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Das Boot - Superbit Collection

Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: War
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Audio: German DTS 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0
Language: German, English
Subtitle: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Length: 209 min
Rating: R
Release Date: 03/04/2003
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Commentary: None
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: None
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: None
Cast and Crew: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch, Martin Semmelrogge, Bernd Tauber
Written By: Wolfgang Petersen
Produced by: Günter Rohrbach
Directed By: Wolfgang Petersen
Music: Klaus Doldinger
The Review:

In "Das Boot," director Wolfgang Petersen combines sharp storytelling tactics and dizzying action sequences with such intelligence and attention to detail that blinking is absolutely out of the question. From its foreboding opening shot of a looming submrged submarine, every frame of this picture is sheer magnificence, every nuance of its creation a deft blend of energy and heart; in short, it's perhaps the most exquisite and smart piece on submarine warfare ever constructed for the silver screen. ***

Petersen's film focuses on the factual events of the German U-Boat U-96, which set sail in 1942 at a time when German power in the Atlantic was beginning to dwindling. The vessel's captain, Hans-Jürgen Hellriegel (Jürgen Prochnow), is a hard-hearted mariner whose experience at sea in previous years have conditioned his harsh attitude towards the Fuhrer's decision to place young boys on these ships ("These boys should still be at home suckling Mother's breast," he later says). Of the vast amount of characters, Hellriegel is the most intriguing for his vast knowledge of warfare on the high seas, and his concern for his crew, whose inexperience he fears will render them helpless in times of battle. ***

The script divides the story into distinct sections, beginning with the submarine's first weeks at sea. We're introduced to crew life, the operations and maneuvers performed aboard the ship, and some small emotional vignettes involving select crew members. It is here that we have our first real chance to experience the life of living in a submarine, which is aided by Petersen's extreme attention to the smallest technical details. His sets are small, claustrophobic spaces with a continuous hallway that runs the entire length of the sub, while details like control panels and other operational devices have not been ignored. ***

I also noticed that much of the movie derives its tension from Petersen's adept pacing skills. In this first segment of the movie, the material is slow-moving in its development of character and craft, evoking the boredom and listless living aboard the vessel quite effectively. And then, the scream of "ALARM!" pierces the silence, and the men are running back and forth in a calculated frenzy, heading for battle stations, making ready for combat that, at times, turns out to be a false alarm or failed attempt. The director juxtaposes these instances magnificently, incorporating a distinct tension in slower scenes that builds us up for the greater suspense to follow. ***

The midsection of the film is comprised of three main battle sequences: the craft's encounter with a pair of British destroyers, a skirmish with a fleet of enemy vessels in the middle of the Atlantic, and the sub's attempt to make it through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Mediterranean Sea, where they will return to port. Aside from the precision of these sequences, which I will further explain shortly, these events bring us into an experience no one is soon to forget. We forget about the nature of the war, as well as which side these men are fighting for, and become involved in their peril on a more human level. We feel for these men not as enemy soldiers, but as heroes in their own fight to stay alive once things appear to have come to a close. ***

Petersen's movie also does for the Germans what other war movies have been too skittish to accomplish: it shows a human side to them. In a scene in which the submarine comes across a burning enemy tanker, they fire upon it unaware that men are still on board. Unable to help the remaining survivors swimming to no avail, Captain Hellriegel pulls away; later, we see remorse in his eyes and his words. I applaud the filmmakers for this approach; in any other film, we would see the Germans as heartless bastards, but this piece avoids one-sidedness, possessing the courage to reveal something too many of us have been all-too-willing to ignore. ***

Backing this human drama is the expertly-crafted technical aspect of the drama. The battle sequences carry their weight in suspense and energy, resounding from Petersen's frenetic shifting between scenes of motionless men awaiting the next blast from a depth charge to dizzying instances of fear and peril as the men are rocked in all directions. ***

This experience is as close to firsthand as one could get without actually being there. The camera moves with expert handling throughout the sub, its elongated tracking shots following the men in their frenzy to save their vessel, its tight shots of the sailors' faces relating to the audience a state of unparalleled fear. Petersen also masters his shifting between interior and exterior shots of the action without losing a single beat of intensity. His interior shots, however, are much more effective in their use of sound effects to evoke a sense of dread and danger lurking outside; hearing ships passing overhead, as well as the thunderous blasts of the depth charges, gives us a sense of the miniscule size of the submarine, and just how fragile it really is. ***

And then there is the ending, a brilliant allegory for the harsh reality that war is inescapable, even once in the safety of home. The initial shock one feels at what happens here appears to be out of the feeling that Petersen is being unfair to his characters, but upon deeper examination, it resonates into something of great power and meaning. As a movie, "Das Boot" is a series of super-charged moments and powerful instances that collectively add up to something equally moving as a whole. As an experience, it is, quite simply, mesmerizing, unflinching, and unforgettable.

Image and Sound

Considering how many titles in Columbia's Superbit line are those that were previously blessed with pristine transfers, it's nice to see the studio give one of their older films like "Das Boot" the remaster it deserves. The single-disc release back in 1997 looked good enough, and still holds up quite well, but this Superbit transfer is much better. The image has been cleaned up rather nicely, with very little film grain or artifacts apparent, and source print blemishes have vanished completely. Colors, although subdued, look accurate given the context of various scenes, and contrast is superb, with solid blacks and shadow detail that is nicely rendered. Clarity has also been improved upon, with sharper image detail and an overall lack of enhancement halos. In a smart move, Columbia has chosen to spread the movie over two discs, so as not to compromise space and bit rate. ***

The sound comes in three different options: two German-language tracks (one DTS, the other Dolby Digital), and an English Dolby 2.0 Surround option, which is pretty much pointless. The other two audio tracks, however, are superb! Both the DTS and Dolby tracks come with a full arsenal of sound effects and action scenes that truly shine in terms of sound envelopment; imaging is in full force here, with surrounds actively engaged for most of the presentation, and deep bass from the .1 LFE making a strong statement for the low end, which is used generously throughout. Dialogue sounds very good here as well, and front-end separation is also commendable. The DTS has a slightly higher advantage here, but the Dolby performs just as well, too.

The Extras As is the case with most Superbit titles, there are no extras.
Commentary None
Final Words: If you already own the previous edition, then unless you're an audio-video junkie, there's really no cause for an upgrade.

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June 10, 2003