The Life Aquatic
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is Wes Anderson’s fourth feature film. I’ll let Matt Zoller Seitz tell you all about it.
The Calypso was originally a British Yard class minesweeper (BYMS class) built in the 1940s. After its military career, it served as a ferry briefly before being converted into an oceanography vessel for Jacques Cousteau.
The Calypso’s story gets interesting again in 1996 when it sank in the port of Singapore. She was re-floated, but hasn’t moved under her own power since. It’s all terribly interesting but let’s get back on topic.
For The Life Aquatic, Disney bought a former British Navy Ton-class minesweeper built in the 1950s to convert into the Belafonte. This ship was originally called the HMS Packington (all Ton-class ships were named after British towns ending in -ton) and was used by the British Navy for less than a year before being sold to South Africa and renamed the SAS Walvisbaai. Disney bought it in 2003. After filming the Life Aquatic, the ship was sold, and has been converted into a yacht called Mojo which now calls Dubai home.More about the Calypso.
The Belafonte really is a caricature of the Calypso. It’s all there – the helicopter, the balloon, the mini-sub, the observation bubble thought up in a dream – and like all of Wes Anderson’s characters, it’s details are delightfully exaggerated. The observation platform on the bow rises up majestically and proud. The additional deck raises the bridge. The high sides of the hull are extended further towards the stern. It’s got a taller funnel. This all gives the Belafonte what I think is a much more interesting look for the film.
The Ocean Exploration Vessel
Revell sells a plastic scale model kit of the Calypso. Or, rather, they did sell a model of the Calypso. They recently re-released the model as the Ocean Exploration Vessel, with no references to Jacques Cousteau or the Calypso. This is likely due to legal issues, of which there were plenty of following the death of Cousteau in 1997. Nonetheless, the model sold by Revell is still a faithful recreation of the Calypso.
Because the Belafonte is built from a Ton-class minesweeper, and is only very slightly different than the older BYMS ship, the Calypso, this Revell model is a perfect starting point when building a scale model of Zissou’s ship. Clearly the set designers agreed – both the model that Steve holds in the film, and the full-scale cutaway film set of the Belafonte are based on the Calypso, not the Belafonte as seen in the film. The model in the film is just a Revell model of the Calypso with light blue paint on the hull.
So, building the Ocean Exploration Vessel out of the box and painting it blue is technically screen-accurate. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a model of the Belafonte as seen in the film.
I should probably mention that while I have built a handful of model cars from kits before, I have very little experience with building plastic models and no experience modifying them. I am learning as I go, and expect that the results will be far from perfect. I’m sharing the build here so that others with little or no experience might be able to build their own Belafonte.
In Part Two, I will lay out the plan for all of the modifications needed to convert the Ocean Exploration Vessel in to the Belafonte.