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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I'm sort of unclear what the general opinion is of Life Aquatic at this point (and don't tell me to check MetaCritic or Rotten Tomatoes--you know whose opinions I trust most), but I saw it last night, and I gotta say I liked it a lot. It really worked for me, being transportive and emotionally affecting and all those sorts of good thing. I'll certainly acknowledge that what's seemingly the central theme of the movie, i.e. Bill Murray's Life Problems, was overly familiar from the last two Anderson movies, and Murray in particular didn't seem to be doing much different than what he did in Rushmore.

But here's why I liked it, and what I haven't seen anyone else really mention: it was an action-adventure movie! And one of the best ones ever made. It just seems obvious--you've got this team of people with different specialties all in matching outfits, there's a central conflict at the beginning, there's a violent episode that ends with a gunfight (featuing MOTHERFUCKING PIRATES! Although Miss Clap points out that I like pretty much anything having to do with pirates. I say it's because of my pirate heritage, arr), a rescue on a desert island that ends with a big explosion, a tragic coda, a romantic subplot with love triangle, a peer rival who comes together with the hero at the end, male relationship issues being worked out, etc., etc., etc. If you abstract it, there's not a hell of a lot of difference between it and a lot of Bruckheimer movies. (Which, lest you take that the wrong way, I have my own particular opinions on.)

Now, of course, all this gets passed through the Wes Anderson filter--the team members aren't particularly talented, the equipment's all broken-down, and everyone is vaguely ridiculous in one way or another. But this is a big part of why it's so good. First off, it's good because the fact that it can be even remotely classified as an adventure movie is a big difference from previous Anderson films, which were all very small in their particular ways; even the small details in Life Acquatic are big, especially the tricked-out ship itself, which in one of the nicest sequences gets presented as a set, and then used as such throughout the movie. But also, Anderson recognizes that to make a more conventional action movies, you have to be good at making them, and he's probably not. So he's made one his way, and it's come out really wonderfully, I think. There aren't a lot of action-adventure movies focusing on oceanographers, and they really commit to the concept here to the degree that you're really invested in this world in a way you're not necessarily with the more generic areas action movies usually take place in. As such, it puts a premium on setting, and places the movie firmly within this setting--there's no world to save, and it's unclear what's even at stake beyond the sort of cartoonish rivalries they set up between Murray and Goldbloom. And in some ways, it does have that same cracked logic, from plot points to character's reactions, that you find in the Adult Swim genre of cartoons such as Sealab 2021. But everything here is so much more precisely and deliberately laid out that it all coheres a lot more then in the deliberately non-coherent cartoon.

Speaking of which, I know I'm not really being very coherent here, which is sort of too bad. But my point is that this movie is, at heart, an action-adventure movie, and the fact that people keep wanting to compare it to Anderson's previous movies or 8 1/2 or something is a testament both to Anderson's skill at masking the degree to which this is an archetypical action movie and to the still low regard in which we hold action movies; I doubt many critics would want to make this comparison unless they wanted to trash the movie. But I'm presenting it here as praise. There's a lot more going on here, of course, than I'm getting into at present--I'd like to be able to talk a bit more about the way it creates a mood and the sort of double knowledge of a film about a film crew and the reality of the filming itself--but apparently the ol' brain isn't quite up to snuff for that right now. Ah well.