After viewing the 210 minute Director's Cut of the Wolfgang Peterson masterpiece, "Das Boot," the film enters my Top 100 films of all-time.
I've always believed that a truly effective war film is, essentially, an anti-war film. "Das Boot" for all its intensity and excitement and fighting and destruction is, perhaps more than any other film, an anti-war film.
The action of "Das Boot" takes place entirely in a German U-Boat, with dimensions of 10'x150'. The entire crew is confined in this small space throughout the film...first, in a sub at war, then a disabled sub, and, finally, in a sub that may well be doomed. The emotions that transpire within the confines of the sub and the confines of this story are claustrophobic along with the action.
Peterson's film, which received six Oscar nominations (this is amazing for a foreign film), utilizes meticulous attention to detail in every production aspect, from stellar cinematography that enhances the mood of the film with closed quarter and fast-paced boat-length shots to the haunting sound mix that captures, perhaps more vividly than any other film, the sounds of war and desperation. Peterson's direction keeps the pace moving frantically, ever enhancing the claustrophobic feel of the situation and the increasing peril in which these soldiers find themselves.
Jurgen Prochnow, as the U-Boat captain, is simply magnificent as a man who simply refuses to lose control despite the increasing peril. He brings to life a certain humanity as his character is not a Nazi, and frequently scoffs at the battle plans he is, nonetheless, forced to carry out.
Because the U-Boat is German, I believe the film played as increasingly suspenseful for American audiences. Ebert makes the point that American audiences expect their war movies involving Americans to be triumphs with happy endings. We are not typically a nation that responds strongly to war films in which we are actually defeated (such as the incredibly made "Blackhawk Down"). In "Das Boot," the crew in question are Germans and, thus, we are left hanging. It's nearly impossible to know the resolution of the film before the film is, in fact, resolved. The end result is a more realistic, captivating and hypnotic story that American audiences could enter without expectation and, thus, the suspense is simply horrifying.
The Director's Cut is 45 minutes plus longer than the theatrical version of the film, and significantly closer to Peterson's original vision. Quite simply, it is a more emotional, more demanding and more horrifying version of an already magnificent film.
Ever so often, a film comes along that attains legendary status. "Das Boot" is a legendary, earth-shattering and groundbreaking film that you will not soon forget.