movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: Here is another spoiler from P.D. Chambliss and updated by Kristy...
Bill Murray stars as Steve Zissou, a world-famous oceanographer who films documentaries of his adventures aboard the ship Bellafonte. It's clear that his better days and films are behind him; his marriage is tense and he's out of funding for his next film. When the movie opens, Zissou is at the premiere of his latest documentary in Italy. During the screening of the documentary, the audience discovers Esteban (Seymour Cassel) - a member of Team Zissou, and Steve's best friend - was killed by a large jaguar shark.
During the premiere, we meet other members of Zissou's oceanography team : Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe), a moody German; Pele (Seu Jorge), who sings and plays the guitar; and Eleanor Zissou (Anjelica Huston), Steve's estranged wife.
Steve and Eleanor have a successful business relationship, and do seem to love each other despite their current rough patch (supposedly revolving around Steve's infidelities and Eleanor's relationship with ex-husband, and rival film maker, Alistair Hennesay)(Jeff Goldblum). Steve's mistress shows up at the premiere while cocktails are being served. She is upset, yet stoic, and says "I came to the premiere to say hello...but you can't touch me." Eleanor sees Steve's mistress and they give each other catfight glances and BOTH leave Steve alone at the premiere! This scene lasts all of five seconds and sets the tone for how tense emotion operates in the film, the actors playing it serious, but the simplicity and briefness of the shot making it absurd.
Following the documentary, the Italian audience talks to Zissou during a question and answer session. Zissou announces that he will be going on another expedition, filming the sequel to the one just watched. However, this time Zissou will be hunting the jaguar shark, to both prove its existence, and kill it for revenge, most likely with dynamite. (Humourous dismay over his wanting to kill a new species)
Now we meet a young man named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a pilot from Kentucky who attended the premier and the after party. Apparently, Ned's mother has recently died of cancer in Kentucky. Ned's mother revealed one week before she passed that Steve Zissou was Ned's father. Ned, in search of answers, decides to visit and discuss the matter with Steve. Steve knows about Ned and is initially hesitant but eager to know him, even though he's uncomfortable with the concept of fatherhood. Others, including Eleanor, are suspicious for unspecified reasons. Steve asks Ned to join Team Zissou, and Ned does, while also putting up his inheritance from his mother as bankroll for the adventure. This money is matched by other investors who demand that one of their people go with Team Zissou and make sure they stay on budget. He is referred to as the Stooge (Bud Cort).
Next we meet Jane (Cate Blanchett) a writer for a oceanographic magazine. Jane is pregnant, a little unstable and her motives during the interview are unclear. Steve initially thought the interview would be a puff-piece but Jane starts the interview with hard-hitting questions. Steve regrets inviting her onboard the Bellafonte after they ship out on their newest mission. He is also attracted to her, yet upset that Eleanor chose not to join the mission, fearful someone else will die.
On the voyage Ned tries making minor changes in the film, and in his relationship with Steve. He suggests calling Steve "Dad" while on film, but Steve rejects it and suggests some other nickname (perhaps SteveZ?). Despite his inability to be called Dad, Steve has no problem suggesting that Ned change his name to Kingsley Zissou (what he would have named him) and orders him stationary with that name, ignoring Ned's misgivings. Jane and Ned soon begin to form a relationship.
Their first step in finding the Jaguar Shark is to use a "shark finding station" in the middle of the ocean. Upon arrival we see that this station is owned by Operation Hennesay (which is much more advanced and well funded than Team Zissou). Steve breaks in, and has the interns begin stealing lots of equipment. The Stooge says he can't allow them to do anything illegal, but lets it slide. Steve takes Hennesay's espresso machine.
After a brief divergence from the plan to explore an unusual signal, Team Zizzou travels through unprotected waters to save on gas while heading to their destination. There is tension over this decision and later, while Jane and Kingsley Ned are making out in Jane's cabin, pirates storm the Bellafonte. The pirates tie up all of the crew members, steal money from the ship's vault and take the Stooge hostage. Steve frees himself and begins shooting at the pirates until they flee the ship with the Stooge, leaving their injured dog on the Bellafonte, and one intern wounded. The burning ship is saved by Operation Hennesay, and Alistair tows the Bellafonte to shore. Several crew members, including all but the wounded intern, mutiny and leave the expedition. Eleanor joins the expedition. Jane is worried about her baby, her relationship with Ned and whether or not Steve knew that he'd had a son and ignored him all his life. Eleanor confesses that Steve is "shooting blanks" and knows it. He knows that he's not Ned's father.
With Eleanor's help, Steve discovers the pirates have fled to a nearby island. Steve and the rest of the crew go to the island to rescue the Stooge. There, in an abandonded resort, they find the pirates, rescue the stooge and Allistair Hennesay, whos ship was also attacked in the interm. Resuming their mission to find the shark, Ned and Steve go up in their helicopter to look for signs.
Unexpectedly, the helicopter experiences mechanical problems and crashes in the water. Ned dies in Steve's arms, the water around them red from Ned's blood.
Almost immediately after the service for Ned, the Jaguar shark is spotted. All crew members, including Hennesay who is still on board, and Jane, climb into a yellow submarine and go to the reef. The Jaguar Shark approaches and the moment of truth arrives for Steve. Steve decides he no longer wants to kill the Jaguar Shark even though he has the opportunity.
Steve's crew wraps up the this documentary and there is another premiere for the new film. This premiere is bitter-sweet for Steve, who spends the entire time sitting on the stairs while others watch the film. There is a dolphin shaped award beside him, suggesting that the new film is a huge success. Steve is clearly mourning Ned. After the film's screening, Steve takes time to talk to Klaus' nephew who is about 5 years old. The movie ends as Steve and everyone else in the film, boards the Bellafonte, while an image of Ned stands on the top deck.