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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.

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

When the hunters become the hunted
Rated R.

2-Disc set
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
German Dolby Digital 5.1
German DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai

Runtime: 210 min.
Price: $26.95
Release Date: 3/4/2003

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Das Boot: Director's Cut - Superbit (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 almost 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 F

Das Boot appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The original DVD release of Das Boot came out in late 1997, back when the format remained in its infancy. A “flipper” release, the disc spread the movie to two single-layered sides of the same DVD. Due to the film’s length, this new Superbit release still cuts the flick roughly in two, but now each half of Das Boot gets its own dual-layered disc, which means that it receives a lot more digital breathing room.

This extra space seemed to make a difference, as the Superbit version of Das Boot provided a noticeable improvement when I compared it to the old disc. Sharpness looked fairly solid. Some interior shots came across as slightly hazy at times, but those occurred infrequently. For the most part, the image remained nicely crisp and detailed. I witnessed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also noticed no signs of edge enhancement.

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 quite well. The colors seemed restrained but accurate. I noticed no issues related to noise, bleeding, or other concerns, even during the occasional shots that featured red lighting. The colors remained nicely defined throughout the movie. Black levels were deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared appropriately heavy but not excessively dense. Given the film’s many low-light shots, that factor became exceedingly important. Ultimately, I noticed a few too many problems to elevate the image of Das Boot into “A” territory, but I still thought the DVD handled some difficult material well.

As I mentioned earlier, I felt the Superbit release of Das Boot provided an improvement over the 1997 version. The Superbit edition seemed tighter and more concise; I noticed more issues related to softness, as the image took on a fuzzier look in general. The old DVD also presented some noticeable digital artifacts at times, whereas the Superbit one seemed to eliminate those. The improvements didn’t appear to come into “night and day” territory, but the Superbit Das Boot nonetheless definitely looked better.

I noticed no such escalation of quality in regard to the audio of Das Boot, but since the original DVD sounded great, I didn’t regard that as a problem. In addition to the old disc’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the Superbit version also included a DTS 5.1 mix. To these ears, both tracks sounded largely identical. The DTS one occasionally seemed a little more natural and better integrated, but the Dolby edition packed a slightly greater sonic punch at times. The pair seemed close enough for me to call it a draw.

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.

In case you wonder how a movie shot in the early Eighties provided such great audio, the answer stemmed from the nature of this release. The DVD offered the 1997 “Director’s Cut” of the film, and for that edition, the filmmakers went back and re-recorded much of the audio. Because of this, one should consider Das Boot as a modern soundtrack, not one from 1981. Whatever the case may be, the audio seemed terrific.

Whereas the original DVD release of Das Boot included a few supplements, the Superbit edition totally omits all of those. Actually, 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, that means the Superbit provides absolutely no supplements. From the old disc, we lose a fairly good audio commentary plus a brief featurette and some text production notes. Since the latter appeared in the package’s booklet, I don’t understand why CTS failed to put one in this set. It’s not like that piece would detract from the bits used for the film’s presentation. From what I can tell, none of the Superbit DVDs include movie-specific booklets, and that choice makes no sense to me. Somewhat annoyingly, Columbia-Tristar decided to include a dubbed English Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack for the movie. I’d have preferred it if they’d lost that one and provided the commentary instead.

The Superbit package included a couple other annoyances. When you rejoin the movie on DVD Two, you won’t jump right back into the action if you simply hit “play”. Instead, the disc shows the DTS trailer, a rating notification, and a legal warning before the flick resumes. Didn’t we already see these on DVD One? Why provided them again? If you go through the chapter menu, you can skip these, but that step shouldn’t be necessary. Strangely, the movie starts at the one-minute, 10-second mark on disc two; it doesn’t seem to skip any action, but for unknown reasons, it simply begins at that encoded point. (Neither of these issues affect the 1997 Das Boot.)

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). This Superbit DVD offers fairly good picture along with excellent audio, but it omits all supplements.

That last factor creates a dilemma for folks who want to pick up a copy of Das Boot. The Superbit release’s picture definitely outdoes that of the old disc, so if extras don’t matter to you, this is the one to get. If you do like supplements, though, the issue becomes less clear. I’d still recommend the Superbit release just because the features on the original weren’t that great and the picture improvements make a fairly big difference.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.709 Stars Number of Votes: 55
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