DAS BOOT, 1981
Starring: Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch, Martin Semmelrogge, Uwe Ochsenknecht and Martin May
The story of a German U-Boat crew and their grizzled captain who must fight the elements, boredom, themselves, and the enemy, in attempt to survive a war they donít understand.
Nominated Oscars: Cinematography, Director, Sound Effects Editing, Film Editing. Sound, Adapted Screenplay
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During World War II, the Ally Navies feared the silent killers known as the German U-Boats. For the next 40 years, hundreds of stories surfaced about how scary each mission was, not knowing if this was their last. It was in 1981 that a movie came out that described the hell that these U-Boat crews went through. Written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, Das Boot (The Boat), follows the crew of the U-96.
In 1941, while the German Air Force is bombing Britain, Hitler wanted to blockade the British shipping lanes as well. So we sent out submarines and crews in assembly line fashion. The only problem is that most of the sailors in these crews have had zero combat experience and have no idea what type of hell they are about to go through. Luckily for the crew of the U-Boat, U-96 they are lead by the experienced, cool headed Captain Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (Jurgen Prochnow). Willenbrock is one of the more veteran of all the U-boat captains and is fearing that Hitler is rushing into decisions so that the war may end quickly without taking the inexperience of most of the young sailors into consideration.
Joining Willenbrock and his crew on their next mission is War Correspondent Lt. Werner (Herbert Gronemeyer) and a Hitler youth simple called 1st Lieutenant. The U-boats being the pride of the German Navy, Werner is to write about the exciting adventures a normal crew goes through, however he quickly finds out that this is not the fairy tale he is led to believe.
Very early in the voyage, the crew encounters an ally convoy, sink a ship and high tails it out of there after a brief depth charge attack. The young crew quickly discovers that being the hunter is a dangerous ordeal and you spend most of your time trying not to be detected. To avoid this problem, the captain heads north, to do repairs to the ship as well as wait for orders on their next mission, which doesnít take long.
Much like the first convoy, the crew is able to go largely undetected as they take down another ship and go through another depth charge attack. Once again they leave for open water to do repairs and wait. It is during these waiting periods that the boredom sets in on the crew and they start bonding over several different things, including their hatred for war. Once again, it is not long before the crew receives orders for their next mission so they take off.
This mission starts out routine, however things quickly go a rye when the U-boat is spotted by a destroyer that is only a few hundred yards away, the captain quickly orders to dive but it was too late and the depth charges come too close for comfort. It is in this bombardment that we see the true strength of the captain, which he radiates to his crew giving them the strength to survive, that is all except for the shipís engineer Johann (Erwin Leder) who suffers a bit of a nervous breakdown, something that is lead to him being taken off duty and most likely a court marshal when they get back to land. This is something that the captain will have to worry about later though as his ship is starting to go down. The crew scrambles to make repairs the best they can as they try to escape the Ally ships that are hot on their trail.
They do manage to escape and, with the help from Johann, are able to repair the boat well enough for them to get to port in Spain, where they meet up with some Nazi supporters who gives them their next mission that would take them to Italy. This is a perilous voyage through the Strait of Gibraltar, a seven mile wide passage that ranges in depth between 300 and 900 feet deep which causes the boat to have to travel out of water for a bit of the journey. The strait is heavily protected by the Allies and is suicide for any ship that would attempt it.
The boat took heavy fire while going through the strait and barely made it out. When the crew arrived in Italy, they received a heroesí welcome. This however is short lived as Ally planes, killing the crew, except for Lt. Werner, in the process, bomb the port.
Das Boot is widely considered a classic around World War II veterans. This film is one of the first, and definitely most popular, that takes a look at the war from the Germanís point of view. We also see that most of the Germans in the war didnít agree with many of Hitlerís plans or ideas but followed orders because they were military men and that is just the way they were brought up.
Over the years, Das Boot has been released three different times, the original theatrical release in 1981 was 149 minutes, in 1997 it was released again in a Directorís cut that ran 209 minutes, and in 1985 it was broadcast as a five part miniseries running a total time of 293 minutes. Although all versions of the movies get the point across of the fears of being on a U-boat, the five hour long mini-series version is the one to see. Petersen was able to dive into the characters even more, make the audience care about them to the point that you are very sad to see them killed off at the end.
The one flaw with this version is that you do feel every emotion that the sailors are going through, one of the most apparent is the boredom. There are long drawn out scenes that may can lose the audience, but if you can make it through you will not be disappointed.
This is a superb film, especially if you are a fan of World War II movies, and for those who watch it, a guaranteed good time is to be had by all. For those of you who want to get the full experience out of the film I do suggest taking a rainy day and watching the mini-series version in surround sound, to get the full experience, or the Directorís Cut. If however you just want a taste, or you feel you donít have the time them try to find the original release, regardless you are sitting down to an ultimate classic and one of the five best war movies of all time.