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Das Boot - The Boat
Review of the film by Wolfgang Petersen. Get the
DVD from Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.ca. Get the novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim (Piper) in German from Amazon.de.
Article added in July 2000

Cast: With Jürgen Prochnow (The Captain), Herbert Grönemeyer (Lieutenant Werner, Correspondent), Klaus Wennemann (Chief Engineer), Martin Semmelrogge (2nd Lieutenant), Hubertus Bengsch (1st Lieutenant, Number One), Bernd Tauber (Chief Quartermaster, Navigator), Martin May (Ullmann), Erwin Leder (Johann), Claude-Olivier Rudolph (Ario), Joachim Bernhard (Preacher), Jan Fedder (Pilgrim), Ralph Richter (Fronsson), Heinz Hönig (Hinrich), Uwe Ochsenknecht (Chief Bosun).


Das Boot
is a Second World War U-boat thriller based on the novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim and on actual events. However, the characters in the movie are fictitious. Das Boot, shot in 1981 by  Wolfgang Petersen, is one of the rare valuable products of German cinema in the last decades - a pity, if one considers that in the 1920s, the country was at the forefront of filmmaking - and was nominated for five Academy Awards. Wolfgang Petersen is not only the director, but also wrote the screenplay. The 208-minute Director's Cut from 1997 is much longer than the previously released edition of 149 minutes, but of course also based on the original six-hour television miniseries. It is more "modern" in vision and sound. One can consider it an improved - purists may say a "polished" - version (regarding image and sound).
 
Das Boot explores the tight, claustrophobic atmosphere on a German U-boat at war. The frightening sounds of the vessel and the depth charges exploding as well as the physical and emotional tensions between the crew members make the movie an experience not to miss. Das Boot opened director Wolfgang Petersen the doors to Hollywood where he shot movies such as Outbreak, In The Line Of Fire, Air Force One and others. They all made a lot of money, but none of them ever reached the narrative and psychological depth and brilliance of the anti-war film Das Boot. The movie's success is of course also due to the brilliant acting by Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer and all the others - and just like for Petersen, the film was the starting point for Prochnow's Hollywood career.
 
La Rochelle, France. Autumn 1941. Germany's vaunted U-boat fleet, with which Hitler hoped to blockade an starve Britain, is beginning to suffer its first setbacks. British freighters are now sailing the Atlantic with stronger and more effective destroyer escorts, inflicting heavy losses on the German submarines. Nevertheless, the German High Command orders more U-boats, with even younger crews, into battle from their ports in occupied France. The battle for control of the Atlantic is turning against the Hitler regime. 40,000 German sailors served on U-boats during World War II. 30,000 never returned.
 
The opening scene of Das Boot shows drunken German sailors come across the car driven by the U-boat Captain (Jürgen Prochnow). He is accompanied by the arriving war correspondent lieutenant Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer). They head to a cabaret in German occupied La Rochelle (France) were a lot of the U-boat officers enjoy a last moment of French nightlife. The movie shows the ordinary life on the vessel which the next day goes out to sea. After a lot of shared adventures on the boat, among them contacts with the enemy (a ship they sunk, an almost lethal attack they suffer when trying to pass the straits of Gibraltar), the U-boat manages to reach their seemingly secure home port of La Rochelle - where ironically a large part of the crew dies in an Allied air attack. The enemy may not get you on the world seas, but even at home, you are not save anymore - the war is definitively lost (updated on June 26, 2001).
 
The only thing a little annoying about Das Boot is the fact that the crew is probably not representative for Hitler's U-boat sailors in general since only one officer on the vessel is a real Nazi - a view to romantic to be true. Still, the overall picture of the men is not black and white. Most of the characters are not only subtly painted by director Wilhelm Petersen, but also skillfully played. The captain is less and less convinced about the High Command's strategy. But in the end, he and his crew were willing executioners of their superiors' orders. At the same time, they all had to fight their fears and doubts, personal, moral and psychological problems. One of the rare German films worth watching.


Das Boot - The Director's Cut, 1997 (1981). Get Das Boot on
DVD from Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.ca. Get the novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim (Piper) in German from Amazon.de.