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This review is from: Das Boot - The Director's Cut (DVD)
I saw this film in the theater when I was a wee lad, and I hold it largely responsible for my lifelong fascination with Adolf Hitler's Germany and the men who chose to fight for it. Like most thirtysomethings, I grew up watching cornball American war movies and TV shows that usually depicted the Germans (and the Japanese) as comic-opera buffoons ("Hogans Heroes"), sub-human hordes fit only for a burst from a Tommy gun ("Bataan"), or cartoon bad guys with eyepatches, monocoles, dueling scars and varnished black boots, who smoked cigarettes with that peculiar European three-fingered grip and said things like, "You're being very foolish....we have ways of making you talk" but when push came to shove just couldn't seem to shoot straight ("Where Eagles Dare"....and how hard could it possibly be to hit Richard Burton's fat, drunken ass anyway?)
"Das Boot" was the first film I had ever seen that depicted the Germans as human beings fighting for their country (if not necessarily their Party, or Hitler), and it depicted them in all their vulgar, profane, humorous, sweaty, smelly, unshaven, drunken glory. Strangely enough, the movie (like the book by Lothar-Gunther Bucheim, which remains one of my favorites) decides not to give many of the principal characters full names, but merely ranks or first names(The Captain, The First Watch Officer, the Chief of the Boat, etc). I think this was done mainly to keep the 'everyman' feel of things, i.e., to make sure the audience understood that these characters represented the U-boat arm as a whole rather than any particular 'famous' boat such as Prien's, Schepke's, Kretschmer's, Endrass's, etc.) Many people were distinctly uncomfortable seeing the German soldier (or sailor), always depicted as a jackbooted, sadistic robot, shown as more or less indistinguishable from his American counterpart, and I am convinced that this is 50% of the movie's appeal. The other is of course that this is a submarine film, and they are ALWAYS cool.
The U-boat war against the Allies had a number of phases in which each side gained and then lost the advantage. This film is set during the fall of 1941, just before America entered the war, when the tide of the battle was turning against the Germans for the first time after a year of heavy successes against British convoys. The captain of this boat, brilliantly played by Jurgen Prochnow, is an 'old man' at 30 years of age (not merely because his crew is made up of 18 year olds, but because he is one of the few captains to have survived this long) with a half-buried hate for the Nazis and a grudging admiration for the British navy. His officers made up of a willing but rather naive war correspondent, a stiff-necked Hitler admirer, a clownish second officer, a combat-fatigued chief one step from a nervous breakdown, and a brilliant engineer whose wife has an apparently life-threatening disease. Nevertheless, these fellows know their business, and the actors, who (we are told from the DVD commentary) were not only drilled to look and act like real sailors, but recruited from all over Germany and Austria to give the film a feeling of how Hitler's Reich absorbed German-speakers from all over and homogonized them into a fighting machine of ruthless efficiency.
The best thing about the film, which is a director's cut edited down from the enormous, 18 hour "Das Boot" mini-series originally aired in Germany, is its production. The film takes place almost entirely on the U-boat, and the boredom, claustrophobia, tension, heat, stench and bad lighting seem to close around the viewer as if he were actually on board. In particular the depth-charging scenes are agonizing to watch, as lightbulbs burst, control panels short out, water spurts in from broken fittings and hull bolts, driven by the immense pressure of the ocean's depths, explode out like machine-gun bullets into the crew. The awful nature of the U-boat was that once it struck its target, it was essentially helpless and its destruction or survival depended almost entirely on the ability of one man, the "Kaeleun" (captain) to out-wit the enemy above.
Some reviewers have taken issue with the realism of the anti-Nazi sentiments of the boat's characters, saying that this follows the post-WWII liberal-revisionist German line that there were basically two kinds of Germans during the war: those who were simply fighting for their country and had no use for Hitler, and the Nazi villains who adamantly supported him and his crimes. Many English/American novelists hold this view, a la Jack Higgins, so as to be able to create both "sympathetic" and "evil" German characters. I half-agree with this. The German navy was an extremely apolitical and professional bunch, officers actually being forbidden to join the Nazi Party, and probably many officers echoed the captain's ill feelings in real life. On the other hand, having read works like Stephen Fritz's "Frontsoldaten" and the memiors of Gen. Hans-Ulrich Rudel, I have come to believe that belief in Hitler and National Socialism ran very, VERY deep in the average German for much of the war, and this "good vs evil" mind-set is largely a device of both the Germans and their apologists to avoid this fact.
"The Boat's" DVD extras are interesting, especially the featurette on how the U-boat "set" was a real U-boat (!) constructed from old blueprints by the same manufacturer who made them in the war (!!).
I strongly suggest that English-speaking audiences watch the subtitled version first rather than the English-dubbed version, although unlike most dubbed versions this one is dubbed by the actual actors, since most of the principals, including Prochnow, speak fluent English. Hearing the German, if you only understand the obvious words, is very important to the experience.
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Initial post: Dec 26, 2012 11:00:44 PM PST
Sand Fiddler says:
Re: "a director's cut edited down from the enormous, 18 hour "Das Boot" mini-series"
There was NO 18 hour miniseries. The miniseries had 5 parts of just under an hour each. I saw it at the time and bought the series on VHS even though only available on PAL format (and converted it at the place I worked).
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