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The Boat

Das Boot

"I'm gonna need you to Jurgen PAUSE now."

This remains the best submarine movie I've ever seen. It's also the longest one I've ever seen, which is hardly a fault since it doesn't waste a minute. Are there stretches in which not much happens? Yes, but when they're not the (incredibly tense) moments when the U-96 crew is waiting for the British to end their pursuit, they're showing how monotonous sub life can be. Thankfully, these scenes are not monotonous in and of themselves. Jurgen Prochnow's career-making performance is mostly responsible for this for how convincingly and unforcedly he expresses how good or dire things are for ship and crew with single looks. Just as deserving of credit is Herbert Grönemeyer's lieutenant and audience surrogate, whose equally natural work make me feel like I'm in his shoes. When I watch a sub movie, I want to take in the dankness, claustrophobia and that diesel smell. The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide come close to capturing this vibe, but this movie nails it. Cinematographer Jost Vacano made me feel like my own walls were closing in and his breakneck dashes down the fuselage indicating that the British are coming are such a rush. After everything "the old man" and crew go through, is it anticlimactic that so many of them not only die at their mission's end, but also so suddenly? Definitely not. Stark as it may be, there's no better reminder that regardless of what you think about the British or the Germans, war is the real enemy here. Even if the U-96 and her crew had survived the Allies' bombs, a better world would have them not going on their mission at all.

This movie is invaluable as a record of the wartime submarine experience from its discomforts to its tedium to especially in the case of Chief Mechanic Johann how it tests one's psyche. It's just as worthy of being remembered, if not moreso, for how it captures varied responses to being thrust into a situation in which death is more likely than victory. In addition to being partly to blame for Johann's breakdown, there's Fähnrich, whose constant writing of letters to his fiancée he doubts she'll ever receive is just as hard to watch. The captain's response to simply get the job done, keep his crew alive and get them home safely is the most honorable reaction, not to mention the most interesting. There is the possibility that after spending so much of his adult life in the military, it's the only response he's capable of having. There are a few occasions when the movie's age and/or cost-cutting measures took me out of the moment, particularly the obvious models and the sometimes chintzy musical score. Also, when you consider how much time we spend with the U-96 crew, it would be nice if the opening scene had gone on a bit longer so that our introductions to them were more proper. While balancing these nitpicks against how much this movie gets right, however, they're not enough to affect my rating. Besides, even though this not only the longest submarine movie I've seen, but also one of the longest I've seen period, I'd watch the nearly 300-minute miniseries cut from 1987 without hesitation.