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.