Das Boot (1981) (R)


















It's fairly impossible to find the original "Das Boot" film, though I'm sure it still survives somewhere in the world. It's the same with Oliver Stone's JFK or, more recently dwindling, Milos Forman's "Amadeus"...all of these movies have started to only exist in the director's cut form.
You have to be choosy with the director's cut—sometimes it works out well, but sometimes it's a complete mess (see here, "Blade Runner").
With "Das Boot" the director's cut tacks on another hour plus to the movie, bringing the war saga to a butt-numbing three and a half hours.
The movie itself can be boiled down to a film about a German U-boat and as uncaringly distant that may sound...that's what the film concerns.
Getting ready to put out to sea, the men who will man the submarine spend the previous night getting rip-roaring drunk. They make complete fools of themselves. Their soon to be captain makes the off-hand comment that they need this release. They need sex like the infantry needs booze.
The celebration ends and the voyage to see begins, because that's really all that "Das Boot" is about—a journey, a voyage, and in a more archaic term that seem to apply best, a quest.
The captain, accompanied by a lieutenant who is acting as a journalist of sorts, and the crew set off to destroy as many enemy ships as possible.
Much of "Das Boot" is comprised of claustrophobic scenes that are designed to make you hold your breath...the suspense builds. Indeed, there is something pulse-pounding about how director Wolfgang Petersen manages these scenes. Submerged to a crushing depth, the submarine has to wait as the ships above it maneuver this way and that, dropping depth charges on them, destroying their U-boat bit by bit.
The Lieutenant Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer) is not accepted by the men as smoothly as the captain would like. They make fun of him and occasionally harass him, but nothing terribly serious. As the viewer, and one who quite possibly was losing my patience, it was fairly nice to see someone give Werner a smack upside the head. He is the tried and true, nervous newcomer...seeing him overcome his fears is nothing new and only sucks up a significant amount of screen time.
The cast of characters isn't developed very well and by the end of the significant time that "Das Boot" spans across, we only really come to know about five or six of the men, and then not even by name. 
Still, the camaraderie, the group mentality, the esprit de corps could explain the lack of identification.
What the film is astonishingly good at is its camera movement. Enclosed in such a tiny vessel—the film makes great pains to do the cramped lifestyle of living aboard a submarine justice—there's not much you can do with cinematography, but Jost Vacano will surprise you. Roger Pratt brought us that amazing shot in "Brazil" that has become known as 'the office scene'. 
Vacano gives us equally hectic shots, equally controlled, equally astounding. The camera shoots through the narrow passageways, following men as they run to their alarm stations, it makes circles around the periscope, it interweaves through the mechanics of the ship itself.
An anti-war film that oversteps its own poignancy, the film has us siding with the Germans since its them that we're following. But these men are not vicious monsters—we already saw that in "All Quiet on the Western Front"—they are humans and they too have doubts about Hitler. This is what I didn't like about the movie, the men seem to not be incredibly loyal to the Third Reich and Hitler himself. They come across loyal officers, but the captain and Lieutenant Werner are never seen giving a single "heil".
They are sympathetic and tenacious.
I wish that I had seen the original version, because as well as the movie is done, the scenes start to melt together like mold creeping over bread. It starts to become an oily, wet mess. 
Still, the film is powerful, but I would have been perfectly happy without that extra hour.










Score: ★★★
This review is based on the director's cut

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