#261 Das Boot

(1981, Wolfgang Petersen)
“You have to have good men”

This won’t be the first time I’ve mentioned this, but I have a special disdain for World War II movies. There are so many of them on the Movies You Must See list, more of them continue to be made to this day, and more of them continue to be praised despite them all being largely the same. There’s only so much that can be said about that conflict, and yet everyone feels the need to say something about it in film-making for some reason.

But hey, this is from the German perspective, and is set entirely on a U-Boat in the midst of the conflict. This one at least does try to do something different, so maybe it won’t be that bad?

Das Boot tells the story of U-96, a submarine in the German army during WWII. Its captain (Jürgen Prochnow) is a world-weary, cynical man who clashes with his mostly young and rowdy crew. U-96 travels around Europe attempting to take out British forces and faces hardships along the way.

Now, I’ve heard that Das Boot is a movie that set out to show the futility of war, presenting an account of what it must have really been like to serve on a U-Boat. The problem is, it does this too well. It accurately depicts the boredom of submarine service by being an incredibly boring movie.

Das Boot is really just a series of vaguely connected vignettes of plot showing life on a submarine. There are minor conflicts in the crew that mostly result in no real outcome, there are tense sea battles that tend to be pretty meaningless because we can’t see any of them, there are interludes off the sub that tend to not go anywhere and ultimately everything turns out to be a bit futile.

I get that this is probably the point. All the events in the movie are meaningless and futile and a bit of a waste of time, much like Wolfgang Petersen probably felt World War II as a whole was. But my question is, did we really need this for THREE GODDAMN HOURS?!

Now, there are moments when there are attempts at a strong, tense atmosphere, and it almost works sometimes. Sometimes during the battles the lack of knowledge about what’s really happening can feel pretty terrifying, and some moments of quiet introspection do help develop character here and there. The problem is, all of these moments tend to last longer than they need to, resulting in everything feeling massively dragged out.

I would have accepted anything to keep the pace going. Cabin fever, more surprise attacks from the British, anything. But instead we got a lot of scenes of crewmen sitting around waiting for something to happen, and it ends up being merely a reflection of the audience’s feelings.

Then there are moments when things get bizarre. There are scenes when various crewmen are showing their penises to other men, apparently to check for pubic lice, but these scenes have no bearing on anything and come out of nowhere, creating an unexpected shift in tone.

Did I like anything about Das Boot? I liked the occasional reference to the officers’ cynicism about Hitler and the war in general, and I felt that Prochnow was excellent as the captain, to the point where I wished the movie was more his story instead of the boat’s. The set design is fantastic, and the naval battles are visually impressive when we’re not stuck under the ocean. And…that’s about it unfortunately.

Das Boot is pretty much exclusively for those with an interest in WWII naval battles, and an absolute chore for the rest of us. At three hours, this is a movie that drags its feet doing exactly nothing for much of that time, and that’s time that could be used much more productively.

Starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer & Klaus Wennemann
Written by Lothar-Günther Buchheim (novel) and Wolfgang Petersen
Produced by Günther Rohrbach
Music by Klaus Doldinger
Cinematography by Jost Vacano
Edited by Hannes Nikel

Favourite Scene: The decision to put one final torpedo in an already wounded ship was a pretty decent scene.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why do the crew start showing each other their genitals?!

Watch it if: You love WWII naval battles
Avoid it if: You don’t like 3-hour meandering movies

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Posted on February 25, 2014, in 1980s, Germany, War and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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