Das Boot (1981, Director’s Cut)
Oh man, I can’t believe I’ve never found the time to see Das Boot until now. I mean, what was I thinking?! If ever there was the definitive “submarine” war movie, this is it, hands down. I think in my younger years I was put off by the length of it, but no more.
The plot follows the crew of the German U-Boat, U-96 as they set out into the Atlantic to attack convoys heading for Britain. The problem is that by this time, the Royal Navy has figured out how to fight the underwater menace, and has left the U-Boat fleet sparse and spread out.
That doesn’t keep U-96 out of danger, however. On numerous occasions they must avoid being destroyed by depth charges, and they manage to pull it off, mostly due to the commanding presence of their Captain, Willenbrock (Jürgen Prochnow.)
But the combat isn’t the great part of this film. Consider that, apart from about three short episodes, one at the beginning, one at the end, and one about two-thirds in, the entire film takes place on board the sub. All three and a half hours. Now, that might sound tedious and dull to some, but director Wolfang Petersen turns this into an incredible story of human survival and spirit.
The crew goes from being full of enthusiasm and the proverbial piss-and-vinegar, to a band of haggard and battle-wearied men over the course of the film. This slow and eventual degradation culminates with them sitting at the bottom of the Straits of Gibraltar, having been hit by a night-time air patrol. They sit at a depth that should be impossible, with the boat creaking and falling apart around them. They somehow manage to overcome and make enough repairs to get them back underway.
With a lot of renewed spirit, yet still weary and beaten, they sail back into port to a “heroes welcome”, which none of them seem too interested in receiving, and the film ends on a note that you just have to say, “that figures.”
Prochnow and the entire cast is absolutely phenomenal. Prochnow especially has a stare about him that is riveting. I don’t think there was one time I cringed at the acting. It is really just that good all around.
The only real problems I think that hurt Das Boot, are the 80’s soundtrack, and some of the special effects, neither of which have enough of a presence to really detract very much. The soundtrack is only heard a few times, and then only when the sub surfaces in a “marching ahead” fashion. It’s that sort of typical early-80’s classical-keyboard hybrid thing that (thank god!) died out a long time ago. Today it just doesn’t hold up. The external special effects also have some issues, as its quite obvious you’re looking at a model, or a set piece with a projected background… and there is one scene where they’re on the bridge against a purplish background which is just plain weird looking, with the characters having a “halo” around them that just looks strange. But like I said, none of this gets much time, and it was a product of the era the film was made, so I can’t take too much away for it.
The entire direction on board the sub is just amazing, the crampedness of it, the claustrophobic nature is just so in your face its ridiculous. Technically I can’t say much about it, but it all looked so perfect that I have to say well done.
I have not seen the complete “uncut” version which comes from the original television mini-series. I’ve read that it differs in a few ways, in that this version has a longer beginning with the crew at the “club” and before they take to sea, where the uncut deals even more with the men on board…. I will have to find a copy of that to compare this version to.
If I ever feel comfortable in compiling a list of the best World War II movies (I’ve still got a lot to see!) Das Boot will be on that list, probably somewhere near the top.
It should also be noted that I watched this DVD with the German langauge audio with English subtitles. I suggest that you do the same, with any foreign language movie actually. There’s no substitute for the original delivery of the lines. Bad overdubs are just a peeve of mine, and I’d rather listen to the original intent of the dialog and read its meaning than listen to someone else’s interpretation of it.