received separate single-disc and double-disc treatments. The single-disc release contains an audio commentary with Wes Anderson and writer Noah Baumbach, a “Starz on the Set” featurette, and the films trailer. The double-disc release (as was used for this review) sports these aforementioned extras found on the single-disc release, as well as a slew of more in-depth special features.
Here is a breakdown of everything you will find on this 2-disc release:
- Audio Commentary: This track, with Director Wes Anderson and Writer Noah Baumbach, is very interesting, educational, and entertaining. The commentary was oddly enough recorded at the New York City bar where the two men wrote the film.
- Deleted Scenes: These 10 scenes (4:30) can be view independently or all together. The scenes are good, but they wont be too sadly missed from the final cut.
- Starz on the Set: This featurette (14:30) includes a collection of interviews recorded on set (go figure). This is what it is… take it or leave it.
- Creating a Scene: This is an interesting featurette (4:40) that shows Anderson directing a full scene with the cast on set.
- This Is An Adventure: This documentary (51:23), directed by Albert Maysles, Antonio Ferrera & Matthew Prinzing, gives some behind the scenes insight into the filming in Italy. This extra is a little dry… Some might enjoy… some will not.
- An Intern’s Journal: This documentary (15:22) is shot by Anderson’s real-life Intern Matthew Gray Gubler (who also plays Intern No. 1 in the film). I found this extra to be very entertaining… check this one out.
- Mondo Monda: This is a clip from an Italian film talk show (16:23) that has host Antonio Monda interviewing Anderson and Baumbach
- Character Specific Featurettes: There are 3 character study featurettes, one for each of Jane Winslett-Richardson (Blanchett – 3:28), Ned Plimpton (Wilson – 2:57), & Esteban du Plantier (Cassel – 7:09).
- The Look Aquatic: This is a featurette (5:30) that covers Mark Friedberg’s production design
- Aquatic Life: This featurette (7:54) covers the stop-motion contributions of Henry Selick’s – who worked on the undersea life aspects of the film
- Costumes: This featurette (4:30) covers, you guessed it, the costumes designed by Milena Canonero.
- More… Also included on this set are 10 video performances by Brazilian recording artist Seu Jorge who performs various Bowie songs in the film (40:00), a Stills Gallery, and the theatrical trailer
This is a wonderful overall DVD presentation. The film, video, audio, and extras are all brilliantly crafted to give the viewer the ultimate Life Aquatic experience. This set should be owned by all fans of Anderson’s work, and any true DVD collector.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary with Director Wes Anderson
- Ten Deleted Scenes
- Interview with the Cast and Crew with Behind-the-Scenes Footage
- Ten David Bowie Songs performed by Brazilian recording artist Seu Jorge
- Interview with composer and Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh
- Mondo Monda – Italian TV Interview
- This Is An Adventure – A Making of A Documentary by Albert Maysles
- Fold-Out Insert with cutaway of The Belafonte with Eric Anderson’s original illustrations
- Behind-the-Scenes photos and original artwork
- Intern Video Journal by Actor and Real Life Intern Matthew Gray Gubler
- Theatrical Trailer