DVD Reviews - Das Boot: The Director’s Cut

      Date posted: December 31, 1969

Das Boot
Wolfgang Petersen, director; Columbia Tristar Home Video;
Widescreen only, 2 sides; Dolby Digital 5.1 English,
Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Surround Spanish;
English, Spanish, French subtitles; 209 Minutes

      Finally, a movie that makes really intelligent use of many DVD features. Das Boot, as can be seen above, has Dolby Digital for both its original German soundtrack and the dubbed English one, as well as subtitles that allow one to hear the German with all the sound effects intact (and these are spectacular), and also understand the script. This was my preference in watching this classic 1982 film; I even joked to a friend that after watching all 200+ minutes of Das Boot this way, I would probably end up fluent in German (and since it’s an underwater film, I guess that would be low German, ja?). It didn’t quite work out that way, but my accent has improved considerably after watching this U-boat epic..

     Ze vay zees feelm…sorry…the way this film was restored is a bit of an epic in itself, a reunion of the original production team to reassemble the elements for DVD. Petersen had long wanted to go back to it after subsequent successes with In The Line Of Fire, Outbreak, and Air Force One. In the excellent booklet that accompanies the disc, he notes, “I always thought that even though the film version I delivered worked well it would be wonderful to one day go back and cut my own ideal version…”.

     Das Boot was done both as a theatrical film (which became the highest grossing German film in history) and as a six-part television mini-series, so there were lots of materials to work with. While most of the film negative was remarkably well preserved, all of the original magnetic audio tapes had become wet in storage, and had to be baked for 24 hours to be made playable, and then could be played only once. Unfortunately, this was not possible with the separate music score tapes, on which the cues for segment starts were preceded by plastic leader tape, which melted in the oven. Fortunately, there were earlier-stage multitrack score masters kept by composer Klaus Doldinger that could be employed in the 6-channel mixdown.

     The soundtrack foley and effects were redone to today’s standards using digital technology. Says producer Ortwin Freyermuth, “We basically redesigned and rerecorded digitally almost all sound - except dialogue and footsteps - and then completely re-mixed the whole picture.”

     Anyone who saw and heard Das Boot in its laserdisc release can attest to how effective and powerful a film it is. For those who haven’t had this experience, I’ll briefly summarize it. By 1941 the crews of U-boats were mostly very young, more boys than men, with a few experienced officers, and U-96 is typical. After a wild, drunken party, the crew goes to sea, not encountering action until the crew is trained and almost ready, halfway from boys to men. As they test the boat to 200 metres or so down, and survive a near collision and depth charges, the crew matures, as observed by the journalist who has joined the expedition.

     I don’t think I’ll give away any more, except to say that the narrative is well paced, and the extraordinary sound track is a large part of the film’s grip on the viewer, right from the sonar pings that keep shooting through the room diagonally during the opening credits to the trick-of-fate ending. The sound of water, engines, explosions, creakings and groanings, and other sub sounds are extraordinarily realistic, immersing (literally) the viewer in the film almost to the point of wetness.

     I’ve always hated war films, but Das Boot is riveting stuff, as gritty, dirty, and realistically tough as it gets. It’s also ideally suited to the DVD medium, allowing user control of language and subtitles, and offering the addition of a full hour of footage, as well as providing a producer-director-sound-recordist trialogue of reminiscences as a separate audio track through the whole film that adds a fascinating dimension to understanding the film’s genesis, production and restoration; I’ve only listened to about 35 minutes of this so far, but have enjoyed it so much that I’ll go back to it and watch the whole movie this way. The film doesn’t really seem 209 minutes (3 1/2 hours) long, and unlike the also-extended Woodstock, can be watched comfortably at one sitting.

     The letterbox is a standard 1.85 that could have been moved up enough on the screen to allow the subtitles to have been below the picture instead of on top. That fact, and that the sides are mis-identified, are the only criticisms I can make of this important DVD release.

Andrew Marshall

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