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aka - Boat, The
Germany 1997
Directed by
Wolfgang Petersen
210 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Boot, Das (Director's Cut)

As a technical achievement Wolfgang Petersen's film is remarkable. Dramatically it is far less effective. 

Scripted by Petersen from a novel by Lothar G. Buchheim, we join the crew of a German U-boat prowling the high seas for prey. Their mission is seen through the eyes of a young war correspondent (Herbert Grönemeyer) who is travelling with them for a single tour in order to document their heroic exploits in service of The Fatherland. The reality he discovers, however, is far from glorious. Instead he experiences the psychologically gruelling, physically highly dangerous realities of war as the submarine sets about its murderous task (needless to say it is unusual for English-speaking audiences to see events from a German point-of-view).

The action sequences when the sub is under attack are amongst the best simulations of the real thing ever created and deserves optimal theatrical viewing conditions. Cinematographer Jost Vacano gives us some breathtaking pre-steadicam tracking shots through the sub as the crew rush to their posts in an attack or hang on for dear life as they are hit by depth charges. Editor Hannes Nikel also deserves credit for his seamless shaping of this material. Thanks to these two, throughout proceedings we feel like we are "in" the cramped confines of the sub including for a seemingly uncharacteristic, cabaret mounted by the crew to pass the time (Buchheim objected to this embellishment on Petersen's part). Externals of the sub coming to the surface or diving are also impressive.

Petersen’s script and direction of his cast is far less convincing relying as it does on stock elements from the adventure film with one insistent auteurial touch, the grouping of the officers in the conning tower shot, suggestive of Akira Kurosawa, at times becoming laughable. At least Grönemeyer, who looks like he stepped out of a Carl Th. Dreyer film, like many of the younger cast members, seems at time to find it so with editor Hannes Nikel just managing to prune these from view. 

FYI: The film which was originally a German TV mini-series was re-edited for theatrical release, its success resulting in a Director’s Cut which ran 60 minutes longer. I haven’t seen the shorter version but I can’t help but feel that less would have been more. Petersen subsequently went to Hollywood to direct a raft of genre-typical action films).




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