Sunday, May 8, 2011


(September 1981, U.S.)

One thing I recently discovered about watching Wolfgang's Peterson's epic German war film DAS BOOT is that it makes it a whole lot easier to forgive the man for his tragic remake POSEIDON (2006). Although not my favorite of the genre, it ranks as preeminent among all submarine films due to its authenticity in tension and realism.

Set during World War II, the film tells the fictional story of th U-96 submarine and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and shows the men serving aboard the German U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. DAS BOOT doesn't necessarily have all of the action and political intruigue that some later sub films like THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) and CRIMSON TIDE (1995) had, but what it does achieve in the tense breakdown and decay of not only the men aboard, but their outlook on their place in the war itself as time painfully drags on. You can first sense it in their physical appearances as the breards on their faces grow and their lack of personal hygene becomes more apparant. Morale becomes so low at a point that even the captain of the boat (played by Jurgen Prochnow) becomes confused and lost amongst the chaos. This U-boat captain is definitely not in the same patriotic spirit as Sean Connery or Gene Hackman, that's for sure. He's tired, beaten and beginning to question the German's chances for defeating their British enemies.

Peterson's filming inside the sub is nothing short of claustrophobic as you move through the boat with the men during their time of impatient waiting and their time during many emergency crisis alarms. You can feel the tension of the sub as it sinks lower and lower into the depths of the sea and the men as they slowly fear for their lives. You feel the sudden jolt in your own body when the enemy torpedoes explode underwater and shake the sub to its very foundation. This is a film, had it been filmed in SENSURROUND (look it up) would have given many viewer's a severe headache when it was over. In short, you get physically caught up with these men and the terror they experience aboard the boat, but you also have to remember that these are men serving under Adolph Hitler's Nazi regime, so their is a balance to be maintained between genuine empathy and realizing that our enemies of World War II had to die for our victory.

The final climax of the film brings on a strong example of irony. The boat and its pale and weary crew have survived the madness of battle at sea and have returned to port at La Rochelle, France on Christmas Eve, only to be attacked by Allied planes shortly after. Many men are killed in the attack, including the captain who must painfully watch his heroic U-boat sink under the water before dying himself. Like I said - major, major irony.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Captain: "Merkel's boys. They ship out tomorrow, too. Scared fuckers. They need sex as much as the infantry needs alcohol."

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