Monday, October 31, 2005

[DVD] Das Boot: The Director's Cut (1981)

This is touted as one of the best WWII submarine films of all time, and it's not difficult to understand why. From the story to the cast, from the cinematography to the sound, everything's top notch on this German film directed by Wolfgang Petersen (who's now helming more Hollywood flicks). I'd rate it above U-571, K19: The Widowmaker, Crimson Tide, and The Hunt for Red October.

We follow the exploits of the crew of German U-boat U-96, as it gets sent on its mission to destroy Allied convoys. We learn of the frustrations of inaction, having no targets, and living the lonely life aboard a submarine. We experience the claustrophobic environment, one which is shared amongst crew, where maintaining hygiene and tolerable living conditions is of the utmost importance of staying well. We pick up on the fear of the Captain about his inexperienced crew, most of whom were in their early twenties, and haven't seen much action in the high seas.

What's gripping in this film is when things start to pick up. Technology those days aren't as advanced, and we see that U-boats are more likely to be sitting ducks when Allied destroyers hover above them on the water's surface, dropping multiple depth charges to rattle and hopefully destroy their underwater prey. The U-boat is the hunter, but once it has hunted, it becomes the prey.

And such is the marvellous depiction of Fear in the crew's eyes, as they huddle in silence each time the enemy lurks above. The suspense literally keeps you at the edge of your seat, the silence, deafening. Many set action pieces bring out the different scenarios and challenges that the crew face in their voyage on the seas, and all these capped by the beautiful soundtrack which accompanies each scene. My favourite was the charge through Gilbratar.

Although this movie takes on an Axis power's point of view, one can discard the political aspect of this film, and understand that lives on both ends are similar - each are fathers, brothers, husbands, and are thrown into a senseless political war. It doesn't go preachy on who's right and wrong, but touches on more human and basic issues of survival. Boys become men, and it is this transformation that is most obvious throughout the story.

If you've got the chance, you must see the Director's Cut, running at about 209 minutes, just as Wolfgang Petersen envisioned it to be. Excellent stuff!

Code 1 DVD extras: The Making Of / Behind the Scenes, Director's commentary, choice of English or German dialogue in 5.1 Dolby Digital (I'd go for the latter, and read off the English subtitles)

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