Das Boot: The Director's Cut

on April 04, 1997 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
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Spending three-and-a-half hours "trapped" in a submarine with subtitles might sound as enjoyable as a visit to Auschwitz, but this restored, lengthier cut of the 1981 art-house hit "Das Boot" (also released stateside in a dubbed version titled "The Boat") remains a wild ride. On its debut, the German adventure film looking at World War II from the other side of the periscope wowed audiences with its nail-biting suspense and its human look at the Nazi crewmen of the feared unterseeboots. Because the project was originally filmed as a six-hour miniseries, however, American moviegoers saw only a fraction (145 minutes) of the version that writer/director Wolfgang Petersen intended.
   The new cut boasts rerecorded sound and about an hour of additional footage that has been incorporated seamlessly; amazingly enough, the pacing still proceeds at crash-dive speed as The Captain (Jurgen Prochnow, most lately of "The English Patient") pilots his green crew during a search-and-destroy voyage to sink Allied ships; included are several terrifying encounters with destroyers and a final, incredible run through the Straits of Gibraltar under the noses of the English fleet. Taking place almost entirely within the narrow confines of the sub, "Das Boot" is a masterpiece of claustrophobia. The film reaches a series of suspenseful peaks as pressures from within and without the vessel test and temper the young men, almost boys, who crew it. It's episodic, as befits a former miniseries, but that doesn't take away from its power.
   Most of the great action moments--catand-mouse games with lurking destroyers, the rocket-lit trip past Gibraltar, an out-of-control descent--were part of the original "Das Boot." Previously unseen footage mostly gives further depth to the characters. Audiences learn more about The Captain, about a young war correspondent (Herbert Gronemeyer) along for the journey, and about each crewmember. This new richness makes "Das Boot's" famous finale all the more devastating: You've lived with these men for quite a while by the time they finally return to port. It's a long voyage, but no movie lover would want to miss a minute of it. Starring Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer and Klaus Wennemann. Directed and written by Wolfgang Petersen. Original produced by Gunter Rohrbach; director's cut produced by Ortwin Freyermuth. A Columbia Repertory release. Drama/action. German-language; English subtitles. Re-rated R for some war violence and brief language. [Previous rating remains the same.] Running time: 210 min.
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