Exploring Soundtracks: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at our first Wes Anderson film. While most of his films are praised for their unique visual style, plenty of them also have great soundtracks. And the soundtrack for “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” might just be one of my favorites.

“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” was released in 2004, and is Anderson’s fifth film. As with most Wes Anderson films, this one is filled with star after star. The cast includes Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Seu Jorge, Jeff Goldblum, and more.

The soundtrack for “The Life Aquatic” features more than a few songs performed by the Brazilian musician, singer, songwriter, and actor, Seu Jorge. There are a few Bowie covers that Jorge plays in the film that didn’t make the soundtrack cut. A more complete version of his contributions to the film were released as “The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions Featuring Seu Jorge”. For our discussion though, we’ll stick to the original released soundtrack.

Synopsis

“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” follows the story of Oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his crew, who are on a mission to find and kill a mythological shark that murdered his partner. The crew includes Zissou’s estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The first song on the soundtrack is “Shark Attack Theme”, which plays in the opening scene, as Steve Zissou presents the first part of his film, in which his partner is killed. It doesn’t sound like what you’d think, foregoing any kind of typical action theme for a laid-back, jazzy piano piece.

Next up is David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”, which plays right after Zissou meets the man who may or may not be his son, Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson). After the meeting, Zissou walks to the back of the ship for a smoke to “Life on Mars?”, which ends with a short slow-motion blurring of his hand.

After another conversation with Ned, Zissou invites him to stay on his private island. As they fly in, Seu Jorge sits on a small lighthouse playing “Rebel Rebel” on a guitar. It’s another nice, uplifting jazz tune that contrasts nicely with Zissou’s depressing character.

After a quick trip to the bank to deal with some funding troubles, Zissou and Ned head back to the Belafonte. The montage of the team preparing for the mission is set to Devo’s “Gut Feeling”. Here, we get another happy tune, but one that ends with a touch of darkness, the music cutting out as Ned is given mouth to mouth resuscitation.

One of my favorite musical moments comes after the Belafonte is boarded by pirates, and Zissou goes on a rampage killing as many of them as he can. During this action sequence, The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” sets the tone. It’s maybe the one scene in the film in which the music actually matches the tone of what you’re seeing on screen. That’s not a dig at the scenes that don’t, or this one, for that matter.

Seu Jorge

Throughout the film, Seu Jorge’s character is shown playing a guitar as a way to transition from one location to the next. He plays “Rebel Rebel” as the Ned and Zissou arrive on the island, and “Rock and Roll Suicide” as the crew departs on the Belafonte for their first day at sea. These work as interesting tonal shifts, often following more morose scenes, like when Zissou’s wife leaves him.

One of the more humorous transitions of Jorge’s comes just before the Belafonte is hijacked by pirates. In this one, Jorge’s character is playing “Space Oddity”, and completely unaware of the boat riding up just behind him. As he reaches the end of the countdown, a ladder props itself up against the deck of the ship, signaling a dramatic shift in the story.

Without the contributions of Seu Jorge, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” just wouldn’t have the same charm and whimsy that it does.

Track List

  1. “Shark Attack Theme” – Sven Libaek.
  2. Loquasto International Film Festival – Mark Mothersbaugh.
  3. “Life on Mars?” – David Bowie.
  4. “Starman” – Seu Jorge.
  5. Let Me Tell You About My Boat – Mark Mothersbaugh.
  6. “Rebel Rebel” – Seu Jorge.
  7. Zissou Society Blue Star Cadets / Ned’s Theme Take 1 – Mark Mothersbaugh.
  8. “Gut Feeling” – Devo.
  9. “Open Sea Theme” – Sven Libaek.
  10. “Rock & Roll Suicide” – Seu Jorge.
  11. “Here’s To You” – Ennio Morricone featuring Joan Baez.
  12. We Call Them Pirates Out Here – Mark Mothersbaugh.
  13. “Search and Destroy” – The Stooges.
  14. “La Niña de Puerta Oscura” – Paco de Lucía.
  15. “Life on Mars?” – Seu Jorge.
  16. Ping Island / Lightning Strike Rescue Op – Mark Mothersbaugh.
  17. “Five Years” – Seu Jorge.
  18. “30 Century Man” – Scott Walker.
  19. “The Way I Feel Inside” – The Zombies.
  20. “Queen Bitch” – David Bowie.

 

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