Das Boot – The Mini Series
September 1, 2003
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, ,
“Flood the tanks!” The best submarine film of all time gets an extended release on DVD.
Officially the most expensive and complicated German production to date, Das Boot (or ‘The Boat’, if you’re the patronizing BBC) set out to conquer two formats: film and television. For theatrical release the million feet of film Petersen had shot would be wittled down to make the story available to watch in a single two-hour sitting, but could also be made into a TV mini-series, cut into six fifty-minute segments. The huge financial gamble paid off because twenty years on Das Boot is still regarded as the definitive submarine movie.
Recent efforts such as Crimson Tide, K-19 (no, not that dog film with James Belushi) and the controversial U-571 may have come close to offering the same claustrophic thrills underwater, but they were polished Hollywood products where big American stars jutted out their heroic jaws and saved the day. The difference with Das Boot is that the cast is almost entirely unknown, so you never know who is expendable. It’s also more about the pressure (real and psychological) the crew is under, and not how many ships they get to blow up.
The worldly captain (Prochnow, never better) is simply doing his job and trying to get his men home safe while carrying out orders he doesn’t believe in. You would be forgiven for thinking this is a product of getting the film made in the first place (patriotic Nazis having fun on a sub wouldn’t have gone down quite so well in Europe), but is in fact a true story. We meet the crew at a rowdy send-off party where a naive, gung-ho Leutenant has been assigned to keep tabs on the men during the upcoming mission into enemy waters. In opposition, we also see a drunken shell of a captain who is living prove that war is far from fun. “Take pictures of crew-men arriving home, not crew-men departing,” Prochnow advises his new recruit as they head out.
It’s no surprise that most of the action plays out inside the cramped submarine from the German crews’ point of view, and this is where Petersen really sells the experience the men go through. They can barely move without bumping into each other and take turns sleeping in miniscule beds right next to the noisy engine room. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, they discover they can do nothing but wait for orders as they sail aimlessly across the ocean, running into storms and even a fellow U-boat. “There aren’t enough of us covering the Atlantic and yet two of us still nearly hit each other,” the captain sneers.
Watching this extended TV edition is a big swallow in one five-hour dose, but there is never a dull moment. Petersen cleverly lulls you into believing the worst is past and then pulls out something even more devastating each time. And in a world of flashy CGI, it’s refreshing to see that a scene so unbelievably tense can be created merely by men watching a little needle on a gauge creep up or down. Almost unbearably claustrophobic and with realistic characters you can root for, Das Boot still stands as one of the defining war dramas of our time.
And now for the bad news. The only extras we get are a five minute ‘making of’, which plays more like a trailer for a full-length documentary that isn’t there, and four trailers for Black Hawk Down, Bridge On The River Kwai, Petersen’s own In The Line Of Fire and, of course, Das Boot. On the upside, the presentation of the film itself is excellent, with digital remastering bringing out the best all round (especially from the sound).
Even if you own the original cut of the movie on DVD, there’s over twice as much footage reinserted here, so if you’re a fan then it’s more than worth your while. The only question is, will there be yet another release with more special features?