Das Boot

Is it OK to sympathize with Nazis? That’s a thorny question, and not just for American viewers who’ve been raised on a diet of rah-rah patriotic war films about freedom-loving Yanks kicking the butts of dastardly Nazi scum. Germany itself has a very complicated and uncomfortable relationship with its past and rarely broaches the topic on film. Wolfgang Petersen’s superlative submarine thriller Das Boot takes us inside a World War II U-boat patrolling the Atlantic in 1941. Technically, its crew members are Nazis. Yet few are ideologues, and none are jackbooted villains. Mostly, they’re young boys who know nothing of politics but hunger for the adventure of war and believe themselves to be serving their country.

The film depicts the camaraderie of these men, their conflicts, their boredom, their excitement, their terror, and their growing disillusionment. In its most profound scene, the crew cheers at having destroyed a British cargo ship and then watches in horror as the sailors from that ship leap off its flaming deck and desperately try to swim to the submarine for help they will not get. It’s a sobering moment, both beautiful and haunting.

Sony’s Blu-ray release offers both the 1981 theatrical cut (149 mis.) and the 1997 Director’s Cut (208 mins.) on separate discs. It does not include the 1985 TV miniseries version that clocked in at an astounding 293 minutes. That one’s currently exclusive to DVD. The Director’s Cut has obviously received the bulk of the attention and care here. The 1.85:1 transfer looks pretty good on the whole. The picture is a little soft and flat, and sometimes extremely grainy. But the well-lit interiors have a lot of detail, and colors can be surprisingly vibrant. The movie’s soundtrack was given a complete overhaul for the Director’s Cut. It was extensively re-recorded and remixed to take advantage of 5.1 surround sound. Like any good submarine movie, it’s filled with drips, creeks, and groans, punctuated by rocking depth charges and bolts bursting from the pressure. It sounds great. Despite indications to the contrary in the disc menus, the theatrical cut is plain stereo only.

Supplements include a rather old commentary (director Petersen talks about watching Laserdiscs in his home theater) on the DC, a new retrospective documentary, a 1983 documentary about the war, and a handful of interesting featurettes. This is a case where the Director’s Cut really is an all-around better movie, both technically and artistically. Be sure to dive into the longer version first. Joshua Zyber

Picture: 3.5
Sound: 4
Extras: 4
Interactivity: 0

Studio: Sony, 1981 (theatrical), 1997 (Director’s Cut)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (DC), DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (theatrical)
Length: 149 mins., 208 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann

notabadname's picture

Nice review. Thanks for posting. I think this is a library must, if not for its video quality then, than for amazing historical substance and authenticity. Such a well crafted story, engrossing and eerily claustrophobic.