- Dec 9, 2001
- Fishkill, NY
- Real Name
- Rich Gallagher
Program Length: Director's Cut: 208 minutes
Theatrical Cut: 149 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1 1080p
Languages: German, English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish
40,000 German sailors served on U-Boats during World War II. 30,000 never returned.
Director Wolfgang Petersen recalls that at the American premiere of Das Boot in Los Angeles, his heart sunk when the audience cheered upon reading that 75% of German submariners were killed during World War II. He had reason to be concerned, because Das Boot tells the story of a German U-Boat and its crew from a decidedly German point of view. However, once the film got underway the audience paid rapt attention and afterwards gave the director a standing ovation.
Simply put, Das Boot is one of the great war films ever made, and by far is the best movie ever made about submarine warfare. This new Blu-ray release includes both the original theatrical version and the longer Director's Cut (which was released theatrically in 1997). The 293-minute television miniseries version is not part of this set but is still available on DVD (in fact, it is currently available from Amazon for the bargain price of $8.49).
Petersen says that the Director's Cut is indeed his preferred version of the film. He believes that the miniseries version is too long, and he was required to pare the original theatrical version to 149 minutes because of time constraints. He points out that there is nothing in the theatrical version which does not appear in the Director's Cut, and the additional footage does much to flesh out the characters.
Das Boot is set late in 1941. For nearly two years German submarines had helped the Nazis to control the North Atlantic and disrupt numerous convoys which were trying to deliver to England food and military equipment from the United States and Canada. However, even before the entry of the U.S. into the war, the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic had begun to turn in favor of England. The British Navy had learned how to better protect the convoys, and its anti-submarine warfare tactics had markedly improved. In particular, improvements in underwater detection had enabled British destroyers to chase and inflict severe damage upon submerged U-Boats.
The officers and crew of German submarine U-96 are celebrating their last night ashore in La Rochelle, France before heading back to sea. After the Germans conquered most of France in 1940 they immediately began to build fortified submarine bases along the Atlantic coast. The close proximity to England and north Atlantic shipping lanes greatly enhanced the efficiency of the U-Boat fleet. The Captain of U-96 (Jürgen Prochnow) is apprehensive because his crew is largely inexperienced. While his most crucial officers and petty officers have been with him for some time, many of the enlisted men are going to sea for the first time. As the men drink and carouse at a French brothel, the recently-decorated U-Boat commander Captain Thomsen (Otto Sander) drunkenly staggers into the whorehouse to a great ovation. Thomsen proceeds to grab a microphone and launches into a rant in which he manages to insult both Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. This is a crucial sequence, because it signals to the audience that Das Boot not a pro-Nazi film. Indeed, the only dedicated Nazi aboard the U-Boat is the First Officer (Hubertus Bengsch).
The crew is joined by a war correspondent, Lieutenant Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer, who is a famous singer in Germany), who has never before been on a submarine. As U-96 heads to sea, Werner becomes introduced to the claustrophobic and ultimately squalid conditions under which the crew must live. 48 sailors have been assigned to a boat which was built to accommodate just half that many. The men have to share bunks and make do with just one toilet (the submarine has two, but storage space for provisions is so limited that one toilet is used for stores). Bad weather and rough seas require the U-Boat to remain submerged for extended periods of time, but periodic surfacing is necessary for fresh air and so that the diesel engines can be run to recharge the submarine's batteries. After weeks of fruitlessly searching for enemy ships, U-96 finally has a near-catastrophic encounter with a British destroyer.
Director Petersen effectively combines scenes of extended boredom and frustration with some of the most nerve-rattling, white-knuckle battle scenes ever committed to celluloid. It quickly became evident to audiences that the purpose of the film is not to glorify Nazis or even to glorify apolitical German sailors. The purpose is to unflinchingly portray the grim realities and consequences of war, and in that regard it is an unqualified triumph. For a film of such considerable length the time passes quickly, but when it reaches its shattering conclusion most viewers are going to be emotionally spent.
Jürgen Prochnow is superb as the Captain, who is determined to project a sense of cool confidence to the crew no matter how dire the situation. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, and Petersen's direction is beyond reproach. The cinematography and outstanding special effects combine to immerse the audience into each scene, creating a sense of immediacy which has rarely been matched. Das Boot was nominated for six Academy Awards, although it inexplicably was not nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Thirty years after its initial release it has lost none of its power and relevance.
Sony has delivered another top-notch Blu-ray presentation. The image is extremely sharp and detailed, doing full justice to the exceptionally realistic sets. The opening underwater shot of the submarines is a bit murky, but director Petersen explains that the shot was technically problematic from the outset and he was never able to get it quite the way he had envisioned. The colors are for the most part deliberately muted, but there are some outstanding shots of sunsets and explosions which really light up the screen. Black levels are solid and shadow detail is excellent, important factors for a film in which most of the action takes place in confined spaces under artificial light. I saw no evidence of excessive DNR or other digital anomalies. Das Boot has never looked better. Incidentally, the theatrical cut opens with the film's English title (The Boat) and English credits.
The lossless 5.1 DTA-HD MA audio has been enhanced since the original theatrical release and is now is nothing less than spectacular. The scenes of ships being torpedoed, the submarine being rattled to its core by depth charges, the howling winds and stormy seas, exploding bolts and the rush of water from burst seams are terrifyingly realistic thanks to the outstanding activity of the subwoofer and surround channels. Viewers can choose to listen to the film in German with subtitles or with a surprisingly good soundtrack which is dubbed in English. However, it should be noted that a comparison of the English subtitles to the English dubbing demonstrates that the English version has been slightly sanitized. In the Director's Cut, for example, the U-Boat's First Officer complains to the Captain that drunken members of the crew had urinated on his car as he drove to the brothel to deliver a readiness report. In the subtitled version, the Captain responds that the crew "pissed" on his car as well. In the English dubbed version, the Captain vaguely says that the crew "initiated" him. My preference is to watch foreign films in the original language with subtitles, but the option to watch a generally well-dubbed version is welcome. The rousing musical score by Klaus Doldinger has been given a broad and pleasing soundstage.
A fine array of extras nicely complements the two film versions of Das Boot.
The Director's Cut includes a commentary track by Wolfgang Petersen. He points out many of the intricacies involved in making the film and clearly identifies the scenes which were left out of the theatrical version. Among the more interesting insights is his claim that Otto Sander actually was drunk when his scene as Captain Thomsen was filmed.
History buffs will enjoy the 40-minute documentary "Battle of the Atlantic" which was made with vintage, black and white World War II newsreel footage. The documentary covers the progress of combat in the Atlantic from the initial successes of the German wolfpacks to the futile efforts to prolong the war after D-Day.
"Behind the Scenes" actually is a 1981 "making of" featurette which is titled "The Wartime Mission of U96." It is a standard definition color featurette shown it its original 4:3 aspect ratio. It has a running time of 60 minutes.
A new "making of" featurette is entitled "Wolfgang Petersen - Back to The Boat." The director is joined by Jürgen Prochnow on the original set for a 45-minute interview and discussion about the making of Das Boot.
"The Perfect Boat" is a 13-minute featurette in which Petersen discusses the challenges involved and the process of making the Director's Cut of the film. As noted, Petersen was required to limit the theatrical cut to 2 1/2 hours and he has always felt that the television miniseries is too long. The Director's Cut is his preferred version of Das Boot. This featurette also demonstrates the significant differences between the original soundtrack and the enhanced soundtrack. There can be no doubt about the fact that the enhanced soundtrack delivers considerably more punch.
"Maria's Take" is a shorter, 9-minute featurette in which Petersen's wife, Maria, discusses her experiences as the assistant director on the film.
Finally, Jürgen Prochnow takes viewers on an 8-minute tour of U96 from bow to stern.
All of the extras except the commentary track are on the disc which contains the theatrical cut of the film. There is no commentary track with the theatrical cut.
The two discs are packaged in a standard-size Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
Das Boot is a stunning, gut-wrenching, and unforgettable war film which is even more powerful today in high-definition and with an enhanced lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Some fans of Das Boot may be disappointed that the television miniseries has not yet been given the same treatment, but the Blu-ray release is nevertheless a stunning achievement and is highly recommended.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: July 5, 2011