Das Boot: The Director's Cut Review

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Set aboard a German U-boat in 1942, this follows the crew's attempts to survive the Battle of the Atlantic, and understand the regime which they serve.


Anyone who thinks spending three-and-a-half hours trapped in a darkened room might be a tough call should be made to watch Das Boot - and count themselves lucky. Lucky on two counts as it happens: first, that they never had to set to sea in a submarine in war time; and second, that they've just seen the most awesome war movie ever made.

And yet Das Boot also carries a poignant anti-war message as you live and breathe with the crew of U-96 on one incredible voyage in 1941. When released in 1982, it became the most successful foreign movie ever in the US and was nominated for six Oscars. This colour-rich reprinted version, complete with restored footage and re-designed digital sound is, simply, even better.

It is impossible to watch without empathising with the men on board, learning which of them sleeps or works behind each bulkhead. Most of them long for the taste of sea air and spray only the privileged few (of officers and audience) get after climbing the conning tower to scan the horizon. Such is the sense of documentary realism that it becomes almost impossible to believe any of the cast ever left the set.

Petersen (who went on to direct In The Line Of Fire and Air Force One) has overseen this restoration and as stunning as the visuals are, most critical in this is the sound. Listen (because your life depends on it) for overhead enemies dropping depth charges, hold your breath (because it may be your last) as each silent running takes you to excruciating depths. And for God's sake, duck when the pressure of a metre too far causes the already straining hull to give up its rivets in nerve-shredding explosions of surround sound. We've all seen war and submarine films before but we've never seen anything like Das Boot.

Shot with absorbing veracity, the film alternates mundane claustrophobia - rarely has boredom been portrayed so rivetingly - with sequences of nerve-shredding tension. While it is oft said that the director's masterstroke was to portray the humanity behind the German war effort, Das Boot displays pure filmmaking know-how. Masterful.