Plot: What’s it about?
The year is 1942 and the world is in the midst of large scale conflict, as the Allied and Axis forces do battle. The German submarine fleet is involved in the Battle of the Atlantic, in which the U-boats harass English shipping lanes, though all out destruction is always a viable option for the German crews. At first, the German submarines had a marked advantage, but the tide has started to turn and in massive fashion. The improved escorts for the English ships have slanted the scales against the Germans, which has resulted in some serious problems. The U-boats have been taking damage and in some cases, that damage is severe. On one such U-boat, the stalwart Captain (Jurgen Prochnow) leads his men into the waters to do battle, even though he knows the superior firepower that awaits. At the same time, his men have to cope with the filthy, cramped quarters, not to mention the uncertain future they all share. While they do their best to carry out their mission, they struggle to understand the reasons behind their tasks. These men want to be loyal and obey orders, but in these conditions, doubt sometimes surfaces. What will become of the men on this U-boat, even as they venture into yet another conflict?
I am very pleased to see Das Boot released as part of Columbia’s Superbit line, as the movie is excellent and the previous disc was a double sided disc. Now we have a pair of dual layered discs instead, so if you have a multi-disc player, you don’t have to plod over to the player and flip the disc, then continue the picture. And as this is a Superbit edition, the picture & sound are enhanced, though at the cost of bonus materials. The movie itself is not just good either, as I hold it to be one of the best war pictures of all time. Or perhaps I should say best anti-war movies, but I’ll leave that to other reviewers, as I don’t have that much space to discuss the film’s more complex aspects. As this movie takes place on a submarine, the entire picture is cramped, crowded, and claustrophobic, to an extent that the audience feels just as confined as the submarine’s crew. This adds vital atmosphere and tension, both of which are crucial to the film’s success. But the writing, direction, and acting is also impressive, especially some of the performances. Wolfgang Petersen’s writing & direction allows the characters to have depth and develop within the story, which is brought to life well by a gifted cast of performers. So the movie is excellent and this new Superbit edition offers the line’s usual improvements, which means this one garners a high recommendation. Even if you already own the previous disc, an upgrade is more than justified.
This movie has a lot of good efforts and several great ones, but I think Jurgen Prochnow hands in the finest of the lot. Almost everyone I know that has seen Das Boot quickly talks about Prochnow’s performance, especially his cold stare and stalwart persona. He is well aware of what lies ahead, but he steers his crew right toward potential danger, simply because he is determined to see his orders fulfilled. As well know, Prochnow has made a number of English speaking movies as well, but none of his efforts have scaled to this level. But then again, he is often held back by lesser material, whereas in this case, he has excellent material to source. So even a good actor can only do so much with bad material, but when that actor has great material, the sky is the limit, as Prochnow shows in Das Boot. Other films with Prochnow include The Replacement Killers, Body of Evidence, The English Patient, The Last Stop, and Ripper: Letter from Hell. The cast also includes Herbert Gronemeyer (Spring Symphony, Fathers and Sons), Klaus Wennemann (Out of Order, The Power of Emotion), and Erwin Leder (White Cherries, Fear).
Video: How does it look?
Das Boot is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The original treatment of this movie wasn’t bad, but this new version blows it out of the water, without question. As the film is spread across two dual layered discs, we never see even a trace of compression flaws and of course, that’s excellent news. A bulk of this movie takes place in low light, but this transfer never hits a rough patch and ensures all the visuals are top notch. The colors are split between muted hues and more vibrant ones, depending on which scenes they’re in, just as the filmmakers intended. I found contrast to be impressive also, thanks to rich black levels that provide superb detail levels. There is some grain here, but that’s to be expected, as this is a two decades old feature. A most welcome improvement, this is another Superbit success.
Audio: How does it sound?
The praise doesn’t end with the video however, as the audio is not only just as good, its even better. A choice of 5.1 options is included, as you can choose a Dolby Digital or DTS track, as with all Superbit releases. While both tracks provide a superb audio experience, the DTS option edges out the competition in the end. But the Dolby Digital is no slouch, so if you can choose, go with DTS, even though both are excellent presentations. The surrounds are used all the time here, to add to the tension, to kick in some extra power, or simply to build atmosphere, all of which are tasks done to near perfection here. The loudest crashes and softest drips come through very well in these mixes, as well as all sounds in between. The dialogue is also clean also, so even if you don’t speak German, the voices sound terrific. This disc also includes an English language option, as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The loss of Wolfgang Petersen’s insightful commentary track hurts, but the enhanced picture & sound are well worth the sacrifice. In other words, this disc contains no bonus materials, as usual for standard Superbit releases.