It remains to be seen if The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou will achieve the status of a cult classic. However, there is no question that people have latched onto the film and it seems to have a special following, even within Anderson’s followers. By simply searching Google Images for the film, one can find loads of fan-made art and illustrations inspired by the movie. The Criterion Collection must have had this in mind when it decided to release The Life Aquatic on DVD.
What I loved about this movie has much to do with the concept and visuals and very little to do with the characters and plot points. I loved Team Zissou’s uniforms. I loved their red caps (I wish I had one myself now). I loved the stop-motion animation (though it wasn’t used enough, in my opinion). I loved the idea of people who go on adventures like the ones that I had daydreamed about as a kid. I loved the music (most of it is by David Bowie). Perhaps most of all, I loved the colors; those bright, vibrant colors that make each frame seem like it is colored with the contents of a child’s crayon box. These are my reasons for liking The Life Aquatic and they probably are the reasons cited by many of the film’s fans.
I would not consider this to be Anderson’s best film or a great film at all. I hardly connected with the movie on an emotional level, maybe because I did not feel like I was ever invited in. It does not stray from Anderson’s trademark brand of storytelling, but I never felt involved with the characters. Movies like this can be disappointing. They achieve technical greatness, but never allow the audience to feel emotionally invested in what is happening. That’s not to say I was entirely disappointed, as I mentioned earlier, there are some wonderful, wonderful ideas in the movie that I’m sure will stay with me for a while.
I wanted to love this movie. Were my expectations too high? I don’t think so. Only an elite class of filmmakers have made masterful pictures year after year, but Anderson has shown that he can produce some great work and there comes a point in one’s career when we should be able to hold the director to a standard of excellence. I believe Anderson is past that point. Months or even years from now, I will probably revisit this film and have a better time watching it. It may be one of those films that improves with age or familiarity. Whether it is or not, it will be interesting to see how this film is perceived by audiences in decades to come.