The movie is the story of a single mission of one U-boat and its crew, following U-96 from its departure from La Rochelle, France, through its patrols in the North Atlantic and an attempted penetration of the Mediterranean, until its return to La Rochelle. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and portrays the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country.
The movie strongly conveys an anti-war message. One of Petersen's stated goals was to guide the audience through a "journey into madness," showing "what war is all about." Petersen heightened suspense by very rarely showing any external views of the submarine unless it is running on the surface and relying on sounds to convey action outside the boat, thus showing the audience only what the crew would see. Many critics consider Das Boot one of the best submarine movies ever made.
Das Boot was first filmed as a 145-minute movie, released in Germany in 1981 and in the United States in 1982. It was nominated for six Academy Awards. It was also produced as a six-hour television mini-series aired in Germany in 1981. Petersen then oversaw the editing of six hours of film, from which was distilled Das Boot: The Director's Cut, released in 1997, which combines the action sequences of the original movie with character-development scenes contained in the mini-series.
The original 1981 version cost DM25 million ($40 million in 1997 dollars) to make; it was the most expensive movie in the history of German film. The director's meticulous attention to detail resulted in the most realistic submarine movie, and one of the most historically accurate war movies, ever made.
Several different sets were used. Two full-size mock-ups of a Type VIIC boat were built, one for use in outdoor scenes, and one for the interior scenes. The mock-ups were built according to U-boat plans found in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The outdoor mock-up was propelled with a small engine. A mock-up of a conning tower was placed in a water tank in at Bavaria Studios in Munich for outdoor scenes not requiring a full view of the boat's exterior. When filming on the outdoor mockup or the conning tower, gouts of cold water were hosed over the actors to simulate the breaking ocean waves.
The interior U-boat mock-up was mounted five meters off the floor and was shaken, rocked, and tilted up to 45 degrees by means of a hydraulic apparatus, and was vigorously shaken to simulate depth charge attacks. Petersen was admittedly obsessive about the structural detail of the U-boat set, remarking that "every screw" in the set was an authentic facsimile of the kind used in a World War II U-boat.
Most of the interior shots were filmed using a hand-held Arriflex of cinematographer Jost Vacano's design to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boat. It had a gyroscope to provide stability, a reinvention of the Steadicam on a smaller scale, so that it could be carried throughout the interior of the mock-up. Vacano wore full-body padding to minimize injury as he ran and the mock-up was rocked and shaken. Throughout the filming, the actors were forbidden to go out into the sunlight, to create the pallor of men who seldom saw the sun during their missions. The actors went through intensive training to learn how to move quickly through the narrow confines of the vessel.
Production of Das Boot took three years (1979-1981). Most of the filming was done in one year; to make the appearance of the actors as realistic as possible, scenes were filmed in sequence over the course of the year. This ensured natural growth of beards and hair, increasing skin pallor, and signs of strain on the actors, who had, just like real U-boat men, spent many months in a cramped, unhealthy atmosphere.
Production for this movie originally began in 1976. Several American directors were considered, and the Kaleu (Kapitänleutnant) was to be played by Robert Redford. Disagreements sprang up among various parties and the project was shelved. Fans of the movie would add the word "fortunately" to that statement.
|Herbert Grönemeyer||Lieutenant Werner|
|Klaus Wennemann||Chief Engineer|
|Hubertus Bengsch||1st Lieutenant|
|Martin Semmelrogge||2nd Lieutenant|
|Bernd Tauber||Chief Quartermaster|
|Uwe Ochsenknecht||Chief Bosun|