The Set of 400: #267 – My Favorite Life on Mars

Today! Because I’m going to find it and I’m going to destroy it. I don’t know how yet –

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Directed by Wes Anderson (x2)

Starring Bill Murray (x5), Owen Wilson (x2), Cate Blanchett (x2), Anjelica Huston (x2), Willem Dafoe (x2), Jeff Goldblum (x3), Bud Cort (x3), Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, Waris Ahluwalia (x2), Seu Jorge, Seymour Cassel, Robyn Cohen

Look, I needed some time for it to grow on me, too. On the heels of the dynamite, breakout combo of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson went all-in on the Wes Anderson-ness, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was born. And I think that most of the affectations people associate with Anderson (the ones that really seem to bother some people) came from this movie. Sure, Tenenbaums kicked it off – it has that epic plot, litany of movie stars, excruciating attention to detail which became standard – but I don’t think anyone knew this would become the template for all his movies going forward until Life Aquatic solidified it.

And in fairness to critics, this is the weakest of his big cast, wide ranging films (Darjeeling Limited is a much smaller movie in almost every regard, outside the road-trippiness). So when I first saw it, I couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed, given the highs of his first films. But over time, I grew to appreciate all the mannered performances, the single-minded revenge plot, and the greatness of Bill Murray in a live-action Anderson film – something that, while it continues happening to the present day, doesn’t tend to occupy a large portion of screen time anymore. He cameos in Darjeeling, has a very brief role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and gets slightly more to do in Moonrise Kingdom, but is still a relatively minor cog. And fair, you don’t want the same lead in all your movies – it’s been 15 years since Life Aquatic, maybe time for one last Oscar run for Bill in an Anderson flick?

Glorious

Because Murray’s Steve Zissou is wonderful – it may not be role-of-a-lifetime Herman Blume great, but it is still pretty terrific in its own right. Couple that with terrific turns from Wilson, Blanchett, Huston, and especially Willem Dafoe as the easily offended Klaus Daimler, and the semi-genius music concept of Seu Jorge singing stripped down David Bowie songs in French, and you get a roundly entertaining – if a bit overboard on the Anderson preciousness – comic adventure film.

Is there a universal Wes Anderson film people can agree on? Like, I tend to think The Grand Budapest Hotel (ineligible for this list) may be the closest thing to a widely appealing movie, regardless of the eccentric touches the director brings to it, but am I wrong? As an avowed Anderson lover, I simply can’t find perspective on this. Rushmore, maybe? Because it’s not quite as cutely detailed as the others? Thoughts?

Loads of new club members, including #319 Darjeeling Limited co-stars Wilson, Huston, and Ahluwalia and director Anderson joining the Two-Timers, as well as Galadriel herself Cate Blanchett from #362 The Hobbit and Norman Osborn from #381 Spider-Man Willem Dafoe. Three-Timer inductees are all-around treasure/#318 ID4/#281 Buckaroo Banzai great Jeff Goldblum and decades spanning entrant of #396 MASH/#285 Harold and Maude Bud Cort. But today, Wilmette, IL native Bill Murray joins his #287 Stripes co-star John Candy as the second Five-Timer on the list, adding his roles in #328 The Man Who Knew Too Little, Darjeeling Limited, and #269 Kingpin. Spotlight!

Our Five-Timers sharing the Second City stage in 1976

Coming tomorrow! Lord loves a workin’ man, don’t trust whitey, see a doctor and get rid of it –

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