Rather unexpectedly, I saw a preview screening of THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU last week. I've really wanted to post a review, but my feelings about the film are still in gestation mode. I need to see it another time and jot some notes down afterwards before I can give you an acceptable review (as opposed to the usual half-assed one).

So for now, I'll say my feelings are similar to what I thought about THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS after one viewing: I enjoyed it and was moved by it, but I didn't think it was a masterpiece or quite as affecting as Wes Anderson's previous efforts. Keep in mind that, three years later, TENENBAUMS is currently my all-time favorite film.

Bill Murray is fine, although in the highly unlikely event that he'd win the Oscar for this, it'd be like awarding Russell Crowe for GLADIATOR when he deserved it so much more for THE INSIDER. The character Steve Zissou seems a close cousin of Royal Tenenbaum, only more pathetic and whinier. Willem DaFoe has never been funnier and Cate Blanchett has rarely been more grating.

The tone bounces around a little too wildly and occasionally surges into melodrama. The film's at least 15 minutes too long, although I can't think of any obvious scenes to cut, and one of the most unnecessary is my favorite.

I loved the Bowie-drenched soundtrack (and interpretations thereof). The montage introducing us to Zissou's ship, the Belafonte, tops Max Fischer's extracurricular activities and Margot Tenenbaum's investigative file. Anderson's usual quirky asides, throwaway lines and insane attention to detail are all still there, and they service the film rather than stilt it.

THE LIFE AQUATIC is the same film Anderson's already made only at a grander, more ambitious scale. It will win few converts (considering the across-the-board mixed reviews it’s already received) and will likely disappoint some admirers. I'll probably grudgingly find a spot for it on my top ten (as I did with TENENBAUMS in 2001); only time and additional viewings will tell whether it really resonates. Check back with me in another month.