Newest Review: ... to everyone's tastes, certainly. The pace is best described as "pedestrian", with everything happening at a very slow pace, par... more
The Boot's on the Other Foot Now
Das Boot (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Das Boot (DVD)
Advantages: Gripping portrayal of life on board a WWII U Boat
Disadvantages: Some may find the pace rather pedestrian, bit of an endurance test
It's this very human element which makes Das Boot so incredibly rich. Over the course of its 3 hours plus running time, it follows life on board a single German U-Boat; demonstrating in minute detail the incredible tedium and solitude of life on board a cramped, highly vulnerable vessel.
And here was another revelation: at that young and tender age I assumed war films were full of action, spectacular gun battles and incredible stunts. Yet here was a film where the major characteristic was the crushing boredom experienced by the characters. For every minute of fighting, there were 20 minutes which saw the characters doing nothing, fruitlessly searching for enemy vessels or sitting helplessly in their machine, whilst the enemy hunted them. Yet this is all done is such a way that you become gripped by the daily life of this crew, anxious to see what happens to them and keen for them to escape. Never has boredom been so riveting.
It's not going to be to everyone's tastes, certainly. The pace is best described as "pedestrian", with everything happening at a very slow pace, particularly in the longer Director's Cut version. Indeed, for over an hour, nothing happens other than the crew sitting around talking, interspersed with shots of the U-Boat sailing through the sea. This, though, is deliberate and highly accurate: those who served on U-Boats frequently remarked that life took the form of days of boredom and frustration, followed by hours of tension and panic as the subs played a cat and mouse game with enemy destroyers. The film captures this perfectly in its pacing. How much you accept this slow pace will definitely influence your enjoyment of Das Boot. If you buy into the tense atmosphere it generates, you will find it a gripping drama; if you like your war films to be of the more gung-ho Hollywood variety, you will find it all rather dull.
This slower pace gives Das Boot time to build up both atmosphere and characters. You get to know each of the characters well and invest a huge amount of emotion in them, are willing them to survive. Come the conclusion, you will genuinely feel like you have been through the wringer with the crew.
This is one of Das Boot's key strengths - its ability to make the viewer feel like a member of the crew. Camera work is cleverly used to give point of view style shots racing down the narrow corridors of the submarine, or sitting around the dinner table listening to the banter of the crew. Like the crew, the camera rarely leaves the submarine and this reinforces an intense feeling of claustrophobia, which further heightens the tension.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Each convinces in his role and they fit together so well that you genuinely believe that they are the real crew of a real U-Boat; each working for the other, since they know that all their lives depend on each other.
Deserving of special praise, however, is Jurgen Prochnow as the U-Boat captain. Roles like this can slip into stereotypes, but Prochnow makes "The Old Man" (as he is known) highly believable, a man tormented between what he must do and his own personal beliefs. Although he is perfectly willing to destroy enemy ships, he takes no pleasure in doing so and admires the cleverness and cunning of his enemy. Similarly, although fighting for Germany he is not (like so many World War II soldiers) a committed Nazi and sees through the Nazi propaganda, railing against the stupidity of the Nazi High Command who have no clue about what is really happening on the front lines.
Prochnow makes The Old Man no different from millions of other soldiers from all sides who were forced to fight in the conflict. He is a deeply sympathetic character, winning our support despite the fact he is fighting for "the wrong side" and his portrayal gives Das Boot a raw power, ensuring the viewer experiences a real rollercoaster of emotions.
The film is entirely in German, with subtitle, but don't let this put you off. Subtitles are well-translated and well-positioned on screen so that they are easily readable, but do not obscure anything that is happening on screen. Even if you're the type that normally avoids subtitled films like the plague, you should give Das Boot a go: it is so gripping that within about 10 minutes, you will have completely forgotten you are watching something in a foreign language.
Despite its age, Das Boot sill looks good. The interior of the submarine is incredibly realistic, full of narrow corridors and ugly looking metal machinery. The deeply disturbing creaks and groans of the submerged ship as the water pressure puts incredible strain on the hull are truly scary and really enhance the tension. True, the effects look a little dodgy when the crew are on the bridge of the sub when it sailing on the surface of the sea - these scenes are obviously set-bound, with rough seas being imitated by people off-camera throwing buckets of water over the cast!
Das Boot is 30 years old this year, yet arguably, there has yet to be a better film about life on board a World War II submarine. The characters and cast may be German and (nominally at least) Nazis, but they are, above all, human and you cannot fail to identify with every emotion they experience. A masterpiece of storytelling.
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Running time: 149 minutes (theatrical release); 209 minutes (Director's Cut)
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: A superbly film of an excelletn book