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martok2112 06-27-2012 02:36 AM

Das Boot: The Director's Cut
DAS BOOT: Director's Cut

I've always been one who loved the submarine movie genre, at least, those movies that I'd gotten into in the last 20+ years... Grey Lady Down, The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, U-571....and one movie in particular that deftly manages to just strike some chords in me....the World War II thriller, Das Boot (or The Boat, as the American release was called).
Even as a kid, I always liked The Boat, (the film was released when I was 12 years old) and I fully appreciated that this was a story about the bad guys. But it is done in such a way, that for all the atrocities that the Nazi regime was responsible for, you end up feeling for the crew of U-96. The story portrays this crew as just a bunch of average Joe's, young, and eager to do their bit for their country. It doesn't say anything about the killing of Jewish people, or the tortures they endured under the Nazi's move to power. These are just a bunch of kids, led by a 30 year old captain (known only as The Captain...or Captain Lieutenant) portrayed stunningly by Jurgen Prochnow (who many of us sci-fi buffs would know as Duke Leto Atreides in the 1984 theatrical production of DUNE). Indeed, only a few of the cast members' characters actually have names to be referenced by. I think this was a unique move on the part of the writers (and likely the author of the novel upon which Das Boot was based). As the story unfolds, one may find his or herself sympathizing and empathizing with the crew of U-96. Sometimes it is easier to find commonailties with someone if we have a name to know them by. But the anonymity of identification of some of the crew members (those known to the audience only by rank or duty station) puts a really nice touch on the reality of war, in that, when one side conducts missions against the other, names are really not known of the common enemy soldier. The only names that might register, are those of high-value targets. In this film, it is largely the younger crewmembers whose names we end up knowing, and the journalist who accompanies them on their tour, Lt. Verner.
One thing that this movie sets out to demonstrate is that war is hell on both sides. From the dissenting, scathing commentary of the Fuhrer by righteously drunken, recently decorated Captain Thomsen (who has clearly seen more than his fair share of sea combat), to the film's explosive ending, this film doesn't miss a beat.
Sure, this particular crew (a fictional crew placed in a situation based on actual events) is young, brash, tough-spoken, full of piss, vinegar, and bravado...but they are not without human feelings. These are not the Gestapo. These are not the Wermacht. These are not the SS. They are just average Joe's. Yes, they want to smash the enemy, but they are not, by nature, murderers....and one scene in Das Boot (after U-96 has struck a British supply convoy) demonstrates the remorse the officers feel after they fire a kill-shot on one particularly tough, yet heavily damaged, flame engulfed freighter. When the killing torpedo goes off, British crew that were apparently using what habitable areas of the ship remained as shelter are seen desperately trying to escape their broken and dying vessel. The Captain (Prochnow) curses the British for not rescuing their fellow sailors, even after the amount of time that had passed. One of the U-boat officers weeps for the desperate sailors trying to get to what little safety they can find. When it is noted that the survivors of the doomed freighter are swimming toward U-96, Prochnow reminds them (with great reservation) that they are not allowed to take prisoners, and orders the U boat to back away. I think with this crew, it was that despite the fact that the British crew were their enemy, they were also fellow "men of the seas" that they would probably otherwise have beer in a pub with, trading stories of adventure, were it not for their diametrically opposed political positions and ideologies.
We also get to witness the terror that a submarine crew would feel when being blasted about by depth charges, surrounded my millions of tons of water, with the notion that they could all drown or be crushed at any moment. As Captain Prochnow points out, "it gets psychological". They even get caught up in a desperate life and death struggle, as U-96, damaged and disabled, lies on a fortuitous slab of dirt some 280 meters below the surface. Yes, these are the bad guys, but one who is enthralled by the movie can likely not help but actually feel a small sense of goodwill toward this crew....that one actually hopes they make it out of their predicament.
It is this artful measure of storytelling that Wolfgang Petersen so aptly weaves, that makes this film a truly unique experience.
And the special effects in this film...the miniature subs, the combat...and the claustrophic atmosphere the film propagates aboard the cramped U-boat...all just add to the experience. You get an idea for just how truly brave one had to be to serve aboard such a ship, regardless of what side of the war you are on.
The Boat (the American version) was already a long movie, I think clocking at 2 hours and 10 minutes, or maybe 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Director's Cut of Das Boot is a full feature film length longer....about an hour and forty minutes longer...making the run time well over three and a half hours...but every minute of it is so artfully told and presented, it's hard to bat an eye, or want to miss a thing.
Another thing I loved about this movie is that it gave us two of the actors who would appear later in different visual versions of DUNE. Jurgen Prochnow portrayed Duke Leto Atreides in the 1984 theatrical release, and Uwe Ochsenknecht, who played the Chief Bosun aboard U-96 would go on to play the Fremen Naib, Stilgar, in the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries of Frank Herbert's DUNE.
Well....these are my opinions of the movie. Anyone else have similar feelings? Or maybe some not so similar feelings? I'm not trying to stir up ill feelings with my review if WW II is a touchy subject for anyone, or if anyone of possible Jewish descent is offended by this movie, because of how it portrayed the enemy.

horatio 06-27-2012 05:17 AM

Ah, Thomsen. When I see the beginning of the movie I always wonder whether the actor actually acted (he is an alcoholic) or really was wasted.

Perfect analysis. Only one of the officers, the young, stiff, well-groomed XO, is a nazi. When he repeats party propaganda about the Brits being weak the skipper makes fun of him via calling him Hitlerjugendführer and telling him to play "It's a long way to Tipperary".
Yes, the Tommies are their enemy but they are not too eager to hear the name of Dönitz, the CiC of the navy, because they feel on the one hand like cannon fodder and on the other hand they want more resources. It's precisely this tension between being professional soldiers and human beings who want the war to end, a tension which the audience shares, that makes the movie interesting. You empathize with the characters and are fascinated by the technical side of the sub and the ability of the captain lieutenant to calculate ship movements in his head yet you are also terrified by the conditions they live in and the crimes they commit.

While the seasoned seamen are war weary as they know what awaits them out there the movie does not sacrifice the eagerness of everybody on the sub to release their torpedoes after having been out there for weeks while doing nothing for the sake of delivering a message. And precisely via being nothing else than a movie based upon a novel based upon Buchheim's experiences, via being as realistic as possible, it becomes probably one of the best antiwar movies. So Truffaut has been wrong, you can make an antiwar movie simply by showing war as it is.
Das Boot is perhaps comparable to Platoon which is more fictional (the difference with Das Boot is that Platoon focuses on the crimes of individual soldiers whereas Das Boot views war as systemic problem and soldiers as nothing but pawns in this game) but at least in the beginning it is also simply based upon Stone's experiences as an ordinary soldier and thus lacks the artificiality of many other war movies.

martok2112 06-27-2012 07:29 AM

Great points, Horatio.

Yeah, the actor playing Thomsen really did look wasted in that opening party scene. And then he cleaned up fairly decent in time to catch U-96's could also see on his face, a sense of "Oh, my God, what you boys are about to endure. Well, I've seen more than enough." (And then U-96 encounters Thomsen on the high-seas. U-96's captain was none too happy about them pushing Thomsen back out to sea.)

Yeah, at first the U-96 XO is definitely the Nazi on board, for all the reasons you pointed out. Still maintains his grooming, reads propaganda, basically serves as the boat's "political officer" (similar to what we see later in Hunt for Red October). However, even he eventually becomes a sympathetic character, shedding his high-horsedness for a genuine compassion for the crew. (I really liked the scene of humility, when they get to Vigo, and the Weser's captain mistakenly presumes HIM to be the captain. The response from the "Hitler Youth Leader" XO is priceless.)

My favorite characters in the movie were the Captain, Kriechbaum (ship's navigator), Werner (the journalist), the Chief, the radio officer/medic, the chief bosun, and the cypher officer.

I agree. You wanna make an anti-war movie, no better way to do it than to show the horrors of war, and the effects it has on those who must wage it, not just those who bear it. If the effects are nothing but positive "oh yeah, we kicked their ***" attitudes, then it glorifies war. But if it's like what we see in Platoon, and Das Boot, then it shows war for what it is. Even these submariners are shown to be true to something (I believe it was) MacArthur had said: That in war, it is the soldier who first prays for peace. Of course, they're going to be hungry for action, if it's their first patrol out, and for many of those sailors, it was...I think the only real vets on the boat were the Captain, the Chief, Johann the Engineer (confirmed with 9 patrols, including the U-96 tour), and the Chief Bosun. Everyone else, totally new. So, you're sitting in a propellered sardine can for weeks, waiting to fire your shots and make a name for yourself, and as with so many things in the military, it's hurry up and wait....only to find that you're several hours away from being able to render meaningful assistance to those boats that are seeing action.

The frustration sets in, and eventually gets the better of the crew...for a short time. But their shining moment comes when they save U-96 from a watery grave. As the Captain said (in the American version), "All you need are good men." (The English subtitle is different from the English dub that Prochnow himself performed. I think Uwe Ochsenknecht performed his own dubs as well, as he is also an English speaking German. --and as a side note, I really enjoyed Uwe's performance as Stilgar in Frank Herbert's DUNE. :) )

The Captain was definitely the antithesis of a Nazi. He was a war weary vet, largely leading a group of children. Though only 30 years old, war had put many times more years of wisdom on his head. He cared for his crew. Even when it was thought he was going to shoot Johann when the engineer was going mad, you could see in his face that it was something he did NOT want to do. He knew Johann was an experienced officer, and a hearty one at that....for Johann to have been so shaken that he nearly risked death...(the Captain seemed rather thankful that the crew got Johann under control, and that he did not have to shoot the embattled engineer) and then after Johann's apology and swearing that such an incident would not happen again, gave Johann his chance at redemption...I really liked this Captain.
And I'm sure what he really wanted to tell the Weser's captain was a lot more than he got to actually say...the Weser's captain was expecting big bold tales of heroism and derring do, and got a pretty short and sweet take on just how dangerous being on an Unterseeboot really was.
Hell, it was the cypher officer that provided a little more color commentary to that end. :)

horatio 06-27-2012 07:49 AM

I think he just didn't want to play what as expected from him, the role of the war hero.
I like it when he tells Lt. Werner in the very beginning to not make photos now but at the end of their mission because everybody will have beards ... and when the sub comes back to La Rochelle we see the young sailors with bears, looking grim, pissed off about what has been done to them and not too happy about the military pomp. Like the KaLeun they have quickly become old men.

My favourite character is the second officer. When they dive deeply for the first time during a test alert and the sub begins to crack he talks with the greenhorn Werner about how deep they can go and how the water will crush them if they go too deeply ... and he totally enjoys to fu*k with him and frighten him even more. :D

omegaman 06-27-2012 01:40 PM

Like all the sub movies mentioned. Have them on DVD except Das Boot. When I was a kid I used to watched an American show called the Silent Service made in 1957. It was a documentary dramatic anthology about the U.S. Navy's submarine fleet and all the stories were based on fact and the realism was heightened by actual use of Navy combat footage.
This was the show that got me started with my fascination of submarines. If there's a war movie about subs I've seen it. U571 is very well done.

omegaman 06-27-2012 01:47 PM

While I'm at it. In movies you'll never see the crew of a space ship suffer the same physiological terror as a submarine crew (who might be crushed to death at any moment), despite the fact they are travelling in an equally dangerous environment. There's something strange about that.

martok2112 06-27-2012 02:38 PM


Originally Posted by omegaman (Post 324761)
While I'm at it. In movies you'll never see the crew of a space ship suffer the same physiological terror as a submarine crew (who might be crushed to death at any moment), despite the fact they are travelling in an equally dangerous environment. There's something strange about that.

I've been thinking about doing an original sci-fi action animation that covers that very thing. :)

horatio 06-27-2012 02:41 PM

This guy knows how dangerous space is and he keeps the medicine against it in a flat silver bottle.

martok2112 06-27-2012 02:52 PM

Looks like he's been taking just a little too much of his own brew. :D

omegaman 06-27-2012 03:24 PM


Originally Posted by martok2112 (Post 324765)
I've been thinking about doing an original sci-fi action animation that covers that very thing. :)

That sounds interesting. Go for it!

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