Werth: Um, hi, Wise. What's with the yachtsman's cap?
Wise: I went sailing with my parents last week and I've been feeling pretty nautical ever since.
Werth: Does this mean that you've been making tuna noodle casserole for dinner?
Wise: No, but it does mean that I'm itching for cinematic adventures on the high seas.
Werth: Ooh! Set sail, Cap'n Wise! Set sail!
Wise: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) emerged from Wes Anderson's deep affection for Jacques Cousteau's oceanic travelogues, and it follows the title character's (Bill Murray) faltering career as an undersea documentarian and the comic misadventures that unfold as he pursues both a relationship with the son he abandoned (Owen Wilson) years before and revenge upon the fabled jaguar shark that made a fricassee of his best friend.
Werth: Is the jaguar shark part fish, part cat?
Wise: The Life Aquatic is perhaps Anderson's most whimsical film. Always a writer/director with a very specific point of view, Anderson allows his boyhood fancies to drive this film closer to fantasy than any of his other work. Of course his usual preoccupations are on full display—strong mothers and absent fathers, the dreamer battered by experience, densely layered set and character design—and they mix with the outlandish elements with varying degrees of success.
There's a marvelous image of Anjelica Huston lying dreaming in an underwater observation pod, while the final encounter with the elusive jaguar shark seems freighted with undecipherable meaning.
Werth: It's totally undecipherable. How would a jaguar be able to hold its breath long enough to mate with a shark to make jaguar shark babies?
Wise: I have to admit that Aquatic isn't my favorite Anderson film, although it does reward repeated viewings. It's always interesting to watch a filmmaker reach beyond his usual concerns, plus the shaggy nature of the movie allows for for some standout performances, including Cate Blanchett as the kind of tough-talking yet vulnerable girl reporter Katherine Hepburn might have played, and Michael Gambon as Zissou's silver-tongued producer on the lam.
Also of note is the gorgeous undersea menagerie designed and animated by Henry Selick. But it's the central performances from Murray and Wilson as the mountebank and his guileless offspring that really makes this movie set sail.
Werth: Now that you've gotten me obsessed with sharks, I can't help but talk about the best shark/sailing movie ever, Jaws (1975).
Wise: If only The Poseidon Adventure had starred a Great White.
Werth: Based on Peter Benchley's hit book, Steven Spielberg's Jaws swam into theaters June 20, 1975, and officially originated the Hollywood Summer Blockbuster. With nothing but a couple small films and TV under his belt, Speilberg created a national sensation with this movie about a lone shark rampage in the waters off sleepy Amity Island on Fourth of July Weekend.
People all over the country mimicked John Williams' Oscar-winning, iconic main title and, "You'll never go into the water again," became a national catchphrase that caused as much H2O aversion as Hitchcock's shower scene in Psycho.
Wise: I haven't showered within sight of the shoreline since I could press "Play" on the Betamax.
Werth: While its terror factor is off the charts, Jaws is also, at its heart, a male, sail-bonding adventure. Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), Sam Quint (Robert Shaw) and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) hunt the killer shark in Quint's small boat, The Orca, and work together on the empty to ocean to destroy this awesome beast. It is through this shipboard interaction that their layered characters emerge—most profoundly with Quint's mesmerizing "USS Indinapolis" monologue.
These scenes of camaraderie on the ocean make what could have been just a fishy monster film a much richer dramatic experience. It was a methodology that Spielberg would utilize on successive films to make popular movies and a boatload of money.
Wise: I wouldn't mind setting sail in just a dinghy full of cash from Spielberg's boatload.
Werth: Well, sailor, in the meantime you and our readers should just hoist the misenmast on the S.S. Film Gab!