by Wolfgang Petersen
, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow
, Herbert Grönemeyer
, and Klaus Wennemann
. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries
, and in several different home video
versions of various running times.
Das Boot is an adaption of the 1973 German novel of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim
. Set during World War II, the film tells the fictional story of U-96 and its crew.
Our patrol planes! Where are they? Answer that one, Herr Göring!
[during the storm] The sea cannot claim us, Henrich. No ship is as seaworthy as ours.
[escaping from the British] They haven't spotted us! They're all snoring in their bunks! Or you know what? They're drinking in the bar! Celebrating our sinking! Not yet, my friends. Not yet!
[Captain, looking at logbook]Our recent triumphs: Dived to evade enemy aircraft. Lost contact. Dived to evade destroyer. Depth charged. The British have stopped making mistakes.
Hey look its Thomsen! THOOOMSSSEEN!! Good Hunting! You old rascal! My god Phillip! So they pushed you out to sea again!
[slowly suffocating in 290m depth] 'To be fearless and proud and alone. To need no one, just sacrifice. All for the Fatherland.' Oh God, all just empty words.
by Wolfgang Petersen
, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow
, Herbert Grönemeyer
, and Klaus Wennemann
. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries
, and in several different home video
versions of various running times.
Das Boot is an adaption of the 1973 German novel of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim
. Set during World War II, the film tells the fictional story of U-96 and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and shows the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. The screenplay used an amalgamation of exploits from the real , a Type VIIC-class U-boat
commanded by Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, one of Germany's top U-boat "tonnage aces" during the war.
Development for Das Boot began in 1979. Several American directors were considered three years earlier before the film was shelved. During the film's production, Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the captain of the real U-96, and Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on , served as consultants. One of Petersen's goals was to guide the audience through "a journey to the edge of the mind" (the film's German tagline Eine Reise ans Ende des Verstandes), showing "what war is all about".
Produced with a budget of 32 million DM (about $18.5 million), the film was released on September 17, 1981 and was later released in 1997 in a director's cut
version supervised by Petersen. It grossed over $80 million ($190.2 million in 2009 prices) worldwide between its theatrical releases and received critical acclaim. Its high production cost ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema
. It was the second most expensive up until that time, after Metropolis
PlotThe story is told from the viewpoint of Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer
), who has been assigned as a war correspondent
on the German submarine U-96 in October 1941. He meets its captain (Jürgen Prochnow
), chief engineer (Klaus Wennemann
), and the crew in a French nightclub. Thomsen (Otto Sander
), another captain, gives a crude drunken speech to celebrate his Ritterkreuz award
, in which he openly mocks Winston Churchill
and implicitly Adolf Hitler
The next morning, they sail out of the harbour to cheering crowds and a playing band. Werner is given a tour of the boat. As time passes, he observes ideological differences between the new crew members and the hardened veterans, particularly the captain, who is embittered and cynical about the war. The new men, including Werner, are often mocked by the rest of the crew, who share a tight bond. After days of boredom, the crew is excited by another U-boat's spotting of an enemy convoy. They soon locate a British destroyer
, but are bombarded with depth charge
s. They narrowly escape with only light damage.
The next three weeks are spent enduring a relentless storm. Morale drops after what seems like an endless series of misfortunes, but the crew is cheered temporarily by a chance encounter with Thomsen's boat. Shortly after the storm ends, the boat encounters a British convoy
and quickly launches four torpedoes, sinking two ships. However, they are spotted by a destroyer and have to dive below the submarine's rated limit
. During the depth-charge attack, the chief mechanic, Johann, panics and has to be restrained. The boat sustains heavy damage, but is eventually able to safely surface in darkness. An enemy tanker remains afloat and on fire, so they torpedo the ship, only to realize that there are still sailors aboard; they watch in horror as the sailors, some on fire, leap overboard and swim towards them. Following orders not to take prisoners
, the captain gives the command to back the ship away.
in time for Christmas
, but the ship is ordered to La Spezia
, which means passing through the Strait of Gibraltar
— an area heavily defended by the Royal Navy. The U-boat makes a secret night rendezvous at the harbour of Vigo
, in neutral
Spain, with the SS Weser
, an interned German merchant ship that clandestinely provides U-boats with fuel, torpedoes, and other supplies. The filthy officers seem out of place on the opulent luxury liner, but are warmly greeted by enthusiastic Nazi
officers eager to hear their exploits. The captain learns from an envoy of the German consulate that his request for Werner and the chief engineer to be sent back to Germany has been denied.
The crew finishes resupplying and departs for Italy. As they carefully approach Gibraltar and are just about to dive, they are suddenly attacked by a British fighter plane, wounding the navigator. The captain orders the boat directly south towards the African coast at full speed. British ships begin closing in and she is forced to dive; it is later implied that the ships used HF/DF to locate her. When attempting to level off, the boat does not respond and continues to sink until, just before being crushed by the pressure, it lands on a sea shelf. The crew work desperately to make numerous repairs before running out of oxygen. After over 16 hours, they are able to surface by blowing out their ballast
of water, and limp home under the cover of darkness.
The crew is pale and weary upon returning to La Rochelle on Christmas Eve
. Shortly after the wounded navigator is taken ashore to a waiting ambulance, Allied
planes bomb and strafe the facilities, wounding or killing most of the men. After the raid, Werner leaves the U-boat bunker
in which he had taken shelter and finds the captain, with multiple bullet wounds and bleeding from the mouth, watching the U-boat sink at the dock. The captain dies after the boat disappears under the water.
- Jürgen ProchnowJürgen ProchnowJürgen Prochnow is a German actor. His most well-known roles internationally have been as the sympathetic submarine captain in Das Boot , Duke Leto Atreides I in Dune , the minor, but important role of Neo-Stalinist dictator General Ivan Radek in Air Force One and the villain Maxwell Dent in...
as the CommanderCommanderCommander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.-Commander as a naval...
(Rank: Kapitänleutnant / "KaLeun", called "Der Alte" by his crew): A 30-year-old battle-hardened sea veteran, who complains to Werner that most of his crew are boys. Despite being openly anti-Nazi, he is engaged to a "Nazi girl" (a widow of a LuftwaffeLuftwaffeLuftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....
pilot). Prochnow later became one of the few German actors who established themselves in Hollywood.
- Herbert GrönemeyerHerbert GrönemeyerHerbert Grönemeyer is a German musician and actor, popular in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He starred as war correspondent Lieutenant Werner in Wolfgang Petersen's movie Das Boot, but later concentrated on his musical career...
as Leutnant (Ensign) Werner, War Correspondent: The naive, but honest narrator. Werner is mocked for his lack of U-boat experience. Grönemeyer was a popular German singer before the film and still is.
- Klaus WennemannKlaus WennemannKlaus Wennemann was a German actor. He was best known for his roles as the Chief Engineer in Das Boot and as Faber in the TV series Der Fahnder. He died at the age of 59 from lung cancer....
as Chief Engineer (Leitender Ingenieur or LI, Rank: Oberleutnant): A quiet and well-respected man. At age 27, the oldest crew member besides the Captain. Tormented by the uncertain fate of his wife, especially after hearing about an Allied air raidStrategic bombing during World War IIStrategic bombing during World War II is a term which refers to all aerial bombardment of a strategic nature between 1939 and 1945 involving any nations engaged in World War II...
on CologneCologneCologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...
. The second most important crewman, as he oversees diving operations and makes sure the systems are running correctly. Wennemann later became lead in a successful German detective series, Der Fahnder (the Investigator) before his death in 2000 from lung cancerLung cancerLung cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. If left untreated, this growth can spread beyond the lung in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and, eventually, into other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in lung, known as primary...
- Hubertus BengschHubertus BengschHubertus Bengsch is a German actor, best known for his role as the German First Officer in Das Boot.He also is well known for being the German voice of American actor Richard Gere.-External links:...
as 1st Watch Officer (IWO, Rank: Oberleutnant): A young, by-the-book officer, an ardent Nazi and a staunch believer in victory. He has a condescending attitude and is the only crewman who makes the effort to maintain his proper uniform. Raised in some wealth in Mexico by his stepparents who owned a plantation. His German fiancée died in a British carpet bombingCarpet bombingCarpet bombing is a large aerial bombing done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land. The phrase invokes the image of explosions completely covering an area, in the same way that a carpet covers a floor. Carpet bombing is usually achieved by dropping many...
raid. He spends his days writing his thoughts on military training and leadership for the High Command. Bengsch later became a successful dubbing artist, providing (amongst others) the German voice of Richard GereRichard GereRichard Tiffany Gere is an American actor. He began acting in the 1970s, playing a supporting role in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and a starring role in Days of Heaven. He came to prominence in 1980 for his role in the film American Gigolo, which established him as a leading man and a sex symbol...
- Martin SemmelroggeMartin SemmelroggeMartin Semmelrogge is a German actor, best known for his role as the comical 2WO in the film Das Boot...
as 2nd Watch Officer (IIWO, Rank: Oberleutnant): A vulgar, comedic officer. He is short, red-haired and speaks with a mild Berlin dialect. One of his duties is to decode messages from base, using the Enigma code machineEnigma machineAn Enigma machine is any of a family of related electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines used for the encryption and decryption of secret messages. Enigma was invented by German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I...
. The film started Semmelrogge's successful German film career.
- Bernd TauberBernd TauberBernd Tauber is a German actor. He is best known for his role as Navigator Kriechbaum in the 1981 film Das Boot....
as Obersteuermann ("Chief Helmsman", a Chief Petty Officer rank) Kriechbaum: The navigator and IIIWO (3rd Watch Officer). Always slightly sceptical of the Captain, and shows no enthusiasm during the voyage, or any anger when a convoy is too far away to be attacked. Kriechbaum has four sons, with another on the way. He is wounded in the airplane attack at Gibraltar. Following the film, Tauber became a successful actor; one of his roles was the first HIVHIVHuman immunodeficiency virus is a lentivirus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome , a condition in humans in which progressive failure of the immune system allows life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive...
-positive character in West Germany television on LindenstraßeLindenstraßeLindenstraße is a German television show on ARD's Das Erste, one of Germany's two publicly administered TV channels. The first episode was aired on December 8, 1985, and since then has been broadcast weekly. Its current timeslot on Das Erste is Sundays at 6:50 pm...
- Erwin LederErwin LederErwin Alois Robert Leder is an Austrian actor. He is best known for his role as Chief Mechanic Johann in Das Boot, a 1981 feature film directed by Wolfgang Petersen about a mission of one World War II U-boat and its crew...
as Obermaschinist ("Chief Mechanic", another Chief Petty Officer rank) Johann: He is obsessed with a near-fetish love for the U96's engines. Suffers a temporary mental breakdown during an attack by two destroyers. He is able to redeem himself by valiantly working to stop water leaks when the boat is trapped underwater near Gibraltar. Speaks Austro-Bavarian. Leder appeared in the Gothic vampire film UnderworldUnderworld (2003 film)Underworld is a 2003 action-horror film about the secret history of Vampires and Lycans . It is the first installment in the Underworld series. The main plot revolves around Selene , a vampire who is a Death Dealer hunting Lycans...
- Martin May as Fähnrich (Senior Cadet) Ullmann: A young officer candidate who has a pregnant FrenchFrench peopleThe French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...
fiancée (which is considered treason by the French partisansFrench ResistanceThe French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...
) and worries about her safety. He is one of the few crew members with whom Werner is able to connect; Werner offers to deliver Ullmann's stack of love letters when Werner is ordered to leave the submarine.
- Heinz Hoenig as Maat (Petty Officer) Hinrich: The radioman, sonar controller and ship's combat medicCombat medicCombat medics are trained military personnel who are responsible for providing first aid and frontline trauma care on the battlefield. They are also responsible for providing continuing medical care in the absence of a readily available physician, including care for disease and battle injury...
. He is in many ways the third most important crewman, since he gauges speed and direction of targets and enemy destroyers. Hinrich is one of the few officers that the Captain is able to relate to. Hoenig later became one of the most sought-after character faces in German films.
- Uwe OchsenknechtUwe OchsenknechtUwe Adam Ochsenknecht is a German actor and singer.-Work:Films Uwe Ochsenknecht has starred in include Schtonk!, Das Boot and the TV miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune.-Personal life:...
as Bootsmann ("Boatswain", a Chief Petty Officer rank) Lamprecht: The severe chief who shows Werner around the U-96, and supervises the firing and reloading of the torpedo tubes. He gets upset after hearing on the radio that the football team most of the crew supports (FC Schalke 04FC Schalke 04Fußball-Club Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04, commonly known as simply FC Schalke 04 or Schalke , is a German, association-football club originally from the Schalke district of Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Schalke has long been one of the most popular football teams in Germany, even though major...
) are losing a match, and they will "never make the final now". He speaks HessianHessian dialectsHessian is a West Central German group of dialects of the German language in the central German state of Hesse. The dialect most similar to Hessian is Palatinate German of the Rhine Franconian sub-family...
. The film started Ochsenknecht's successful German film career.
- Claude-Oliver Rudolph as Ario: The burly mechanic who tells everyone that Dufte is getting married to an ugly woman, and throws pictures around of Dufte's fiancée in order to laugh at them both.
- Jan FedderJan FedderJan Fedder is a German actor. He is best known for his role as police officer Dirk Matthies in the German television show "Großstadtrevier"...
as Maat (Petty Officer) Pilgrim: Another sailor (watch officer and diving planes operator), gets almost swept off the submarine, breaks several ribs and is hospitalised for a while. Speaks Hamburg dialectHamburgischHamburgisch is a group of Northern Low Saxon varieties spoken in Hamburg, Germany. Occasionally, the term Hamburgisch is also used for Hamburg Missingsch, a variety of standard German with Low Saxon substrates...
. Fedder later became lead in a successful light-hearted German police series, Großstadtrevier.
- Ralf RichterRalf RichterRalf Richter is a German actor. He debuted as the crude sailor "Frenssen" in the Academy Award nominated 1981 film Das Boot and frequently appeared in German TV series...
as Maat (Petty Officer) Frenssen: Pilgrim's best friend. Pilgrim and Frenssen love to trade dirty jokes and stories. He speaks Ruhr dialectRuhrThe Ruhr is a medium-size river in western Germany , a right tributary of the Rhine.-Description:The source of the Ruhr is near the town of Winterberg in the mountainous Sauerland region, at an elevation of approximately 2,200 feet...
- Joachim Bernhard as Bibelforscher ("Theologian", also the contemporary German term for a member of Jehovah's WitnessesJehovah's WitnessesJehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7 million adherents involved in evangelism, convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual...
): A very young religious sailor who is constantly reading the Bible. He is punched by Frenssen when the submarine is trapped at the bottom of the Straits of Gibraltar for praying rather than repairing the boat. Bernhard is the brother of Semmelrogge and has not acted since the early 1990s.
- Oliver StritzelOliver StritzelOliver Stritzel is a German voice actor from Berlin.-Acting Roles:*Das Boot *Der Untergang -Television animation:*Hellsing -Theater animation:...
as Schwalle: The blond sailor who speaks Berlin dialectBerlinerischBerlinerisch, Berlinisch, or Berliner Schnauze is a dialect of Berlin Brandenburgish spoken in Berlin. It originates from a Mark Brandenburgish variant...
. Along with live-action roles, Stritzel's career has largely been dominated by voice-over work and dubbing.
- Jean-Claude Hoffmann as Benjamin: A red haired sailor who serves as a diving planes operator and watch officer.
- Lutz Schnell as Dufte: The sailor who gets jeered at because he is getting married, and for a possible false airplane sighting. Schnell's later career was dominated by voice-over work.
- Konrad BeckerKonrad BeckerKonrad Becker is a hypermedia researcher and interdisciplinary content developer, Director of the Institute for New Culture Technologies/t0 and initiator of Public Netbase and...
as Böckstiegel: the sailor who is first visited by Hinrich for crab lice.
- Otto SanderOtto SanderOtto Sander is a German film, theater, and voice actor.Sander grew up in Kassel, where he graduated in 1961 from the Friedrichgymnasium. After leaving school he spent his military service as a navy reserve officer and then studied theatre science, history of art and philosophy. In 1965 he made his...
as Kapitänleutnant Philipp Thomsen: An alcoholic and shell-shockedCombat stress reactionCombat stress reaction , in the past commonly known as shell shock or battle fatigue, is a range of behaviours resulting from the stress of battle which decrease the combatant's fighting efficiency. The most common symptoms are fatigue, slower reaction times, indecision, disconnection from one's...
U-boat commander, who is a member of "The Old Guard". When he is introduced, he is extremely drunk and briefly mocks Adolf Hitler on the stage of a French nightclub. (In the audio commentary of the director's-cut DVD, Petersen says that Sander was really drunk while they were shooting the scene.) Sometime after U-96 departs, Thomsen is deployed once again and the two submarines meet randomly in the middle of the Atlantic OceanAtlantic OceanThe Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...
. After failing to make contact later, the Captain is forced to report to HQ that Thomsen is missing. Otto Sander is one of Germany's most prolific character actors and played the angel Cassiel in Wings of DesireWings of DesireWings of Desire is a 1987 Franco-German romantic fantasy film directed by Wim Wenders. The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants and comfort those who are in distress...
alongside Bruno GanzBruno GanzBruno Ganz is a Swiss actor, known for his roles as Damiel in Wings of Desire and Adolf Hitler in Downfall.- Early life :Bruno Ganz was born in Zürich to a Swiss mechanic father and a northern Italian mother. He had decided to pursue an acting career by the time he entered university...
, who is best known for his role as Adolf HitlerAdolf HitlerAdolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...
in another critically acclaimed German World War II film DownfallDownfall (film)Downfall is a 2004 German/Italian/Austrian epic war film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's life in his Berlin bunker and Nazi Germany in 1945....
- Günter Lamprecht as Kapitän zur See and Captain of the Weser: An enthusiastic Nazi officer aboard the resupply ship Weser. He mistakes the 1WO for the Captain as they enter the ship's elegant dining room, and complains about the frustration of not being able to fight, but boasts about the food that has been prepared for the crew, and the ship's "specialities". Lamprecht went on to have a successful career in German cinema and television, including a supporting role in Comedian HarmonistsComedian Harmonists (film)Comedian Harmonists is a 1997 German film by Joseph Vilsmaier. It is a biopic about the popular German vocal group Comedian Harmonists...
alongside Otto Sander.
- Sky du MontSky du MontSky du Mont is a German actor. He is known for his role in Eyes Wide Shut, as "Santa Maria" in Der Schuh des Manitu and for narrating the German dub of Thomas & Friends...
as Oberleutnant and Officer aboard the Weser: An officer aboard the Weser whom the 2WO amuses with a comical demonstration of depth charging. For this appearance, du Mont is uncredited. du Mont narrates the German version of Thomas and Friends and appeared in the film Night CrossingNight CrossingNight Crossing is a 1982 Disney film starring John Hurt and Beau Bridges. The film is based on the true story of the Strelzyk and Wetzel families, who on September 16, 1979 escaped from East Germany to West Germany in a homemade hot air balloon during the days of the Berlin Wall when emigration to...
, about an infamous escape from East Germany, as well as Stanley KubrickStanley KubrickStanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...
's Eyes Wide ShutEyes Wide ShutEyes Wide Shut is a 1999 drama film based upon Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle . The film was directed, produced and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, and was his last film. The story, set in and around New York City, follows the sexually-charged adventures of Dr...
The film features both Standard German-speakers and dialect
speakers. Petersen states in his DVD audio commentary that young men from throughout Germany and Austria were recruited for the film, as he wanted faces and dialects that would accurately reflect the diversity of the Third Reich
, circa 1941. All of the main actors are bilingual in German and English, and when the film was dubbed into English, each actor recorded his own part (with the exception of Martin Semmelrogge, who only dubbed his own role in the Director's Cut). The German version is dubbed as well, as the film was shot "silent", because the dialogue spoken on-set would have been drowned out by the gyroscope
s in the special camera developed for filming. While several actors went on to even greater success, Wolfgang Petersen established himself as a long-standing fixture as a Hollywood director and producer.
ProductionProduction of Das Boot took two years (1979–1981). Most of the filming was done in one year; to make the appearance of the actors as realistic as possible, scenes were filmed in sequence over the course of the year. This ensured natural growth of beards and hair, increasing skin pallor, and signs of strain on the actors, who had, just like real U-boat men, spent many months in a cramped, unhealthy atmosphere.
Production for this film originally began in 1976. Several American directors were considered, and the Kaleun (Kapitänleutnant) was to be played by Robert Redford
. Disagreements sprang up among various parties and the project was shelved. Another Hollywood production was attempted with other American directors in mind, this time with the Kaleun to be portrayed by Paul Newman
. This effort primarily failed due to technical concerns, for example, how to film the close encounter of the two German submarines at sea during a storm.
The final scene of the captain collapsing gives the impression that he dies from his injuries, which was the director's intention. However, the real captain actually survived and visited the submarine set and met with Jürgen Prochnow during filming.
Sets and models
's Museum of Science and Industry
The outdoor mock-up was basically a shell propelled with a small engine, and stationed in La Rochelle, France and has a history of its own. One morning the production crew walked out to where they kept it afloat and found it missing. Someone had forgotten to inform the crew that an American filmmaker had rented the mock-up for his own film shooting in the area. This filmmaker was Steven Spielberg
and the film he was shooting was Raiders of the Lost Ark
. A few weeks later, during production, the mock-up cracked in a storm and sank, was recovered and patched to stand in for the final scenes. The full-sized mock-up was used during the Gibraltar surface scenes; the bomber plane (a Douglas SBD Dauntless
dive bomber) and rockets were real while the British ships were models.
A mock-up of a conning tower was placed in a water tank at the Bavaria Studios
for outdoor scenes not requiring a full view of the boat's exterior. When filming on the outdoor mockup or the conning tower, jets of cold water were hosed over the actors to simulate the breaking ocean waves. During the filming there was a scene where actor Jan Fedder
(Pilgrim) fell off the bridge while the U-boat was surfaced. Fedder broke several ribs. This scene was not scripted and during the take one of the actors exclaims "Mann über Bord!" in order to draw attention to Fedder. Petersen, who at first did not realise this was an accident said "Good idea, Jan. We'll do that one more time!" However, since Fedder was genuinely injured and had to be hospitalised, this was the only take available and eventually Petersen kept this scene in the film. In this scene, the pained expression on Fedder's face is authentic and not acted. Petersen also had to rewrite Fedder's character for a portion of the film so that the character was portrayed as bedridden. For his scenes later in the film Fedder had to be brought to and from set from the hospital since he suffered a concussion while filming his accident scene. Fedder eventually recovered enough and Pilgrim is seen on his feet from the scene when the U-96 abandons the British sailors. A half-sized full hull operating model was used for underwater shots and some surface running shots, in particular the meeting in stormy seas with another U-boat. The tank was also used for the shots of British sailors jumping from their ship; a small portion of the tanker hull was constructed for these shots.
The interior U-boat mock-up was mounted five metres off the floor and was shaken, rocked, and tilted up to 45 degrees by means of a hydraulic apparatus, and was vigorously shaken to simulate depth charge attacks. Petersen was admittedly obsessive about the structural detail of the U-boat set, remarking that "every screw" in the set was an authentic facsimile of the kind used in a World War II
U-boat. In this he was considerably assisted by the numerous photographs Lothar-Günther Buchheim
had taken during his own voyage on the historical U-96, some of which had been published in his 1976 book, U-Boot-Krieg ("U-Boat War").
Special cameraMost 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 two gyroscopes to provide stability, a different and smaller scale solution than the Steadicam
, so that it could be carried throughout the interior of the mock-up. Vacano wore full-body padding to minimise injury as he ran and the mock-up was rocked and shaken. The gyroscopes used to stabilize his rig were very noisy, and most of the film had to be dubbed as the location sound was unusable.
Throughout the filming, the actors were forbidden to go out into the sunlight, to create the pallor of men who seldom saw the sun during their missions. The actors went through intensive training to learn how to move quickly through the narrow confines of the vessel.
VersionsSeveral versions of the film and video releases have been made: The first version to be released was the theatrical 150-minute (2½-hour) cut, released to theatres in Germany
in 1981, and in the United States
in 1982. It was nominated for six Academy Awards (Cinematography
, Directing, Film Editing
, Sound (Milan Bor
, Trevor Pyke
and Mike Le Mare
), Sound Effects Editing
, and Writing
The film was partly financed by the German television broadcasters WDR
and the SDR
, and much more footage had been shot for the film than was shown in the theatrical version. A version of three 100 minute episodes was transmitted on BBC Two
in the United Kingdom
in October 1984, and in Germany and Austria the following year. In 1988 a version comprising six 50 minute episodes was screened. These episodes had additional cutback scenes summarising past episodes.
Petersen then oversaw the editing of six hours of film, from which was distilled Das Boot: The Director's Cut, 209 minutes long (3 hours, 29 minutes), released in 1997, which combines the action sequences seen in the feature-length version with character development scenes contained in the mini-series. This release also provides better sound and video quality. Petersen originally had planned to release this version in 1981, which for commercial reasons was not possible. The Director's Cut was released to cinemas in Germany on 11 December and on 4 April 1997 in the U.S. In addition to the "Director's Cut" DVD, a Superbit
version, with fewer additional DVD features but a higher bit-rate (superior quality), was released by Columbia Pictures.
An uncut miniseries version, running 293 minutes (four hours, 53 minutes), was released to DVD on 1 June 2004, as Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version with enhanced video and audio quality. It omits the cutback scenes of the 1988 television broadcast and is therefore shorter.
On 14 October 2010, the 208 minute Director's Cut was released on a German-language Blu-ray Disc
in Europe. It was released in the United States on 5 July 2011.
- 150 minutes (1981, 1982) Theatrical
- 209 minutes (1981) unreleased
- 300 minutes (1984, 1988) BBC mini-series
- 293 minutes (2004) Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version
- 208 minutes (1997, 2010) Director's Cut
ReceptionThe film drew highest critical acclaim and is seen as one of the greatest of all German films, along with Nosferatu by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
by Fritz Lang
, The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich
by Oliver Hirschbiegel
and The Lives of Others
by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
. For its (so far) unsurpassed authenticity in tension and realism, it is regarded internationally as pre-eminent among all submarine films. The film was ranked #25 in Empire
magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
In late 2007, there was an exhibition about the film Das Boot, as well as about the real U-Boat U-96, at the Haus der Geschichte (House of German History) in Bonn
. Over 100,000 people visited the exhibition during its four-month run.
PromotionThe film was unusual in its North American promotion, since it was referred to both in German as Das Boot, and in English as The Boat. The lack of drama in the translated title eventually led to its being marginalized, with Das Boot becoming the normal title for the film. For a time, it was called Das Boot (The Boat).
Historical accuracyIn the film, there is only one ardent Nazi in the crew of 40, namely the First Watch Officer (referred to comically in one scene as Unser Hitlerjugendführer
or "Our Hitler Youth
Leader"), with the rest of the officers either indifferent or, in the Captain's case, openly cynical. The enlisted sailors and NCO are portrayed as apolitical. In his book Iron Coffins, former U-boat commander Herbert A. Werner states that the selection of naval personnel based on their loyalty to the party only occurred later in the war (from 1943 onward), when the U-boats were suffering high casualties. At that stage in the war, morale was surely declining and this degree of skepticism may have occurred. In support of Das Boot on this subject, U-Boat historian Michael Gannon
maintains that the U-boat navy was one of the least pro-Nazi branches of the German armed forces.
Even though the beginning and the end of the film occur in the port of La Rochelle, it does not correspond historically. The submarine base
in La Rochelle was not functional before November 1941, and at the time of the film the port was dried up. Moreover, none of the British fighter-bombers of late 1941 to early 1942 had the range to bomb La Rochelle from bases in the U.K.; however, it is possible the fighters were carrier-based and not land based. While Saint-Nazaire
was the base used in the novel, the film was changed to La Rochelle because its appearance had not changed to such a large degree in the years since World War II.
Criticism by novelist BuchheimBuchheim himself was a U-boat correspondent. He has stated that the following film scenes are unrealistic:
- In the film, an unidentified member of the crew throws an oil-stained towel into Lt. Werner's face. As a Lieutenant, Werner would have commanded special respect and in reality, the culprit would have been court-martialed and received a hefty sentence.
- The crew behaves far too loudly during patrols; the celebrations after getting a torpedo hit were described as unprofessional. For example, after surviving a bombing, the crew celebrate loudly in their bunks, even with a sailor dressing up as a woman in a red-lit room.
Even though overwhelmed by the literally perfect technological accuracy of the film's set-design and port construction buildings, novel author Lothar-Günter Buchheim expressed great disappointment with Petersen's adaptation in a film review published in 1981, especially with Petersen's aesthetic vision for the film and the way the plot and the effects are, according to him, overdone and clichéd by the adaptation. He also criticised the hysterical over-acting of the cast, which he called highly unrealistic, while acknowledging the cast's acting talent in general. Buchheim, after several attempts for an American adaptation had failed, had provided a script detailing his own narrative, cinematographical and photographical ideas as soon as Petersen was chosen as new director. It would have amounted in full to a complete 6-hour epic; however, Petersen turned him down because at the time the producers were aiming for a 90-minute feature for international release. Ironically, today's Director's Cut of Das Boot amounts to over 200 minutes, and the complete TV version of the film is 282 minutes long.
Buchheim attacked specifically what he called Petersen's sacrificing of both realism and suspense in dialogue, narration, and photography for the sake of cheap dramatic thrills and action effects (for example, in reality one single exploding bolt of the boat's pressure hull would have been enough for the whole crew to worry about the U-boat being crushed by water pressure, while Petersen has several bolts loosening in various scenes).
Uttering deep concerns about the end result, Buchheim felt that unlike his clearly anti-war novel the adaptation was "another re-glorification and re-mystification" of the German World War II U-boat war, German heroism and nationalism. He called the film a cross between a "cheap, shallow American action flick" and a "contemporary German propaganda newsreel from World War II".
SoundtrackThe characteristic lead melody of the soundtrack, composed and produced by Klaus Doldinger
, took on a life of its own after German rave
created a remixed "techno version" in 1991. The title theme "Das Boot
" later became an international hit.
The official soundtrack includes only compositions by Doldinger, except for J'attendrai
sung by Rina Ketty
Songs heard in the film, but not included on the album are La Paloma
sung by Rosita Serrano
, the Erzherzog-Albrecht-Marsch
(a popular military march), and It's a Long Way to Tipperary
performed by the Red Army Chorus
- Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock
- List of U-boat aces
- Submarine films
- Battle of the Atlantic (1939–1945)
- The Cruel SeaThe Cruel Sea (film)The Cruel Sea is a 1953 British film from Ealing Studios starring Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden, with Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Liam Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Moira Lister...