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Das boot (The boat) - Wolfgang Petersen, Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wenneman

Threat advisory: Severe - Severe risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

The year is 1941, the height of World War II. In German-occupied France, a youthful submarine crew gathers for a last night of drunken revelry before they hit the seas. They feast, make love, dance - live it up as if there is no tomorrow. For them, there very well may not be. Though they cannot know this, of the 40,000 Germans who will serve aboard U-boats, a mere 10,000 will return home to their loved ones.

Joining the crew on this mission is Lieutenant Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer) an ambitious but very green, young war correspondent who hopes to discover the essence of warfare at sea. Little does he know as the sleek, grey tube glides into the open sea, that he will taste the very extremes of human experience - blood-pumping excitement and stultifying boredom, fierce camaraderie and numbing dehumanisation, intense fear and wondrous pride, near-death and miraculous survival.

One by one, Werner gets to know his mates. At the helm is the Captain (Jürgen Prochnow), at 30 years old the so-called "old man" of the ship, whose face bears the wise sadness that previous U-boat missions have wrought. The Captain must lead and inspire his men even as he takes on impossible orders. There is also the Chief Engineer (Klaus Wenneman), who at age 27 has the enormous responsibility of keeping the boat, and hence the crew, afloat; and Johan (Erwin Leder), the crew's taciturn mechanic known to his friends as "the ghost", who tends to the U-boat's engine like a lover day and night.

At first, Werner's days with his new comrades are filled with aimless cruising. They goof off, reminisce about girlfriends and tell dirty jokes to help kill time between watches. But as time wears on, the men grow increasingly pent-up and claustrophobic. The narrow tube they call home is crammed beyond even a memory of privacy. They must even sleep in shifts, two men to a bunk, and share a single toilet.

Now they watch as loaves of bread go stale in the hammocks, as sides of bacon hanging from the pipes take on the stench of diesel oil. Their nerves are pulsating without relief.

Then it comes at last - a destroyer is sighted. The Captain gives the alarm and U-96 dives. Attack! Depth charges explode. Men tumble, scramble, trip and crash through the narrow gangways and into the metal sides as the boat plummets and a bomb plunges into its gurgling wake. The men now have their first taste of war.

Persons of interest

  • Herbert Grönemeyer .... Lieutenant Werner
  • Jürgen Prochnow .... Captain
  • Klaus Wenneman .... Chief Engineer
  • Erwin Leder .... Johan
  • Hubertus Bengsch .... 1st Lieutenant/Number One
  • Martin Semmelrogge .... 2nd Lieutenant
  • Bernd Tauber .... Chief Quartermaster/Navigator
  • Martin May .... Ullman
  • Heinz Hoenig .... Heinrich
  • Uwe Ochsenknecht .... Chief Bosun
  • Claude-Oliver Rudolph .... Ario
  • Jan Fedder .... Pilgrim
  • Ralf Richter .... Frenssen
  • Joachim Bernhard .... Preacher
  • Oliver Stritzel .... Schwalle
  • Lothar G Buchheim .... Author
  • Wolfgang Petersen .... Screenwriter
  • Wolfgang Petersen .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Oh, yeah!

Das boot is an astounding film that any submarine, war, action or adventure aficionado must watch or forever remain a dullard. Even with a running time over than three hours it captures your brain and stuffs it into the metaphorical sardine tin, then keeps squeezing the hemispheres so you don't want to get out. I have an horrendously bad back but I managed to sit still and watch Das boot with no problems.

What makes this film so much better than, say, U-571? Well, for a start there's no line-up of Hollywood's most wanted to detract from the story. There's nothing wrong with an actor looking like Matthew McConaughey but when 99% of the men in the world don't look that good, one who does is gonna stand out. And if he's famous, like Harvey Keitel, the same thing happens. Das boot has a cast that celebrates the warts and all reality of the human genome. Even Ullman, the cute, innocent, young guy (paint a target on his forehead before the film begins!), isn't quite perfect enough to be in U-571.

Ah, the sharp smell of reality.

Meanwhile, Jürgen Prochnow gives the Captain the perfect stability that an "old man" has; old men get that way by being stable in the first place. There is always a sense of calmness despite the ferocious battles raging around him. He's an archetype. He makes Jean-Luc Picard look like a raw recruit. And yet there's an ordinary human being underneath, disgusted by the waste of war and the political greed that's driving it, frightened for his ship, terrified for the men under his command. There's a flash of pure hope that passes across Jürgen's face near the end of the film (when the chief says that his men can save themselves from death at the bottom of the Gibraltar straits) that can't be real because it's only a film, but which must be real because it looks so real.

Herbert is the perfect antithesis to Jürgen's competence. He's got the perfect puppy look to play innocence and is the perfect canvas on which to paint the horrific nature of warfare. Klaus, Erwin, Hubertus et Al round out the completely random nature of a submarine crew with characters which are as deep and round as the boat itself.

But perhaps the best thing about Das boot is that it portrays the German side of the war in such a way that you actually don't want the Allies to win. You know they will but you keep hoping that, somehow, this boat will not sink, this crew will not die. Not since All quiet on the Western Front has a film portrayed so empathetically the losing side.

Losing, but well worth watching.

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matthew Ockenden

Theatrical report

This is the only non-English language film that I have ever watched that I've truly enjoyed. Normally I get so pissed off at having to read the subtitles that they're not worth watching, but Das boot is really, really good.

Watch it.

Media intelligence (Superbit DVD)

  • Audio and languages:
    • English: Surround
    • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, DTS 5.1
  • Disc: Single sided dual layer
  • Picture: Widescreen (1.85:1/16:9 enhanced)
  • Special features:
    • Disc 1: Feature
  • Subtitles: Dutch, English, English captions, German, Hindi

Media intelligence (VHS)

  • Behind-the-scenes interviews
  • Digital remastering
  • Picture: Widescreen 1.85:1
  • Over 60 minutes of new footage

Security censorship classification

M (Low level violence, low level coarse language)

Surveillance time

216 minutes (3:36 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

DVD retail: Undated July 2003 - Superbit

Cinema surveillance images

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