The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWes Anderson
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Yeoman
Edited byDavid Moritz
Music byMark Mothersbaugh
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release dates
  • November 20, 2004 (2004-11-20) (Los Angeles)
  • December 25, 2004 (2004-12-25) (United States)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million
Box office$34.8 million

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a 2004 American adventure comedy-drama film written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach and directed by Anderson.[1][2] It is Anderson's fourth feature-length film and was released in the United States on December 25, 2004.

The film stars Bill Murray as Steve Zissou, an eccentric oceanographer who sets out to exact revenge on the "jaguar shark" that ate his partner Esteban. Zissou is both a parody of and homage to French diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau, to whom the film is dedicated.

The film also features Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, and Bud Cort. Seu Jorge has a minor part, but contributes heavily to the film's soundtrack. It was filmed in and around Rome, Naples, Ponza, and the Italian Riviera.[citation needed]

The film was released to mixed reviews and was a box office flop.[3] In the decade following its release it has garnered a cult following, and is now viewed more positively by both critics and fans.[4][5][6][7] It was also since remastered and re-released by The Criterion Collection in 2014.[8]


While oceanographer Steve Zissou is working on his latest documentary at sea, his best friend and chief diver, Esteban du Plantier, is devoured by a 10-meter-long, luminescently spotted creature Zissou describes as a "jaguar shark". For his next project, Zissou is determined to document the shark's destruction.

The crew aboard Zissou's aging research vessel Belafonte includes his estranged wife Eleanor, chief strategist and financial backer; Pelé dos Santos, a safety expert and Brazilian guitarist who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese; and Klaus Daimler, the German first mate who views Zissou and Esteban as father figures. Minor crew members include Vikram Ray, cameraman; Bobby Ogata, frogman; Vladimir Wolodarsky, physicist and soundtrack composer; Renzo Pietro, sound man; and Anne-Marie Sakowitz, a script girl. Also included is a recent group of unpaid interns from the University of North Alaska. However, the "Team Zissou" venture has hit a decline, having not released a successful documentary in nine years.

Ned Plimpton, a longtime Zissou fan whose mother has recently died, believes that Zissou is his father. After they meet at Zissou's latest premiere, Ned takes annual leave from his job as an airline pilot in Kentucky to join his crew. As Oseary Drakoulias, Zissou's producer, cannot find a financier for their latest documentary, Ned offers his inheritance. Eleanor feels her husband is exploiting Ned and leaves.

Pregnant reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson comes to chronicle the voyage. Both Ned and Zissou are attracted to Jane and a competition develops between them. Klaus becomes jealous of the attention Zissou pays to Ned.

On their mission to find the jaguar shark, the Belafonte steals tracking equipment from a remote station owned by currently more successful oceanographer (also Eleanor's ex-husband and Zissou's nemesis), Alistair Hennessey. They then sail into unprotected waters and are attacked by Filipino pirates, who steal Ned's money and kidnap Bill Ubell, "a bond company stooge" assigned to the project. They are then rescued by Hennessey and towed to Port-au-Patois.[Note 1] Sakowitz, along with all but one of the interns, jumps ship once they reach port.

Zissou persuades Eleanor to rejoin the Belafonte and then leads the crew on a rescue mission. They track Bill to an abandoned hotel on a remote island, saving him along with Hennessey, whom the pirates have also kidnapped. Ned and Zissou make one last search for the shark in the ship's helicopter, but the aircraft malfunctions and they crash. Ned dies from his injuries and is buried at sea. Prior to Ned's death, Eleanor revealed to Jane that Zissou is sterile and therefore Ned could not have been his son.

Zissou finally tracks down the shark in a submersible but decides not to kill it, both because of its beauty and being out of dynamite. He ponders, "I wonder if it remembers me," and is overcome with emotion. Eleanor puts her hand on him to comfort him, as does Jane and the rest of the crew. At the premiere of the finished documentary (which is dedicated to Ned, who is acknowledged as Zissou's son), Zissou receives a standing ovation while waiting outside the theater for the premiere to finish. The crew returns triumphantly to the ship the next day.



Literary inspiration

Though the characters were inspired by such American novels as The Great Gatsby and The Magnificent Ambersons, the plot has been compared to Moby-Dick.[9]

Writing about the metaphorical aspects of the film's setting—somewhere in the Mediterranean—film critic Elena Past says that the underwater scenes, because they are central to the storyline, make The Life Aquatic similar in some ways to Respiro. Both films set out a "Mediterranean state of being" where "having left the security of land, the characters in both films are suddenly confronted with the precarious nature of human existence, as the films that depict them tackle the challenges of representing the submarine world."[10]


James Gray originally signed on to play Wolodarsky but he left when he learned that he was going to spend five months in Italy.[11]

Exotic lifeforms

In addition to the luminescent-spotted jaguar shark, other fictional lifeforms (some stop-motion-animated) are cited and appear throughout the film, such as the rhinestone bluefin, crayon ponyfish, wild snow-mongoose, electric jellyfish, and sugar crabs. The animation work was done by Henry Selick.


Main articles: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (soundtrack) and The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions

The soundtrack to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou contains a style typical of other Wes Anderson films. Mark Mothersbaugh, a member of Devo, composed the score, as he has for many of Anderson's other films. The film also features many rock songs from the 1960s-1980s, and several instrumental pieces composed by Sven Libaek for the underwater documentary television series Inner Space. Additionally, the film and soundtrack feature Seu Jorge performing David Bowie songs in Portuguese on the acoustic guitar. Jorge, who also plays the character of Pelé dos Santos, performs some of these cover songs live, in character during the film, mostly with modified lyrics reflecting Jorge's own experiences working on the film.[12] The ending scene depicting the beauty of the shark features the song "Starálfur" by Sigur Rós.

The Life Aquatic is Anderson's first film not to feature a Rolling Stones song.


Box office

The film grossed a total of $24,020,403 domestically after twelve weeks in release, less than half its $50 million production budget. It took in a further $10,788,000 internationally, bringing the total gross to $34,808,403.[13]

Critical response

Initial reviews of the film were mixed. The film has a 57% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 226 reviews, with an average rating of 6.10/10; the website's consensus states: "Much like the titular oceanographer, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou's overt irony may come off as smug and artificial – but for fans of Wes Anderson's unique brand of whimsy, it might be worth the dive."[14] The film has a 62/100 weighted average score on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D" on an A+ to F scale.[16]

Anthony Lane, a film reviewer for The New Yorker, agreed with the conventional criticism of Anderson's deadpan style: that the underreaction of Anderson's characters used to be "hip" but has now become "frozen into a mannerism." He said that "some stretches of action" in the film are being "lightly held within quotation marks," with an "unmistakable air of playacting" in even the most violent scenes. He also criticized the film's deliberately "weird" set ups, which leave the viewer with "the impression of having nearly drowned in some secret and melancholy game."[17]

In the years since its initial release it has developed a cult following,[7][3] and it underwent a critical reevaluation. Many critics view it more favorably, and some, such as Mike D'Angelo of The A.V. Club, consider the film to still be "undervalued" when compared to the rest of Anderson's filmography.[4][5][6]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Art Directors Guild Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design for a Contemporary Film Mark Friedberg, Stefano Maria Ortolani, Eugenio Ulissi, Marco Trentini, Simona Migliotti, Giacomo Calò Carducci, Saverio Sammali, Nazzareno Piana, Maria-Teresa Barbasso, Giulia Chiara Crugnola Nominated
Berlin International Film Festival Golden Berlin Bear Wes Anderson Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Cast Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Bud Cort, Anjelica Huston, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, Noah Taylor Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Acting Ensemble Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Bud Cort, Anjelica Huston, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, Noah Taylor Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards Actor of the Year Cate Blanchett Won
Costume Designers Guild Awards Costume Designers Guild Award for Excellence in Costume Design for a Contemporary Film Milena Canonero Won
Golden Trailer Awards Best Comedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Nominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA Best Sound Editing in a Feature Richard Henderson Nominated
Best Music - Feature The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Nominated
Golden Satellite Awards Best Actor - Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy Bill Murray Nominated
Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach Nominated

Home media

The DVD of the film was released by the Criterion Collection on May 10, 2005 as its 300th title, in both 1-disc version and a 2-disc versions. This is Anderson's third film to be released in the collection, after Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.[18] The Criterion Blu-ray was released on May 27, 2014.[19]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ A fictional town filmed on Ponza.


  1. ^ A. O. Scott (December 10, 2004). "A Seagoing Showcase of Human Collectibles". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Michael Wilmington (December 22, 2004). "'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 28, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Blake, Jason (October 4, 2005). "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou - Film Reviews - Film - Entertainment". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  4. ^ a b D'Angelo, Mike (May 28, 2014). "Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic is much better than its initial reviews claimed". The A.V. Club. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  5. ^ a b VanDerWerff, Emily (March 26, 2017). "The Life Aquatic might not be Wes Anderson's best film. But it is his greatest". Vox. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Reed, Ryan (December 24, 2014). "In Defense of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 10 Years Later". Esquire. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Jones, Riley (June 26, 2017). "Adidas Finally Releases the Shoes From Cult Classic 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'". Footwear News. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  8. ^ "Review: Wes Anderson's the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on Criterion Blu-ray". Slant Magazine. May 21, 2014.
  9. ^ Govender, Dyalan. "Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Melville's Moby Dick: A Comparative Study". Literature/Film Quarterly. 36 (1): 61–67.
  10. ^ Past, Elena (Spring 2009). "Lives Aquatic: Mediterranean Cinema and an Ethics of Underwater Existence". Cinema Journal. 48 (3): 52–65. doi:10.1353/cj.0.0104. S2CID 144151939.
  11. ^ "NYFF: James Gray Almost Appeared in Wes Anderson's 'The Life Aquatic,' Talks 'The Immigrant' with Joaquin Phoenix". October 7, 2013.
  12. ^ Carle, Chris (May 4, 2005). "Review: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou Original Soundtrack". IGN. News Corporation. Archived from the original on December 23, 2007. Retrieved May 23, 2008.
  13. ^ "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  14. ^ "Life Aquatic at Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
  15. ^ The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  16. ^ "Home". CinemaScore. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  17. ^ Lane, Anthony (January 17, 2005). "Go Fish: "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"". The New Yorker. Vol. 80, no. 43. pp. 96–97. Retrieved September 14, 2009.
  18. ^ "Wes Anderson - Explore - The Criterion Collection". Retrieved June 2, 2014.
  19. ^ "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Blu-ray". Retrieved June 2, 2014.
  20. ^ Hidalgo, Juan Carlos (May 15, 2014). "Belafonte sensacional: folk mexicano On the road (Belafonte Sensacional: Mexican folk on the road)". Tierra Adentro magazine (in European Spanish). Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  21. ^ "Swimming With Dolphins - Full Set! w/ Exclusive Interview! Live in HD". YouTube. June 17, 2010.
  22. ^ Östergård, Adrian (July 22, 2018). "Update Aquatic is out on Java!". Minecraft.
  23. ^ Hillier, Brenna (November 20, 2017). "Minecraft: The Update Aquatic adds dolphins, shipwrecks, new water physics, trident weapon and more". VG247.