Boot: The Director's Cut, Das
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Starring Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch, Martin Semmelrogge, Bernd Tauber, Erwin Leder, Martin May. (1997, R, 210 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 25, 1997
A revitalized, remastered version of Petersen's classic 1981 saga of the men of WWII German U-Boat 96, Das Boot now runs a lengthy three-plus hours, but it's still one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. Everyone from Steven Spielberg to Renny Harlin has chimed in on how influential Das Boot has been in the history of action cinema, and with the director's original vision now on screen for the first time, it's easy to see why. Set in the waning years of Nazi Germany's control of the Atlantic, Das Boot explodes the myth of the all-powerful German U-Boat fleet and replaces it with the brutal truth of war: most of the crews conscripted at the time were barely out of puberty, 16- and 17-year-old raw recruits, cocksure and eager for glory, unwitting and doomed. As the opening crawl states, of the 40,000 men serving on U-Boats during WWII, 30,000 never returned home. While it may not seem so portentous today, I clearly remember a ripple of unease among audiences (and some critics) during the film's initial 1981 release; the idea that Nazi seamen could be portrayed in such a sympathetic light was, at the time, a sticking point for many who saw the film. Nevertheless, Das Boot went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards and became the most successful foreign film released in America up until that time. And rightfully so. With a brilliant, harrowing cast headed by then-unknown Prochnow as the rough-hewn, cynical U-Boat captain, the film captured the look, feel, sounds, and even smells of daily life 20,000 fathoms beneath the Allies. As the U-Boat raveled half-blind beneath the stormy Atlantic, vastly outnumbered by Churchill's insurmountable fleet and the deadly Allied destroyers, Das Boot portrayed the ears-only battles as harrowing, visceral, sweaty horrors, hell in a tin can with a limited supply of air. The “Director's Cut” adds almost an hour of extra footage (the film was originally shot as a three-part, six-hour miniseries for German television), bringing further depth and clarity to the minds and motivations behind the men of U-96, very little of which seems extraneous. The sound has been remixed to 1997 digital standards as well; for the first time audiences are able to hear the ominous sub-tonal whine of the passing destroyers above, and the newly remastered score and subtitles have been equally cleaned up. Not just another vainglorious director's cut, Das Boot is instead the definitive version of a masterpiece. One of the most suspenseful films of all time, its wartime action setting makes it easy to forget it's also one of the most spiritually righteous.