25 March 2005 | Mike_Wiggins
The best submarine film ever made.
While it has been a very long time since I have seen this movie, it is one of the very few that I own. Wolfgang Petersen's magnificent accomplishment in "Das Boot" is reiterating the dictum that "war is hell", no matter which side you look at it from and no matter where the battlefield is located.
*** Minor spoilers ***
The plot has been well described by other viewers so I won't rehash it again. But my personal observations, as an ex-submarine sailor, are that Petersen probably portrayed life on board the sub pretty accurately. I say "probably" because todays subs are hotels compared with the German U-boats and American submarines. The commonality between yesterday and today is how the crew deals with being closed up in a "sewer pipe" for weeks at a time. More importantly, you as a viewer become an invisible crew member as the crew lives in very cramped conditions (American WW2 subs used to be called "pig boats"), deals with an unfortunately believable political officer, deals with drills, actual torpedo firings, actual ships casualties, and deals, most frighteningly, with retribution from the "enemy". My own experience watching the depth charging of the U-boat was such that I was thinking "stop it, Stop It, STOP IT, STOPITSTOPITSTOPIT...!!!!!" That's how real it felt to me. For the rest of you, I feel certain you will too be dragged in and know what it is like to live on board a WW2 U-boat.
This movie also shows how leadership is so important in keeping the crew (and ultimately the sub) together. Petersen's direction for Captain Lehmann-Willenbrock was masterful because it didn't portray the captain as a god. It showed him as a man who knows how to lead, knows his submarine as if he were married to it (and in many ways he is) but isn't perfect at the job. It also shows that even with great leadership qualities, Captain Lehmann-Willenbrock can not do the job alone: he must have both officers and enlisted men who have the knowledge and skill to not just do their jobs, but to also advise the captain. Petersen also managed to give each member of the crew their own separate personalities instead of the predictable cookie-cutter personalities that Hollywood feels is needed.
I could go on and on. So I will close by saying that with the plot, direction, cinematography, acting, sound, music, editing all being top notch, this is one of the few movies that I can truly rate a 10 out of 10. I also preferred the German version with subtitles.
I believe that this movie was either the first or one of the first to use Steadicam technology. It was truly amazing for me to see a camera zip its way through a submarine, specifically through the open watertight doors, without a break in the filming. Up until I heard what Steadicam was, I was always wondering how Petersen managed to hide the camera dolly track or the wires the camera hung from.
(It turns out I was wrong: "Bound For Glory" was the first.)
EDIT (12 OCT, 2006): I have been corrected by an observant viewer. Wikipedia has the following comment on what I thought was Steadicam usage:
"Most of the interior shots were filmed using a hand-held Arriflex of cinematographer Jost Vacano's design to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boat. It had a gyroscope to provide stability, a reinvention of the Steadicam on a smaller scale, so that it could be carried throughout the interior of the mock-up. Vacano wore full-body padding to minimize injury as he ran and the mock-up was rocked and shaken."
So, literally, a Steadicam was NOT used in the filming of "Das Boot". However, a camera that resembled Steadicam in function (in the way it gyroscopically leveled the filming platform) was used.
Even though todays submarines are far cleaner then their predecessors, and we have refrigerators, freezers, air conditioning, are able to take showers, etc., there is one aspect of living in an enclosed space that still lives on: the smell. While the smell of the "pig boats" of WW2 was truly atrocious, even with todays ability to clean the atmosphere, you can not escape the fact that any smell that is created, from burned toast in the galley, from the smell of the "sanitary gasses" (to be kind), to gasified hydraulic oil and diesel fuel, all these particulates will eventually become absorbed in your clothing. You, as a sailor, may get used to it, but when you get home, your wife will most likely declare that you smell like a submarine and demand that whatever you are wearing get thrown in the wash ... immediately!