Das Boot Director's Cut Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Take photos of the crew returning, not putting out to sea.
They'll have beards by then... it would shame the Brits to see mere boys give them hell. Baby faces... who should still suck Mama's breast. I feel ancient around these kids, like I'm on some children's crusade.

This 1981 submarine movie (labeled the 'definitive submarine movie') drew international recognition for director Wolfgang Petersen and opened doors for him to direct several Hollywood feature films, including "Enemy Mine", "Shattered", "In the Line of Fire", and more recently, "Air Force One".

During the Second World War, German U-Boats prowled the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, preying on transports that ferried Allied supplies. They were sleek, deadly, and attacked with impunity... or maybe not. "Das Boot" deconstructs the mythos of the valiant German submarines and their valorous crews who steadfastly defended their Fatherland in a series of decisive tactical strikes. In reality, the U-Boats were cramped (you had to drop everything you were doing and stand up whenever anyone wanted to pass by), dehumanizing (with no such thing as privacy in the crowded crew quarters), and cesspools for various forms of pestilence, such as crab lice. Though they could run silently beneath the surface, the lack of visual cues underwater made it difficult for the crews to actually find their targets, and they were easily tracked by enemy destroyers armed with depth charges. Wolfgang Peterson effectively uses steadicam cinematography (such as the dynamic battle scenes, with follow shots of sailors running the entire length of the vessel to pass orders along), tightly-composed shots, and long spells of anticipation to effectively convey the claustrophobia, helplessness, lack of morale, and maddening sense of expectation on board a U-Boat.

Based on the novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, DB follows one U-Boat mission, that begins with the clean-shaven and eager young men reporting for duty under the command of the war-weary Captain (Jurgen Prochnow) who openly criticizes the wisdom of the Third Reich. Among the men reporting for duty are a mentally unstable Chief Engineer (Klaus Wenneman), a party-line spouting First Lieutenant (Hubertus Bengsch), and a news correspondent (Herbert Groenemeyer), who serves as the eyes and ears of the audience. As they carry out their mission, we come to know some of the crew members, we watch them wait in fear as the vessel reaches depths which strain the hull's integrity, and suffocate alongside with them as the air begins to slowly run out. DB humanizes the enemy, putting a face on the Nazi Germany war machine, and also drives home the point that regardless of what side you are on, in a war, we are all victims. The tone of the film is decidedly apologetic, an extension of the postwar German angst over the horrors committed during WWII-- a good example of this is when the U-Boat crew actually sink a freighter. They accomplish their mission, but they must also watch the crew of the sinking ship burn and drown.

One of the great things about the Director's Cut is that it adds back about an hour of footage cut out from the original theatrical release, bumping up the running time to three-and-a-half hours. This extra footage fleshes out some of the secondary characters, making the tribulations that they endure and the tragic ending that more poignant. However, the downside of the new footage is that the interminable cat-and-mouse waiting game that the crew plays is accentuated further, which slows the pacing considerably, making it difficult to watch in one sitting.

If you enjoyed "Das Boot" in its original theatrical release, you will definitely enjoy the Director's Cut, which provides a more complete portrayal of events on board a U-Boat. And if you have never seen "Das Boot", you will shortchange yourself by watching anything else but the Director's Cut.

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