Hollywood Flashback: 'Life Aquatic' Almost Sank in Berlin in 2005

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From left: Anjelica Huston, Wes Anderson and Cate Blanchett attend the Berlin premiere of 'Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' in 2005.

Critics were divided over the idiosyncratic indie comic tale, which starred Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston and Cate Blanchett.

In 2001, Berlin gave Wes Anderson a rapturous reception for the international premiere of The Royal Tenenbaums. Four years later, the Berlin premiere of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was a bit more subdued.

Critics were divided over the idiosyncratic indie director’s comic tale of an over-the-hill oceanographer (Bill Murray) who sets off on a Moby Dick-like quest accompanied by a crew that includes his estranged wife and a pregnant journalist (Anjelica Huston and Cate Blanchett, respectively).

The Hollywood Reporter called it “wonderfully weird and wistful,” but the likes of veteran critic Stephanie Zacharek (a member of this year’s Berlinale jury) dismissed Life Aquatic as “waterlogged with whimsy.”

Anderson would have to wait until 2014 for true glory in Berlin, when The Grand Budapest Hotel opened the festival and went on to win the Silver Bear. It was the “first both full-scale and genuinely metallic prize I have ever received from a film festival,” Anderson quipped at the time in his acceptance letter, read by Berlinale jury member Greta Gerwig, which compared the Grand Jury honor to the edible Palme d’Chocolate he received in a gift bag from Cannes (“I keep it in the original cellophane”) and the Leone Piccolo, a mini-Golden Lion, awarded him by local schoolchildren at the Venice fest.

Grand Budapest Hotel went on to become Anderson’s most commercially successful film — it took in $174 million worldwide — and its triumphant start in Berlin kicked off an awards campaign that ended in nine Oscar nominations and four wins. The quirky filmmaker will be hoping for more of that Berlinale magic for his fest opener, Isle of Dogs, a stop-motion animated feature set in a dystopian future Japan, where man’s best friend has been banished to an island garbage dump.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 15 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.