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MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
A detailed look into the claustrophobic and terrifying world of a German U-boat crew hunting ships from undersea. Gritty, realistic, and peppered with black humour, this is one of the few sympathetic portrayals of the war from the German side to be released in western distribution.

Director:
Wolfgang Petersen
Cast:
Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch, Martin Semmelrogge, Bernd Tauber
Writing Credits:
Wolfgang Petersen, based on the novel by Lothar G. Buchheim

Tagline:
When the hunters become the hunted
MPAA:
Rated R.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
German Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
Subtitles:
English, French, Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 209 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 12/9/1997

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Wolfgang Petersen, Actor Jurgen Prochnow, and Director’s Cut Producer Ortwin Freyermuth
• Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Production Notes


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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Das Boot: Director's Cut (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 31, 2003)

Das Boot resided in my consciousness for many years before I actually saw it, though I almost watched it many times over the years. My first “near-miss” came when it ran theatrically here in the US back in the spring of 1982. This came at the end of my first year of high school German and our teachers wanted to take us to see it. However, for some strange reason, someone thought better of escorting a bunch of fourteen and fifteen year olds to an "R"-rated movie, so that didn't happen.

My father thought Das Boot was a great movie, so I gave it a shot on videotape a few times since then. However, I just couldn't do it; it seemed so slow and tedious that I just couldn't get into it. After many years of not trying, I decided to give it another shot when Dad got the "director's cut" DVD. On one hand, this version was a lot longer, so that made the prospect of watching it even more daunting, but on the other hand, I'd heard how great the 5.1 mix of it was, and I'm certainly a sucker for a hot surround track!

Twice I borrowed it from the old man, and twice I only made it about half an hour into the thing. I don't know what it was, but the movie simply didn't engage me. I thought I'd give it one more shot before I returned the DVD and never looked back, so I finally made it all the way through the flick back in 1999.

After all that time, what did I think of it? Ehhhh – it seemed okay. It does remain a very long movie, as the director's cut runs three and a half hours. This made it tough going at times, but the film offered enough excitement to help me last until the end.

Overall, however, the film really can be fairly monotonous, which I think occurred by design. Director Wolfgang Petersen wanted to present a realistic view of life on a submarine during World War II, and it appears that he succeeded. I have no idea what it would really be like, but this movie seems to offer a representative view.

In an interesting choice, Petersen almost completely leave politics out of the story. Very rarely are we made aware that these characters are, in fact, Nazis. I guess this is a good thing, since we almost never see films that show Nazis as anything other than monsters; Das Boot clearly demonstrates the human side of those people.

However, I must admit that something about that decision makes me feel vaguely uneasy; considering the horror that they inflicted, maybe we shouldn’t ever develop much sympathy for or identification with them. Somehow, it feels to me as if this sort of presentation hides the reality in a way. Not that I believe Petersen intended to do so. I think he simply wanted to make a good action picture that accurately depicted the way life in a World War II submarine, and he succeeded for the most part.

Although a few actors seem to veer toward hamminess, Das Boot generally provides a well-acted movie. At the top of the list we fin Jurgen Prochnow as the unnamed sub Captain. To be honest, I always feel that I'm at something of a disadvantage when I have to appraise the quality of acting in a foreign-language film. So much of what we interpret as "good acting" stems from the way the actor delivers dialogue, and that's much harder to judge when we can't understand what they're saying. Who knows how much or how little nuance and effectiveness there is in their readings?

Das Boot doesn't suffer from that problem too much because dialogue doesn’t drive the film. As I mentioned, most of the actors communicate their roles well, but Prochnow stands out above the others. Even when I don’t factor in his lines, he offers a very full-blooded portrayal of a man who seems to both love and hate war at the same time. While this remains Petersen's film to win or lose, Prochnow helps make it work a little better.

To be frank, I respect Das Boot because it is well done, but it simply doesn't do much for me. It's a good film, but not one that I particularly enjoyed. That doesn't negate the fact that many others really do like it; I just don't feel the same way.


The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio A / Bonus C+

Das Boot appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. One of the earlier DVD releases - Das Boot hit shelves in December 1997, nine months after the format’s official launch – this picture looked fairly positive but suffered from some flaws not unexpected in older discs.

Sharpness generally seemed decent. Most of the movie came across as distinct and accurate, but the image tended to become a little “loose” at times. Some of the interior sub shots displayed a less tight picture than I’d expect. Nonetheless, the film usually appeared to be fairly accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did witness a little light edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, some small concerns arose. Due to low-light conditions, composite shots, and some apparent use of stock footage, the picture looked grainier than I’d expect at times. However, as noted, these issues seemed to stem from the original film, so I didn’t have any real problems with them. More annoying were other defects like specks, grit, small hairs and marks. None of these ever seemed heavy, but they created more distractions than I’d like. Still, given the age of the movie, the flaws weren’t bad.

Das Boot generally featured a subdued palette, and the tones came across fairly well. The colors seemed restrained but accurate. I noticed only a few issues related to noise, bleeding, or other concerns, even during the occasional shots that featured red lighting. Mostly the colors remained nicely defined throughout the movie. Black levels were deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared acceptable. Some low-light shots – of which there were many – looked a bit murky and hazy. Overall, the picture of Das Boot seemed decent, but it showed enough concerns to merit only a “B-“ grade.

While the picture seemed lackluster, I experienced no such concerns in relation to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Das Boot. The soundfield appeared terrifically active and involving. The front channels presented a nicely differentiated and spaced sense of environment, as elements popped up in their correct locations and blended together well. Music demonstrated solid stereo imaging as well.

In regard to surround usage, secure your socks or Das Boot may well knock them off your feet. The rear speakers played a heavy role in the production and added a great deal of unique audio to the film. From start to finish, the mix used all five speakers well. Elements seemed appropriately placed in the surrounds and they meshed together smoothly. Movement was clean and natural. Of course, the flick’s action sequences presented the most impressive uses of the rear channels, but even quieter scenes displayed fine utilization of those speakers. Early in the movie, a car went past some drunken sailors, and we heard their racket move past us from front right to rear right as the car drove. Touches like that helped make the soundfield of Das Boot amazing.

Audio quality also seemed solid. Due to production factors, the filmmakers dubbed virtually the entire movie, and some of those lines came across as awkward and artificial. However, they usually blended well with the action, and speech usually appeared reasonably natural and distinct with no signs of edginess. Music came across as lively and bright throughout the film, and effects worked very well. Some of the explosions showed a small amount of distortion; the depth charge scenes displayed the most notable tendency in that regard. However, the flaws remained minimal, and the effects mostly sounded clean and accurate. They definitely packed a serious punch, as the movie featured very deep and loud bass response. Low-end stayed nicely tight and concise, though, and never seemed to overwhelm the production.

A few other comments about the audio: I listened to the film with the German soundtrack accompanied by English subtitles. At times, I tried it with the English 5.1 soundtrack, but I didn't care for it. Sometimes I prefer dubbed versions of films, because subtitles can severely interfere with the visual flow of the movie. However, I didn't find that to be the case with Das Boot. The subtitles integrated well and did not distract me. Actually, the English dub is pretty well done; as noted during the audio commentary, many of the original actors redid their lines. However, it simply doesn't seem to "fit" terribly well; the English lines stand out more than they should. This is surprising, since Petersen indicates that the entire movie was dubbed for the German version due to a too noisy set; there's no reason the English lines should sound any more "artificial" than the German ones. But they do, so I prefer the German mix with subtitles.

The DVD of Das Boot also contains a few supplemental materials. One could argue that since the director’s cut of the film features an extra hour or so of footage, we could take that as a bonus. However, I don’t regard alternate versions of flicks as supplements unless they appear along with the theatrical cut as well; if we found both editions here – ala ET the Extra-Terrestrial - then I’d count the director’s cut as a bonus.

Since I don’t, the main attraction here is a running audio commentary from director Wolfgang Petersen, actor Jurgen Prochnow, and Ortwin Freyermuth, the producer of the director's cut. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific piece original created for the 1996 laserdisc. Freyermuth assists mainly as a moderator; he contributes some interesting information about the restoration of the film, but he leaves most of the talking to the other two. Petersen dominates the track; Prochnow tosses in some tidbits at times, but most of what he says relates to topics brought up by Petersen.

Before I listened to this track, I’d heard one other commentary from Petersen: his discussion of 1997’s Air Force One. I didn’t much care for it. During too much of the track, he simply detailed fairly dull technical details. Petersen also displayed that tendency here, but not to nearly the same painful degree. He also talked a lot about the differences between the various versions of the film, many aspects of making Das Boot, and a wide variety of other topics. It's a nicely illuminating and informative commentary.

In addition to this track, we find a six-minute and 15-second behind the scenes featurette. Created to promote the theatrical release of the director’s cut, this program offers the standard mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Prochnow, Petersen, and Freyermuth. The featurette suffers from an overly promotional tone and its short length. Otherwise, however, it actually offers a fair amount of good information, and the smattering of material filmed during the shoot seems interesting. The featurette is a poor substitute for a real documentary, but it works better than most in the genre.

Finally, the DVD presents some production notes inside its booklet. While much of this also appears during the audio commentary, I like the data and find it useful.

Overall, I recognize that Das Boot is a very well made film that clearly interests and excites a lot of people. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. I thought the movie had its moments, but generally was somewhat dull; it simply didn't float my boat (or "boot," if you prefer). The DVD presents decent but unexceptional picture quality along with excellent audio and a smattering of acceptably good extras. My lukewarm attitude toward Das Boot means I can’t recommend the DVD wholeheartedly, but fans of the flick should like this package.

Note: Columbia-Tristar recently put out a re-release of Das Boot. This Superbit version dispenses with the supplements but presents noticeably improved picture quality; audio seems identical between the two. If you value visual performance over extras, the Superbit Das Boot may be the one for you.

To rate this film visit the review of the Superbit edition.