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Site created 12/15/97.

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page created: 5/14/04

Das Boot

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Das Boot: The Director's Cut (Original Release)

Das Boot: The Director's Cut
1981/1997 (1997) - Bavaria Film GmbH (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/B-

Specs and Features

210 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, 1 dual-sided, RSDL dual-layered disc, keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Wolfgang Peterson, star Jürgen Prochnow and Director's Cut producer Ortwin Freyermuth), Behind the Scenes of Das Boot featurette (6 mins, 4x3, DD 2.0), insert with director's notes, film-themed menus, scene access (Side One - 35 chapters, Side Two - 31 chapters), languages: German (DD 5.1), English (DD 5.1 and 2.0 Surround) and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Das Boot: The Director's Cut (Superbit)

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Das Boot: The Director's Cut (Superbit)
1981/1997 (2003) - Bavaria Film GmbH (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/F

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features

210 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, 2 single-sided, RSDL dual-layered discs, keep case packaging with Superbit slipcase, Superbit-branded menus, scene access (Disc One - 35 chapters, Disc Two - 30 chapters), languages: German (DD & DTS 5.1) and English (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned

Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version

Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version
1981/2004 (2004) - Bavaria Film GmbH (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C/C-

Specs and Features

293 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, 2 single-sided, RSDL dual-layered discs, keep case packaging, Behind the Scenes of Das Boot featurette (6 mins, 4x3, DD 2.0), 2 preview trailers (for Das Boot: The Director's Cut, In the Line of Fire and Air Force One), insert with director's notes, animated film-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (Disc One - 12 chapters, Disc Two - 24 chapters), languages: German and English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

In 1981, an extraordinary mini-series appeared on German television. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson (Outbreak, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, Troy), Das Boot was a 6-hour television epic, that told the gritty and visceral story of the crew of a German U-boat on patrol during World War II. A theatrical film version of the mini-series was released in the U.S. in 1982, edited to a length of 145 minutes, which earned no less than 6 Oscar nominations. In 1997, Peterson revisited the project to create his ultimate theatrical version of Das Boot - a 210-minute Director's Cut. Now, Peterson has once again revisited the work to fashion a 293-minute DVD version of the original, uncut mini-series.

Das Boot stars Jürgen Prochnow (The English Patient) as the legendary Captain of submarine U-96, a seasoned veteran of war who knows his duty and does it better than anyone. In battle on the cold, wet desert of the North Atlantic, he's as fearless and deadly a foe as they come. But he's also fighting another, internal struggle, one that's every bit as difficult to win. The Captain has begun to suspect that the war is a doomed effort for Germany, and he derides the fanatic ideology of his country's Nazi leadership. This is a man who knows he's on a dangerous course, fighting a losing battle... and yet he manages to lead his crew and even to inspire them in the face of the greatest odds.

Few of the supporting cast here is well-known in the West. In fact, probably the most recognizable supporting player is only seen a few times - Otto Sander (Wings of Desire) as Thomsen, the Captain of another U-Boat. But the fact that so many of these young actors are unfamiliar is part of what makes the film work so well. These young men could be any typical sons of war. You can immediately empathize with them - with their fears and anxiety.

But the brunt of the film's success lies with the production design and the deft direction by Peterson. This film was shot in absolutely authentic sets, recreating the interior of a German U-Boat down to the last screw. The camera is often handheld, and few interior shots are wider than a small group of men. The U-Boat is a cramped, claustrophobic environment, and you're right there in the middle of it, elbow to elbow with the crew. You hear every groan of the hull, every fathom of depth, every ping of the enemy's sonar. You can almost smell the stink of sweat and diesel oil. Best of all, never do you have more information about what's going on than the Captain and his crew do. The result is that Das Boot is a terrifying battle, not just with the enemy but also with the psychological demons of war.

When Das Boot: The Director's Cut first appeared on DVD in late 1997, it was a very exciting release. But by today's standards, it left a lot to be desired. The film was contained on a single, dual-sided flipper disc (on some copies, the side labeling was mistakenly reversed, so that when you put Side A in your player, you saw Side B instead). The MPEG-2 video compression (at the time state-of-the-art) was inefficient, resulting in an anamorphic widescreen picture that was riddled with artifacting in more difficult scenes, and virtually the entire film is a compression challenge. Colors and contrast were good, but it was clear the film could look better on DVD.

Video issues aside, however, the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio was very good, with excellent dynamic range, nicely atmospheric surround use and excellent low frequency. In addition, the disc offered a few nice extras. The first was a feature-length audio commentary with director Wolfgang Peterson, star Jürgen Prochnow and Director's Cut producer Ortwin Freyermuth. Peterson's audio commentaries are always worth checking out, and this one in particularly was a suburb listen - extremely engaging, at times funny and always interesting. There was also a 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, with some behind-the-scenes footage on the making of the film, interview clips from the director and star, and a brief look at the Director's Cut restoration. A small insert booklet was included in the packaging as well, featuring liner notes about the film from the director. This disc wasn't loaded by any means, but for the DVD format's first year, it was a helluva nice package.

Jump ahead several years. When Columbia TriStar announced their new Superbit line of DVDs, featuring the highest possible video and audio bit rates, Das Boot was the title I was most hoping would be revisited. When the release was finally announced in 2003, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. Compared to the original release, the Superbit's anamorphic widescreen video quality is absolutely superior in every respect. The film is split over two discs to maximize quality, and it benefits tremendously from the higher bitrate that both the Superbit approach (and the added disc space) allows. You will be very hard pressed to spot ANY kind of digital compression artifacting, which is an achievement given the fact that so much of this film takes place in the moody darkness of the submarine, or the murky ocean depths through which it passes. That's not to say that there aren't still picture issues... but it does mean that they're all related to the quality of the print itself. You will see the occasional bit of dust or nick on the emulsion, and there's light to moderate grain visible throughout, but that's entirely acceptable given the nature of the film.

The colors in this film range from muted to vibrant, but they're always accurate. This is true of everything from the green ocean depths, to the lush reds and blues of emergency lighting, to even the ever more pasty flesh tones of the crew. And the contrast! The blacks here are deep and solid without ever looking muddy or losing detail. So much of this film takes place in the dark nooks and crannies of the sub interior, but you'll never want for detail. Given the print itself, this is really stunning anamorphic video.

The audio is also superior, as you'd expect from the Superbit line. You're given 5.1 sound options (in the original German) in both Dolby Digital and DTS flavors. Those without DTS will be plenty happy with the Dolby Digital track, which represents a slight improvement over the original DVD's audio. The DTS is, however, absolutely the recommended choice. It features a smoother, more natural soundstage and better resolution of the subtler, atmospheric aspects of the mix. But both tracks feature incredible dynamic range and a very wide soundstage. Sound is SO important to this film, and you'll hear every little nuance of the mix, particularly in the DTS. From the faint gurgle of the ocean moving past the hull, to the popping of rivets and the bone-jarring blast of depth charges... this is an extremely rich and layered DVD audio experience. The DTS mix is so good, in fact, that we recommended it in the Best DVD - Sound category of last year's Bitsy awards, and it came very close to winning.

Unfortunately, in order to accommodate high bit rate anamorphic video and both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, the Superbit DVD omits both the audio commentary and the featurette. The liner notes booklet is missing as well. To be sure, that's disappointing. But given that the goal was to achieve the best possible video and audio quality, it was an understandable decision. Columbia TriStar achieved that quality in spades.

So now it's 2004, and Columbia TriStar is about to release another version of Das Boot on DVD - the original, 6-hour mini-series version. Okay... so it's not really 6 hours long. Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version actually clocks in at about 293 minutes (just shy of 5 hours). Yet even Peterson, in the liner notes included with this DVD, refers to it as a 6-hour mini-series. So why the discrepancy? Well... there really isn't one. Das Boot was originally presented on German TV in 6 episodes of roughly 45 minutes each (which led many to call it a 6-hour mini-series), as well as a 3-episode version of roughly 90 minutes each. Each episode had opening and closing credits, and one of the TV versions had brief "recap" sequences to catch viewers up on the story. Other than that, they're exactly the same - there's no new story or scenes. So if you remove the recaps and credits for each episode and edit the remainder into a single, continuous narrative film, then transfer the result from PAL or SECAM (25 fps) to NTSC or HD (24 fps)... the result is the 293-minute cut released here. [Editor's Note: I'm told there was also an "old cinema version" in Germany that ran some 149 minutes, but the important thing to note is that this 293-minute cut is the most complete version. Thanks to German Bits reader Karsten for the clarifying information!]

There isn't a great deal of difference between this longer version of the film and the Director's Cut in terms of pure action. The vast majority of the restored footage is made up of additional character background and development, and much more time is spent on the U-Boat waiting for news, waiting for orders, in short waiting for anything to happen. That might sound somewhat less than thrilling, but for this film, it's a good thing. Part of what made life on a U-Boat so difficult to endure was that it involved weeks of monotony, punctuated by an hour or two of terrifying action, followed by (provided you survived) more weeks of monotony. This uncut version of Das Boot recreates that experience perfectly, so that you're enduring the day-to-day trauma just like the crew is. And in the meantime, you're coming to understand each of them a little better. Das Boot is not an action movie. It is very much a study of human beings trying to survive in an unimaginable situation. In that respect, while The Original Uncut Version definitely isn't for everyone, it's a better and much richer experience than the previous Director's Cut.

The video quality on this release is somewhere in between the original Director's Cut and Superbit editions in terms of quality. The entire program is presented in anamorphic widescreen video, and it looks quite good all things considered. Even though it's longer, it certainly looks better than the original Director's Cut if only for the fact that MPEG-2 compression has improved so much since the early days of the format. There are a few minor artifacting issues here and there, and you'll notice grain and other print issues, but by and large this is a nice transfer. Both color and contrast are excellent, and detail is good, even in the darkest picture areas. It's not Superbit good, but it's good nonetheless.

The audio quality here, on the other hand, is not nearly as good as either the Director's Cut or Superbit editions. First of all, there's no DTS mix included here, so what you get is Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 in both English and the original German. This is not the same Dolby Digital mix that appears on the other editions. The 5.1 audio here was created from the original stereo tracks for this longer version, and the mix is much less atmospheric, taking significantly less advantage of the surround channels. Other than the occasional fill in the rear channels, this seems almost like a 2.0 Surround mix, with virtually all of the audio biased to the front portion of the soundstage. That's not necessarily bad - this audio is certainly better than the sound quality German TV viewers got during the original broadcasts - but it's not nearly as good as the other versions of this film on disc. It's not even close.

In terms of extras on this longer version, Columbia TriStar has included the same 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that was on the original DVD release, along with preview trailers for Das Boot: The Director's Cut, In the Line of Fire and Air Force One (all Wolfgang Peterson films, and all available from Columbia TriStar). Unfortunately, you don't get the audio commentary. Because of that, and again because of the added length and inferior audio quality, The Original Uncut Version (great though it is) is definitely not for everyone, and shouldn't be your first experience with this film.

It's a shame that there isn't a single, definitive DVD release of Das Boot. Which you'll prefer is going to depend on what sort of fan you are of both the film and the DVD experience in general. If you're just a casual movie fan, the original Director's Cut release should more than make you happy. If you're concerned with getting the absolute best video and audio performance out of your movies on disc, you'll definitely appreciate the Superbit edition's remastered video and stunning DTS surround sound. And if you're a diehard fan of the film itself, you're going to want The Original Uncut Version for its completeness, The Director's Cut's excellent audio commentary, and maybe the high quality Superbit edition as well. I can tell you personally that I have all three versions... and until an "ultimate" release comes out on Blu-ray Disc, I'm not parting with any of them.

Multiple versions though there may be, of this fact there can be no doubt: Das Boot is an extraordinary film. It's easily the best submarine film ever and, in my opinion, it ranks very highly among the best war films of all time. It's an extremely satisfying experience that's well worth your time. Just make sure you watch it with the original German 5.1 audio and optional English subtitles. Even though many of the same actors re-dubbed their own lines for the English mix, the film (like ALL films in my opinion) is still best experienced in its original language. While I dislike multiple releases, my thanks to Columbia TriStar for revisiting the title on DVD in the kind of quality it so richly deserves. Das Boot is not to be missed... whichever version you choose.

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

Das Boot: The Director's Cut
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Das Boot: The Director's Cut (Superbit)
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Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version
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