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The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is a highly stylized Wes Anderson movie starring Bill Murray. It's a Spiritual Sequel to The Royal Tenenbaums, though Zissou is by far the more dreamlike and gentle film of the two.
Steve Zissou is a world-renowned oceanographer and documentarian. Things are not going well for him. For starters, his documentaries have been getting less acclaim. His wife, who was once married to his arch rival Alistair Hennessey, refuses to join him on his expeditions anymore. And worst of all, during the filming of his last documentary, his best friend Esteban was eaten by what Zissou describes as a "Jaguar shark", a creature that -- given Zissou's mental state at the time -- few believe exists.
Zissou announces that his next documentary will detail his search for the jaguar shark in order to kill it. When he (predictably) can't get funding through the traditional channels, he receives the unexpected help of Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson Playing Against Type), a Kentucky airline pilot who believes Zissou to be his long lost father. Zissou sets out on the search for the Jaguar shark, along with his eclectic crew (including his possible son Ned; a "bond company stooge" sent by Zissou's producer to keep an eye on him; pregnant reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson, who ends up coming between Ned and Zissou; Klaus, played by Willem Dafoe, a devoted German sailor with severe emotional issues -- and a bunch of unpaid college interns.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou provides examples of these tropes:
- Aerith and Bob: Steve, Ned, and Oseary Drakoulias.
- Anyone Can Die
- Bang Bang BANG: Averted: despite one of the film's themes being how the unrealistic style of Steve's films comes from his surrealist reality, the guns do sound like they would in real life (as in, high-pitched pops rather than low thooms).
- Bi the Way: Played with: Steve makes several disparaging remarks about Hennessey's bisexuality throughout the film. However, given his tone and his severe dislike of Hennessey, we assume these are childish insults... until...
Hennessey: [To Zissou, regarding Eleanor] We've never made great husbands, have we? Of course, I have a good excuse. I'm part gay.
- Big Damn Hero
- Celebrity Paradox: Despite Zissou's status as a Mock Cousteau, at one point "Cousteau and his cronies" are mentioned. You'd think that the identical uniforms of the two crews would cause issues.
- Cover Drop: the exact scene depicted on the poster above is in the film (minus Ned).
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The bond company stooge. Unlike most examples, however, his real name, Bill Ubell, is stated a couple of times.
- Five-Token Band: Team Zissou, as listed in the beginning of the film:
- Esteban du Plantier
- Klaus Daimler: "Calm, collected, German."
- Vikram Ray: "Born on the Ganges."
- Bobby Ogata
- Renzo Pietro
- Vladimir Wolodarsky
- Anne-Marie Sakowitz
- Pelé dos Santos
- Eleanor Zissou
- Seven marine science students from the University of North Alaska (one of whom is later identified as Nico).
- Fix It in Post: Steve's reaction to some of his more blatant gaffes. Eventually, after falling down a flight of stairs, he announces that he wants to leave it in and "give 'em the reality".
- Gene Hunting: Ned Plimpton believes that Steve is his father. It is later revealed that Steve is sterile, but in the mean time, both have become as close as father and son.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Most members of Team Zissou.
- Jerkass With a Heart of Gold: Steve, definitely.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Steve is occasionally implied to be this.
Steve: Oh shit, she's right. I guess we'll have to loop that line.
- Steve at one point reveals that no one on his crew had any previous background in oceanography before joining, so he may not have had it as well.
- Mock Cousteau: The titular main character.
- Ms. Fanservice: Anne-Marie spends half of her scenes topless.
- Depending on your interpretation, Zissou may have left this in his films for that purpose, so this could be stealthily lampshading the concept of fanservice.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Subverted with Bill the Bond Company Stooge. Steve expects him to follow them around on the expedition interfering and telling him what he can and can't do, but he's actually a decent guy.
- Oh Crap:
Steve: This is gonna hurt.
- Posthumous Character: Esteban.
- Playing Against Type: Besides the aforementioned Owen Wilson (whose character even so has a hint of Wilson's usual laid back demeanor), there's Willem Dafoe as Klaus Daimler. Yes, Dafoe has a fair amount of range (he did play Jesus after all) but when you think "Willem Dafoe", do you usually think "chronically insecure guy desperately trying to gain the approval of a father figure only six years older than him"?
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: "I said...get your ass THE HELL OFF OF MY BOAT!"
- Precision F-Strike:
Hennessey: Is this my espresso machine? Wh-what is-h-how did you get my espresso machine?
Bond Company Stooge: Well... uh... we fuckin' stole it, man.
- The Red Stapler: The Adidas Rom track shoes made specifically for Team Zissou produced a demand for them in the real world. Although they were never made by Adidas, blogs popped up with directions on how to retrofit a pair and people also started selling them on eBay. Red beanies also became quite popular after the movie was released, with companies selling Ned's traffic light adorned cap.
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: The pirates Ned refers to as hijackers until Steve corrects him (and reminds him that he was supposed to be on watch).
- Sapient Cetaceans: The myth of the hyper-intelligent dolphins is sharply deflated.
Zissou: Son of a bitch, I'm sick of these dolphins.
- As the dolphins watch Ned get it on with Jane and turn to face each other and "laugh" when Steve walks by the monitors to check again, it's entirely possible they're just screwing with him. They later prove this by leading Eleanor to the rescue mission boat.
- Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Early on, Steve refers to Hennessy as his "nemesis", most likely out of jealousy that the latter is richer, more handsome and more successful.
- Short Cuts Make Long Delays: "You wanna pay for the extra gas?" Considering that the ship's fuel was set ablaze after it was boarded by pirates...
- Shout-Out: Near the end, the team runs through a pond, and only Steve gets covered in leeches. The exact opposite of what happens in Ghostbusters, with everyone but Bill Murray covered in Marshmellow.
- And the closing credits are a shout-out to the closing credit sequence of The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, which co-starred Jeff Goldblum
- Spiritual Sequel: To The Royal Tenenbaums.
- Stop Motion: Most of the fantastic species Steve encounters are animated in stop motion.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: The Belafonte is taken over by pirates because Ned wasn't doing his job (due to having been put on the roster as "Kingsley Zissou"). Pele is playing his guitar on deck when they get boarded... and doesn't notice until the ladder hits the hull.
- The Intern: The crew includes a bunch of unpaid college interns, whom the entire crew treats like crap and are forced to do menial jobs and loot one of Hennessey's research stations. They finally have enough and quit after the pirate attack, which Steve responds to by giving them all "Incomplete" in their evaluation (seeing as he doesn't want to pass then but doesn't want them to fail either.)
- The lone holdout eventually becomes a full crew member and gets his name mentioned on film.
Steve Zissou: Anne-Marie, do the interns get Glocks?
Anne-Marie Sakowitz: No, they all share one.
- The Cast Showoff: Seu Jorge's David Bowie covers.
- Which are Translated Cover Version , of course.
- The Talk Show With Host Name: Not a talk show, but uses the formula.
- Under the Sea
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Steve Zissou, and how.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Klaus.