Monday, March 14, 2011

Das Boot ( The Boat )

 If you have been following my blog and especially my last two posts you'll understand why Where Eagles Dare is sandwiched between two fact based films. I just wanted to point out the marked difference in a fictionalised war movie and unfictionalised.
 Das Boot was made in 1981 but for some reason it played in cinemas here in 1983. I went to see it with another guy who I went to school with. He has subsequently ended up a gang memeber and is currently in prison!! We saw this in the Odeon which closed down years ago. Ah the memories! Never liked the Odeoen as it had terraced seating and not the traditional sloped floor of the State down the road. 
 I have only seen Das Boot once since that initial viewing and I didn't finish watching it. The DVD I rented is the director's cut and runs to over three hours. After watching it I was very surpriesd to find I remembered virtually the whole thing. Sure there are added scenes but so many images and scenes have stayed with me for close on thirty years. This is the greatest submarine film ever made. Period, no argument. And with some personal semblance of knowledge of the period in question it is high testament to it as a film.
 It is of course based on a book by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim who served on a u-boat patrol as a war correspondent. It is an absolutely brlliant book in its depictions of life on a u-boat and has never been topped. Buchheim also wrote three non-fiction books on the u-boat war so does know his stuff. For me Das Boot is in the same league as All Quiet on the Western Front, not only as an anti-war novel, but for its realism. Very few novels that I have read have even come close to these two for making the reader feel they are there. The edition of Das Boot I read was abridged and still ran to five hundred pages but I highly recommend it as it is an amazing reading experience.
 Buchheim was initially involved in the making of the film but fell out with the director. He was something of a hot head and wanted his own way on everything. Even without Buchheim's involvemet the finished product is superb. There are of course the inevitable historical inaccuracies. Even in his book Buchheim has them which is difficult to fathom as he knew them to be.
 For me historical inacurracies are real gripe of mine in film. But at the same time I realise the constraints of film making. Das Boot is set in 1941 and yet is a melting pot of events surrounding The Battle of the Atlantic between 1941 to 1943. Some events depicted, especially the aircraft sequences, are total fabrication. Also there is some chronological shuffling of events. But like Memephis Belle, such a huge historical event is difficult to squeeze into several hours so the makers have covered all bases and embelished to make a watchable, albeit, inacurate film.
 I won't go into to much depth of these inaccuracies as I'll end up writing a book. Suffice to say  there are some but overall they are slight and don't detract from the film. If you aren't in the know about them they won't hurt you.
 So why is this the greatest submarine film ever made? Well more then any other it captures the boredom, the routine, the terror, the stuffiness, the cramped quarters, the sea, the depth charging, the routine, the boredom, the bad food, the boredom, the stale air, the lack of sunshine, and frustration of a u-boat on patrol. It also was accurate in how the men didn't shave to preserve water. Their skin is palid from lack of sun and poor ventilation. Their eyes are red rimmed during the depth charging as these attacks could last for upwards of two days so no sleep was possible. Also, more then anything else, it is the sweat dripping down their faces as the air turns stale. All brilliantly real as this was what it was like. For all the historical inacurracies they can be forgiven because the depictions of life inside that steel coffin is the real history here.
 The book is also brilliant in its descriptions of the claustrapohic conditions. You can almost smell the sweat and rotting food. Apparently the smell inside of returning u-boats was appalling from the rot and unwashed bodies. Out-fitting crews were very reluctant to go into them until they had been aired somewhat. Here again is the heart of this film. It isn't about the historical sweep of the battle they were involved in. It is about a lone u-boat on patrol and the things the men went through. This is possibly the greatest film made in depicting men at war.
 When released it caused some controversy. My god what film based around realism doesn't seem to?
Some say it was a disguised attempt at neo-nazism. This is absurd. History has clearly shown us that the Kriegsmarine was the least Nazi doctrinated of all Germany's armerd forces during the war. Hitler was never keen on the navy considering it 'too christian' in outlook. The anti-Hitler outlook in the film is accurate and the navy in general never really fell under the sway of the regime. Any charges of neo-Nazism are totally ill-founded.
 For me it is apolitical in outlook. Sure there are anti Hitler words spoken, but in all the anti-war message of the film comes through. What it portrays is these men going out to sea and doing their duty, their jobs, and serving their country. There is no under hand political mesagor agenda here. They are aware the odds were against them, and getting worse, and yet still pushed ahead. Remember the bare facts here, nearly a quarter of the men who went to sea never returned. That is a telling statistic.
 I could go on about Das Boot for pages and pages as to its merits. I'm passionate about this period of history so this film hits a real cord in me. It is not only a great submarine film but is good enough to stand alone without being put into a genre. It was at the time the most expensive film made in German history. No detail of the u-boat was overlook when the sets were designed, etc. Surprsingly the effects have dated quite well. They are obvious but for a thirty year old film are still very good. For me this shows how the makers went out of their way to de-glamorise warfare and show its human face. Realism was at the heart of this film and should be praised for it. It succeeded brilliantly and should be seen by all. 
 While it runs to over three hours it is never boring. It so vividly captures the fact that these men were away from land for months on end. The length just adds to that feeling. The depiction of boredom and its inherent frustrations within a confined space are superbly juxtaposed against combat and the sheer terror of endless depth charge attacks.  A truely great film which I cannot praise enough. For its minor historical inaccuracies Das Boot captures life aboard a German u-boat like nothing else before or since. It engages the viewer as you share the privations these men suffered in service of their country. In one word, brilliant, and will never be topped.

Click here for my review on the novel:

I highly recommend you read wikipedia's site on Das Boot. It highlights the inaccuracies of the film and also provides some useful information on its making. There are also some good links pertaining to the u-boat war in general.
Click here:
Click here for more:
And here for more:
And here for the director's cut site:


  1. Good pick and great review! Now this is a truly brilliant film. I haven't see anything else quite like it. Everyone should see this one at least once!

  2. I agree...this is a film that everyone should see at least once.