Das Boot (1981) – Wolfgang Petersen

The next big title in DK Canada’s highly enjoyable The Movie Book is the Oscar winning German film Das Boot from prolific director Wolfgang Petersen. This has always been a great film, and I love that I got to settle in and watch this film play out on my screen (again).

Set during World War II, the German submarine U-96 is our home as we join it’s war-weary captain, Henreich Lehman-Willenbrock, his tired, filthy crew and the young reporter, Werner (Herbert Gronenmeyer) assigned to cover the war on the sea.

Clocking in at a wonderful three and a half hours the film is a wondrous and staggering achievement taking us through the horrors of war, as the film is filled with moments of quiet, and then horrifying tension.

The tension is heightened by the need to be quiet, to move slowly to avoid detection when your instinct is to run, race, panic… it’s put together with a white knuckle intensity.

The film was nominated for six Oscars, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (based on the original novel by Lothar G. Buchheim), Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Sound Editing. Sadly it was shut out of all of them. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve those accolades, it’s a shocking and amazing watch.

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The camera work alone is worth noting, conveying the tight enclosed, claustrophobic spaces of the sub, and the tension with tight cuts, rapid camera movements as it chases crew from one end of the submarine to the other.

One cannot rave enough about this film, as it is something to be experienced. There are some things that haven’t aged well, you can tell that some of the shots are models, you can tell that the stuff atop the conning tower is shot against a filmed backdrop, but it never takes the viewer out of the film.

It’s dirty, grimy, and a nerve-wracking experience that needs to be seen to be believed.

With its towering run time, it could scare off a number of viewers, but this is definitely one that should be made time for. It’s such a powerful film, and seeing the weariness of the crew, even as they wallow in the filth they have created in the enclosed space is by turns horrifying and completely captivating.

Despite his lengthy list of directorial credits this will be the film he should and will be most remembered for (okay, maybe that and The NeverEnding Story).

This film started my love of submarine films, a love that continues to this day, So if you’ve never seen this one, please make the time for it, if you have, maybe you should watch it again. (and leave the title your fave submarine movie in the comments).

And hey, maybe pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book and find a new classic to watch tonight!

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