At an Italian film festival oceanographer/adventurer/documentary filmmaker Steve Zissou unveils footage of the latest expedition of the Belafonte
, when a sea creature eats his best friend, deep-sea diver Esteban.
During the attack, Steve hit the creature, which he has dubbed the “Jaguar Shark,” with a homing device. Steve’s films aren’t what they once were, so he is struggling to get financing to go back out after the Jaguar Shark.
Later that night at a reception, Steve meets Ned Plimpton, a pilot for Kentucky Air, who may or not may be Steve’s son. Steve invites Ned to join Team Zissou. Jane Winslett-Richardson, a pregnant journalist assigned to write a profile on Steve, also comes aboard.
Anderson and Baumbach create a charming, whimsical adventure on the high seas, a ripping yarn for adults. Because the film combines both comedic and dramatic elements, you never know where the story will lead or how the characters will react; yet the results are always believable in the world that’s been created.
The search for the Jaguar Shark is a brilliant MacGuffin. It gives the viewer a plot to follow while the characters conduct a search for what’s missing in their own lives, such as love and family, a familiar motif in Anderson’s work.
Another major strength of the script is that we slowly learn about the characters as the film progresses rather than one big exposition dump that tell us everything all at once. Early on in the film, we learn that Ned’s mother died. In a later scene we learn how, and then a few scenes later we learn why.
The slow reveal of information keeps the viewer intrigued because one line can alter our knowledge of who the characters are and what is happening in the story.
The direction is fantastic as well. Anderson breaks the film into chapters using Zissou’s films. A brilliant set piece is the three-story cutaway of the Belafonte that allows for great tracking shots as the members of the crew wander around.
His choice to use Henry Selick’s animation for the underwater visual effects is an interesting choice because it makes the sea creatures appear as if they are from another world, which in a sense they are.
Bill Murray as Zissou leads this talented ensemble and is as funny as ever, but we also see him vulnerable with all the turmoil in Zissou’s life, half of which he causes himself.
Willem Dafoe steals almost every scene he is in as Klaus, the ship’s engineer and cameraman. He is sure to be getting more comedic roles after this.
I could go on and on because there are so many funny and wonderful moments that I want to share with you, but, like any adventure, half the pleasure comes from your own personal discovery, so set sail with Team Zissou as soon as you are able.