Reviewed by: Cheryl Sneeringer
Starring: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch, Martin Semmelrogge, Bernd Tauber, Erwin Leder, Martin May, Heinz Hoenig, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Claude-Oliver Rudolph, Jan Fedder, Ralf Richter, Joachim Bernhard, Oliver Stritzel, Konrad Becker, Lutz Schnell, Martin Hemme, Rita Cadillac, Otto Sander, Günter Lamprecht, Thomas Boxhammer, Roger Barth, Günther Franke, Christian Bendomir, Norbert Gronwald, Albert Kraml, Jean-Claude Hoffmann, Peter Pathenis, Arno Kral, Christian Seipolt, Helmut Neumeier, Ferdinand Schaal, Wilhelm Pietsch, Rolf Weber, Dirk Salomon, Lothar Zajicek
Director: Wolfgang Petersen | Released by: Columbia Pictures
Producer: Bavaria Film, Radiant Film GmbH, Twin Bros. Productions (Director’s cut), Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Michael Bittins, Mark Damon, Ortwin Freyermuth, John W. Hyde, Edward R. Pressman, Günter Rohrbach, Edward Summer
Editor’s Note: This is a digitally enhanced 3½ hour “Director’s Cut” of the original 6 hour version. If you go to rent the video, be sure to ask for the digitally enhanced 1997 “Director’s Cut” version. If they don’t have it, smile and tell them to call you when they do.
In August of 1941, a German U-boat departs from occupied France to join the blockade of Britain. Its mission is to torpedo Allied ships in the North Atlantic, and to hide from the teeth of the enemy—the massive destroyers with their fearsome depth charges. We learn at the beginning of the film that 40,000 sailors served on U-boat (submarine) crews during World War II, but only 10,000 survived. It is easy to see why.
At first, the crew chafes at the boredom of it all. They are confined in a vessel that is only 10 feet wide and 150 feet long, and they can’t wait to see action. But then, when they finally intercept an Allied convoy and launch their torpedoes, the thrill of the kill is quickly followed by fear and tension as they rush to hide from the destroyer’s inevitable counterattack.
Although the film is 3½ hours long, in German, with English subtitles, it absolutely held me in suspense from the moment the U-boat sailed until the end. This version of “Das Boot” feels very realistic. Each time the dive alarm sounds, the crew races to the fore, and the camera follows the scrambling young men through cramped openings, ducking under swinging lights and charging past falling gear. This is one film that is worth seeing in a theater with digital sound, because the sound greatly enhances the realism. There is a sense of actually being with the crew deep beneath the surface of the water, because the sound of the hull’s creaking and the pings of the sonar are all around you. When the depth charges explode, you may even be fooled into thinking that the theater is shaking!
The story of the mission unfolds dispassionately. We identify with the German crew, appreciating their humanity and their circumstances. It is true that they served an evil leader with an evil cause, but for them, it was a job, and the job was war. The characters are very believable, revealing both cowardice and heroism, compassion and cruelty. This film could be a good springboard for a discussion of the depravity of man and the ethical dilemmas of war.
Listen closely, however. This movie is NOT for children or young teens. Although there is no sex, the sailors are as you would expect sailors to be—foul-mouthed and indulgent in a great deal of scatological humor. There was more offensive language than I could keep track of. There were also three scenes of male nudity. An opening scene in a cabaret before the crew set sail was full of bawdy humor, irreverence, and drunkenness.
For adults who are interested in the war film genre and willing to endure foul language, this film is well worth seeing. It is expertly crafted (the original 1981 version was nominated for numerous Academy Awards) and provides an opportunity to experience something of what it was like to serve on a submarine in World War II. For Americans, “Das Boot” will make you thankful that we are at peace… at present.
Year of Re-release—1997