Plot: What’s it about?
“Das Boot – The Director’s Cut” is director Wolfgang Petersen’s ultimate version of his cinematic masterpiece. The soundtrack has been digitally remastered, with new foley effects. As well, additional footage has been added, bringing the playing time up to 209 minutes. This is the third version of the film: the original theatrical version was 149 minutes, and a 6-hour mini series was shown on German television. The most recognizable actor for North American audiences is Jurgen Prochnow, whom you may remember from “Beverly Hills Cop II” and “The English Patient”, among other films.
“Das Boot” follows a crew of a German U-boat in the fall of 1941, from their final night on shore to their tour of duty in the North Atlantic. The story is shown from the perspective of a war correspondent, Lieutenant Werner, played by Herbert Gronemeyer. Lieutenant Werner is accompanying the U-boat crew to document his experiences. This character is based on real-life war correspondent, Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, who wrote the book on which this movie is based. The crew begins the tour of duty as cocky young boys, but from witnessing and experiencing the horror of war, they become hardened men.
Wolfgang Petersen, through his brilliant direction, gives the audience an intimate look at what life must have been like on a submarine. The “cat and mouse” scenes between destroyer and submarine left me breathless. These scenes were lengthened for this DVD version, and made the movie much more suspenseful than in the theatrical version. The battle scenes are intense, with extremely loud and frequent explosions. I found myself sometimes wishing for one of the many calm interludes. The slow scenes may bore many viewers accustom to the constant action of today’s Hollywood films, but these scenes allow the audience to get to know the characters better. For example, the dinner scenes in the officers’ mess contrast the neatness and privileged upbringing of the first officer (Hubertus Bengsch) with the crude and sloppy second officer (Martin Semmelogge).
The acting is also superb. From the director’s commentary, I learned that many of the actors were virtually unknown before this film, and went on to become big movie stars in Germany. Klaus Wennemann, in his first acting performance was very convincing as the Chief Engineer. One of my favorite scenes involves Johann, the technician, played by Erwin Leder, who loses his sanity after a particularly brutal attack by a destroyer. The captain reacts with disgust at Johann’s fear. Lieutenant Werner, fearing that all is lost gives up, retreats to his bunk, and waits to die.
This movie is all about realism. Wolfgang Petersen took painstaking effort to make “Das Boot” as realistic as possible. The submarine is an exact replica of a German U-Boat, with every nut and bolt intact. The film was shot within this replica, and gives the viewer a realistic feeling of claustrophobia. The story told is historically accurate. The actors were not allowed to be outdoors during the shoot, to give their complexions a pale look, which makes them look like they were in a submarine for several months. Taking realism to the extreme, Wolfgang Petersen tells us in the director’s commentary that one of the actors was really drunk in the ballroom scene! It is obvious that I loved this DVD. This DVD is a superb example of what can be achieved when a director cares about his film and gives us his ultimate version of it.
Video: How does it look?
Initially, I found the video quality a mixed bag. Some of the scenes in the submarine look washed out, whereas others are incredibly detailed. However, I learned from the director’s commentary that Wolfgang Petersen intentionally shot the scenes with smoke and moisture covering the walls, to give he submarine a dirty quality to it. Many the scenes are in near dark conditions, and the blacks and shadow details show up very well. Some of the visual effects look dated in comparison to the latest films shot today. For example, the scene where the actors are on the deck of the ship during a storm looks like it was shot on a set. The rest of the film looks incredibly realistic, especially when one considers it was filmed almost 20 years ago. The picture is presented on the DVD in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphic.
Audio: How does it sound?
Another remarkable aspect of this DVD is the impressive sound. The sound effects help emphasize the suspense in the film. All of the sound, except for dialog, was redone for this DVD. The sound effects are more realistic than the original. When the camera follows the crew through the tight confines of the sub, the sound pans from the front channels to the surrounds. When the submarine descends deep into the ocean, you can hear the creaks and groans of the submarine being crushed by the water pressure. The explosions of the depth charges will challenge your surround sound system, which was remixed as a discrete Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The music of Klaus Doldinger is very understated, and was used effectively to convey the emotion on the screen. Overall, I would consider the sound to be near reference quality.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The DVD includes an excellent director’s commentary, featuring Wolfgang Petersen, Jurgen Prochnow, and Ortwin Freyermuth, the Director’s Cut producer. The director’s commentary is one of the better ones that I have heard, giving a lot of insight about the making of the “Das Boot”. Much of the commentary is devoted to the differences between this DVD version and the theatrical release. As well, a “behind the scenes” featurette can be accessed in the main menu. Three spoken languages (English, German, and Spanish) as well as three subtitle languages (English, Spanish, and French) can be accessed.