Das Boot – The Director’s Cut (1981/1997)
Written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, based on the novel by Lothar G. Buckheim
Starring: Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer, Klaus Wennnermann
Before Wolfgang Petersen started making movies in the U.S. (In the Line of Fire, Air Force One), he was already a renowned director of both feature and made-for-TV movies in his native Germany.
Of his made-in-Germany feature films, perhaps the best-known is 1981’s Das Boot (The Boat), a movie which follows the captain (Jurgen Prochnow) and crew of a German U-boat (submarine) during a single war patrol in 1941.
The Captain: [throwing his sou’wester down] God DAMNIT how can this happen?! A dozen boats we have in the Atlantic! From Greenland to the Azores, a mere dozen! But still we, we almost collide with one of our own! Something’s wrong here…(turning to navigator) Checked on our position?
Navigator Kriechbaum: …more or less Capt-
The Captain: More or less?! More or less?! Thats not GOOD ENOUGH!
Navigator Kriechbaum: Not one sunspot in two weeks. Difficult to calculate.
The Captain: Yeah yeah..We make a few errors in our own position – the others do the same, and we end up playing collision games! Leaving the route wide open! [to Werner] I hope you’re taking notes. Maybe clue HQ into what’s happening.
Werner: Surely you have better connections than me.
The Captain: You think so, huh?
With a production budget of 32 million DM ($18 million), Das Boot was once the most expensive movie made in Germany. It has been released in three different versions: a two-hour and 20 minute long theatrical release (1981), a 1985 German TV miniseries which runs for a total of five hours, and the 216-minute-long 1997 Director’s Cut edition.
The film begins with a simple title card that is as dispassionate (and revealing) as the rest of Das Boot: it tells the audience that of the 40,000 German submarine crewmembers who fought in the Battle of the Atlantic, 30,000 were killed. (That’s a 75% casualty rate, one of the highest suffered by any branch of any of the combatants in World War II.)
Das Boot is based on a novel by Lothar G. Buckheim, who – like Lt. Werner (Herbert Gronemeyer) – was a war correspondent for the German propaganda ministry assigned to cover U-boats and their exploits during the early years of the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-1945). Assigned to accompany U-96 on a war patrol from its base in La Rochelle, France in late 1941, Lt. Werner serves as the audience’s eyes and ears aboard the very cramped quarters of a German submarine.
Through Werner’s stint on the submarine, the viewer experiences the danger, the boredom, and the excitement of the hunt for Allied shipping. Das Boot also shows the differences in attitudes between the apolitical captain and the “true believers” who still follow Nazi principles, the war-weariness of disillusioned German Navy veterans and the horrors of being stuck in a sea-going coffin as British warships and planes hunt their U-boat.
My Take: Though at first it’s hard for many people to identify with German submariners, viewers will be totally immersed in the claustrophobic world of U-96 and her crew. Even one knows though U-96 is hunting Allied shipping in the Atlantic at the behest of Hitler’s regime, Petersen’s refusal to make the Germans look like Nazi patsies and the camera’s unblinking focus on the cramped quarters and the sailors’ gutsy effort to survive the worst Nature and the Allies throw at them made me bond with them anyway.
This last point is vital if you’re going to watch this film: While Das Boot does allow the audience to feel some sense of empathy for the German crewmembers of U-96, it doesn’t cast them as saintly Good Germans. (One wonders if a Hollywood movie about U.S. subs in the Pacific could be as brutally honest as Das Boot….)
Instead, by showing us the conditions in which the German sub crews lived, worked, fought and died (the only thing that’s left out of the movie is the awful smell of the sub’s interior), Das Boot gets the viewer to see the sailors in a realistic and human fashion. Most of the Kriegsmarine (German navy) men aboard , after all, are not Nazi Party members and are simply doing their duty to their country in a time of war.
Clocking in at over three hours, Das Boot: The Director’s Cut comes in one of those double-sided DVD discs that require careful handling. It has the original German soundtrack (with subtitles) and an English-language dubbed track. Foreign language movies with such audio tracks often sound “fake” because the English-speaking voice actors often sound different from the original actors. However, because most of Das Boot’s cast also speaks English, the majority of the actors were available for the English-language audio track.
(Film Trivia: The full-scale mockup of U-96, which was docked at one of the old World War II U-boat pens in France for on-location shooting, was also used as the German submarine seen in Steven Spielberg’s 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg also used the U-boat pen to portray the Nazis’ secret outpost in the Mediterranean Sea.)
- Codec: MPEG-2
- Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
- Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
- English: Dolby Digital 2.0
- German (Dolby Digital 5.1)
- Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
- English, French, Spanish
- Single disc (1 DVD)
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- DVD Release Date: December 9, 1997
- Run Time: 208 minutes