Tuesday, December 20, 2016
2016 Blind Spot Series: Das Boot
Based on the novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, Das Boot (The Boat) is the story of U-boat captain and his crew trekking around the Atlantic Ocean to find and destroy Allied ships while dealing with the daily grinding living and working in a submarine. Written for the screen and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the film is an unusual war film that is largely inside a German U-boat where a captain and his inexperienced crew deal with the chaos of war. Starring Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann. Das Boot is a gripping and rapturous film from Wolfgang Petersen.
Set in October 1941, the film follows a war correspondent whose job is to be observe and look into the actions of a U-boat captain and his crew as they look for and destroy Allied ships during the Battle of the Atlantic Ocean. The film may have a simple story but it has a lot of complexities about not just life inside a submarine but what a captain must do to not just survive but also outsmart and evade the enemy in the sea. Wolfgang Petersen’s screenplay is also focused on the characters such as the captain (Jurgen Prochnow) who has seen a lot of battles and been through a lot yet finds himself dealing with a large crew who hadn’t had much experienced being in a submarine nor deal with the chaos of war. With the exception of the chief engineer (Kluas Wennemann) and chief mechanic Johan (Erwin Leder), much of the crew are young men as well as a few young officers with Lieutenant Werner (Herbert Gronemeyer) being new on board as he is the war correspondent.
The script is focused not just on the tedious atmosphere of being in a submarine as it mostly takes place inside the submarine but also what many had to do in their duties. Especially as the crew have to sleep in cramped bunks with little room as well as run through the narrow parts of the ship without the need to stop in case of an emergency or the enemy is nearby. For Lt. Werner, he sees what the crew had to do as many of them don’t like him at first because he is just there to observe. Yet, he would take part in helping them as it would be these little moments where he would gain their respect while he would befriend a young officer candidate in Ullmann (Martin May) who has a French girlfriend in France as he worries about her. The first act is about the life of being in a U-boat as well as the search for the enemy while the second act is about the encounters with a British destroyer and the need to survive.
The captain himself does whatever he can to oversee everything as he becomes weary as he also has to carry the weight of responsibility for his ship and his crew. Even as he has to cope with a ship that is often under attack by depth charges from the British destroyer as well as a moment in the aftermath of an attack where he and his officers look in horror over a British ship they destroyed. The third act isn’t just about the what the captain needs to do to get home but also the harsh realities of war as it’s something Lt. Werner would learn to cope with. Even as he and some of the officers during a stop before this trip home at a merchant ship become aware of the disconnect that those who aren’t even on the battlefield are unaware of.
Petersen’s direction is truly intense in the way he presents life inside a U-boat as the submarine itself is a character in the film but one that is quite menacing and eerie. While many of the exteriors including the film’s opening party sequence is shot partially near Munich with some of it shot around France. Much of the film is shot in a soundstage for the submarine interiors as it is very cramped and claustrophobic where Petersen creates that sense of feeling of how narrow and small the interior walls are inside the submarine. With the aid of the Arriflex-camera which is a smaller version of the steadicam, Petersen’s approach to fast tracking shots to capture the viewpoint of how a crew member would run from one side of the ship to another through these narrow holes in between. It adds to the frenetic tone of the film whenever some sense of danger occurs as Petersen just amps up that intensity. Especially in the quieter moments where it is about the battle of wits as the sub tries to hide itself from that British destroyer who keeps dropping depth charges as they can’t make a noise.
While there are some wide shots including some scenes outside of the ship with some unique backdrops to play into the intensity of the storms. Petersen would favor using medium shots and close-ups to not just play into the claustrophobia of what is going inside the sub but also in the moments where everyone is dealing with aspects of the ship that isn’t working or moments where nothing is happening. There are moments that are humorous from the opening sequence to a few bits inside the sub yet much of it is quite serious including its climatic third act where the boat has to go through an entire British fleet undetected yet it would be a major risk. It is a climax that is quite chilling and unsettling but it also proves what these men will do to survive under great danger inside this submarine. Overall, Petersen creates a harrowing yet visceral film about a U-boat captain and his crew trying to find Allied ships and destroy them in the Atlantic Ocean.
Cinematographer Jost Vacano does brilliant work with the look of the many interiors in the submarine with its usage of lights and shade to play into what is happening on the inside as well as some beautiful exterior scenes in the day and night to play into where the boat is as well as what is going on underwater. Editor Hannes Nikel does excellent work with the editing with the usage of jump-cuts for some of the abrupt moments of action as well as other stylized cuts to play into the suspense and drama that occurs in the film. Production designer Rolf Zehetbauter and art director Gotz Weidner do amazing work with not just the look of the interiors and rooms of the submarine from its engine room and where the torpedoes are but also in the party in the opening sequence and at merchant ship banquet early in the third act. Costume designer Monika Bauert does nice work with the costumes from the uniforms of some of the officers as well as the ragged clothes that the men wear inside the submarine.
Special effects supervisor Karl Baumgartner does fantastic work with the look of the exteriors of the submarine from underwater as well as the backdrops for some of the exteriors of the submarine during the storms as well as in some of the battle scenes. Sound editors Karen Baker Landers, J. Stanley Johnston, and Michael Keller, along with sound designer Scott Martin Gershin, for 1997 special edition director’s cut do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of what is happening inside a submarine and the way the metal is heard underwater as it goes very deep as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music Klaus Doldinger is incredible for its bombastic orchestral score as it has moments that are quite serene to the moments of intensity during the action and suspense scenes while the soundtrack feature elements of classical or folk songs of the times.
The casting by Willy Schlenter is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Gunter Lamprecht as a merchant ship captain, Sky du Mont as an officer at the merchant ship, Claude-Oliver Rudolph as a mechanic named Arlo, Jan Fedder and Ralf Richter as two petty officers, Oliver Stritzel as a torpedo man, Jean-Clause Hoffmann as a diving planes operator, Uwe Ochsenknecht as a torpedo supervisor who is upset over the loss of his futbol team, Bernd Tauber as 3rd watch officer/navigator Kriechbaum, and Heinz Hoenig as the radioman Hinrich who is the jack-of-all-trades of the ship as he listens to everything while also being a medic and a sonar repairman. Martin May is terrific as the officer candidate Ullmann as one of the few Lt. Werner connects with as he deals with the fact that he has a girlfriend in France and worries about what the French will think of her being with a German.
Martin Semmelrogge is superb as the 2nd watch officer whose job is to decode codes as he is quite vulgar in his actions yet liked by the crew. Erwin Leder is fantastic as the chief mechanic Johann as a man who tends to the diesel engines with great care as he nearly loses it during a silent run. Hubertus Bengsch is excellent as the 1st watch officer as a by-the-book officer who always maintains a clean look and other quirks to make him very different from everyone else until he deals with the reality of war. Otto Sander is brilliant as Captain Thomsen as a fellow U-boat captain who is celebrated in the film’s opening party scene as he is this drunken yet wild captain who would meet them again in his boat during a storm.
Klaus Wennemann is amazing as the chief engineer as a veteran who is the captain’s second-in-command as he knows how to fix the submarine as well as do whatever it takes to raise morale. Herbert Gronemeyer is remarkable as Lt. Werner as a young officer who joins the sub as a war correspondent as he copes with being in a submarine as well as what to do there as he would eventually find his role and gain the respect o the crew. Finally, there’s Jurgen Prochnow in a phenomenal performance as the captain as a hardened U-boat captain who has been through a lot as he copes with having an inexperienced crew and trying to find a British fleet to attack as it’s a performance filled with humility and the need to do what is right even as he is willing to say he made a bad call.
Das Boot is an outstanding film from Wolfgang Petersen. Featuring a great cast, dazzling technical work, a fantastic soundtrack, and a thrilling premise. It’s a war film that isn’t just engaging but also filled with characters to care for as well as be an unusual war film where it is about survival and men dealing with the dark aspects of war. In the end, Das Boot is a magnificent film from Wolfgang Petersen.
Wolfgang Petersen Films: (One or the Other of Us) - (The Consequence) - (Black and White Like Day and Night) - (The NeverEnding Story) - (Enemy Mine) - (Shattered (1991 film)) - (In the Line of Fire) - (Outbreak (1995 film)) - (Air Force One) - (The Perfect Storm) - (Troy (2004 film)) - (Poseidon)
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