Das Boot [Blu-ray]
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There are at least a million World War II movies out there, and a good number of these big budget action bonanzas are now considered classics. The majority of these films have been American, but one of the oddities of the bunch is the German made submarine masterpiece, Das Boot. From the German perspective of a U-boat crew, director Wolfgang Peterson created an intense, draining, and claustrophobic epic of a film with extreme realism and authenticity. The film has seen release in several different cuts, including a 149 minute theatrical release, a 208 minute director's cut, and a 6 hour television mini-series cut. On the new Sony 2-disc Blu-ray, both the theatrical and the director's cuts are included.
One outrageous last night on the town is had by the U-boat crew before shoving off for months spent inside the buoyant steel coffin they called home. Incessantly eating lemons, constantly fighting off crabs, and waiting, waiting, waiting, Captain Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (Jürgen Prochnow) and his men start to crack under the anxiety of a lack of action. After weeks of floating about the Atlantic, the sub is attacked by British battleships, forcing it to dive to extremes not tested for safety. Following their first encounter, there are several torpedo and depth charge exchanges, and the nerve racked crew continues their decent into a fear fueled, cabin fever until they are given a new mission. Now aliens to the Nazi party they once signed up to serve, the crew goes back into the depths after a short docking break. The mission seems suicidal, but the sea soaked crew embrace their destiny, only hoping to exchange their misery for something of value.
Making such a long film in which the majority of the story takes place in such a small area is risky business. Not only that, but a German crafted film about the a German perspective of World War II was a complete oddity. Despite the challenge, Peterson and his team of magicians crafted an absolute classic that permeated with paranoid fear and a stink that could almost be smelled from the theater seats. In the 90s the film received a director's cut, in which the sound had to be completely re-done, thanks to flood damage, and technological advances in audio. The end result is nothing short of breathtaking. Matching the newly beefed up soundtrack, Jost Vacano's uncomfortably close cinematography really brings the characters horrible living situation to the forefront, while Hannes Nikel's award winning editing creates both a sense of extreme boredom in the early stages of the trip, and terrified urgency in times of danger. Helping set the adventurous, yet unnerving mood is Klaus Doldinger's memorable brass heavy soundtrack. To add to the long list of wonderful things about the film, Peterson's fairly no-name cast (at the time) put their hearts and souls on screen, making the audience feel what these characters were going through.
Sony's 2-disc Blu-ray release is stacked. Not only does it contain both the theatrical and director's cut, but there is a long list of well produced, watch worthy extra features. The restored sound and image are impeccable. The damp sets and sweaty crew members are presented with extreme clarity and detail. Bringing the film to new levels of greatness is the outstanding new 5.1 DTS-HD audio track that will literally rock your living room with its very impressive aggression, sound separation, and reproduction of newly recorded sound effects. This is one of the most impressive audio tracks I've had the pleasure of hearing. Accompanying the director's cut of the film is a full length commentary featuring producer Ortwin Freyermuth, director Wolfgang Petersen, and actor Jürgen Prochnow. The trio are a joy to listen to, and are incredibly informative about production details, often commenting on the differences between the director's cut, and the theatrical release. On the second disc there are a variety of featurettes, the first of which is titled “The Perfect Boat”, a piece on how the director's cut came to be. The next is “Maria's Take”, in which Petersen takes a look back at the production with his assistant director, Maria Peterson. There are two comprehensive making of documentaries from when the film was made that together run an hour and 40 minutes. Also included is a series of short tours of the different portions of the sub sets, as well as another highly produced 45 minute piece in which Peterson's film making journey is chronicled while he is interviewed by writer and media historian Gundolf S. Freyermuth. The two discs come packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with a matching cardboard dust jacket.
This is an outrageous release in the best way. The film is a masterpiece, the restored image and amped up audio are top notch, and the mountain of extras are all of quality. If you've seen Das Boot before, then this is the perfect opportunity to see again it at its best, and if you've yet to see it, now is the time.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: July 5, 2011