Das Boot: The Director's Cut

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

Category War Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, Non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital City
Year Released 1981 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Wolfgang Petersen (Director), Jürgen Prochnow (Lead Actor), and Ortwin Freyermuth (Director's Cut Producer)
Running Time
199:40 Minutes
(Not 216 Minutes as per packaging)
Other Extras Featurette - The Making Of Das Boot (5:59)
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (97:04)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Wolfgang Petersen

Columbia Tristar
Starring Jürgen Prochnow 
Herbert Grönemeyer 
Klaus Wennemann
Case Brackley
RRP $34.95 Music Klaus Doldinger
Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1) 
French (Dolby Digital 5.1) 
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 
Commentary Track - English (Dolby Digital 2.0 )
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    You have to really feel for Jürgen Prochnow when you view this film (and yes, the foreign character in his name actually means something, although I don't have my German dictionary handy to remind me of what that is). To the best of my knowledge, this is his earliest appearance in a Hollywood production, and he just hasn't quite reached the same peak level of dramatic power since. There he was in Das Boot, the blueprint for a million inferior copies in the field of submarine-based movies, and nowadays, he is mainly cast in such B-grade shite as Judge Dredd. Still, this is an early peak that scores of other actors would give their lungs to match. Originally, when I was told that this was one of the greatest films ever made, the appearance of so many foreign names in the credits scared me right off. However, two of those names began drawing me in, quietly talking me into purchasing the disc. The first of these names is the aforementioned lead actor, Jürgen Prochnow, and cinematographer Jost Vacano (in case you're wondering, his given name is pronounced "yost", much like "yolk" with a different syllable at the end). To accurately depict the confines of the 1941 submarines used by the German Navy, director Wolfgang Petersen insisted that the set be a completely enclosed one, which necessitated some real creativity on Jost Vacano's part, given that the full-scale model of the submarine was barely big enough for a man to stretch out his arms in whilst inside.

    Of course, all the technical miracles in the world are meaningless without a good story, and Das Boot has one of the most interesting stories ever used in a war movie. If one examines the history of the previous century, they will find that each war that took place during those times brought on a new technology with the express purpose of killing the enemy. In the first World War, the new weapons were combat airplanes and tanks. In the Korean War, the technology of combat airplanes was taken to a whole new level when air-to-air missiles suddenly became a frightening reality rather than an amusement. In the Vietnam War, combat helicopters were the new thing (and a single stray bullet often disabled them). In the Gulf War, we got so creative that we developed a way to bomb the enemy by remote control. For the purposes of this film, it is important to know that for the second World War, the Germans pioneered the technology of U-boats, or submarines as they are called today. During the year of 1941, the tide of the battles on the sea started to turn against the Germans, with the British Navy churning out purpose-built Destroyers that were sinking the U-boats faster than Germany could produce them. As a result, younger and younger crews were being sent into battle under conditions that would be deemed ridiculous today. As the credits state, seventy-five percent of the sailors sent out in submarines never saw land again.

    During the commentary, director Wolfgang Petersen states quite explicitly that his epic film is not so much about the Germans against the Allies as it is about human beings. If the idea of a submarine film from the perspective of German naval officers fills your head with visions of young soldiers extolling the virtues of the Hitlerian version of Christianity that formed the bulk of Nazi doctrine, then get those visions out of your head before you begin watching. This is a film about the tragic face of war, and what war does to ordinary human beings. It is a film about the claustrophobic situation of a submarine, and the tension of living in a situation where your ears must act as your eyes, lest you find yourself falling into a watery grave. Films about war impress me very rarely, but Das Boot is one of the most impressive ever shot.

Transfer Quality


    Normally, when I think of two-hundred minutes or more being crammed onto the one disc, I think we're going to have an artefact-riddled mess that is barely watchable. While this film shows its age in some places, the amount of restoration work that has been done to the original footage is immense and it has certainly paid off with this version. The epic length of the film is also defied by the video quality of this presentation, with not a hint of the film's age rearing its ugly head. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement. This ratio is slightly wider than the original theatrical exhibition, but this can be overlooked because no picture information appears to have been lost as a result.

    Because this film was shot in the early 1980s, all of the submarine shots were accomplished with models in tanks of water. The problems this caused with the finished result are still evident on this DVD, with the opening tank shot in particular showing a fair amount of grain in the green background. The shots involving models submerged in tanks of water all show grain to one degree or another, but you could be forgiven for thinking you were viewing a film that was shot last year when viewing the rest of the presentation. Because blue-screen technology was hardly in use at the time (the only films that used blue-screens for more than a handful of shots in 1981 were episodes in the Star Wars saga), a lot of the surface and conning-tower shots look somewhat fake. However, this is very mild compared to some other films I could mention, and it did not detract from the film in any way.

    Colour saturation was spot-on, although the interior shots look very dull compared to the few outdoor locations. This is because of the set designs, which were intended to accurately reflect the tightly militaristic feel of a German submarine. In this aim, the crew have succeeded quite admirably. MPEG artefacts were totally absent from the transfer, which is astounding given how hard the compression would have had to have worked in order to fit so much footage onto this disc. It is a credit to whomever is in charge of video compression at Columbia Tristar that MPEG compression artefacts do not occur in this film. Film-to-video artefacts were also more or less completely non-existent, which again is a credit to the DVD authors. Film artefacts were few and far between, and this is especially good given how much footage there was to be taken care of in the restoration process. For a film of this sort of length, this is the best transfer I have seen so far.

    The disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change coming in at 97:04, between chapters 33 and 34. This is a very well-placed layer change, and does not disrupt the flow of the film at all.


    There are four audio tracks on this DVD: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding, and an English Commentary track, which is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding. Why the French audio track was encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 when the original German audio track wasn't is rather beyond me. I listened to the original German dialogue, using English subtitles to help with the many phrases I couldn't quite understand. I also listened to the English dub and the English audio commentary, which took me nearly ten hours. As I have already made perfectly clear, the film was originally recorded in German with Dolby Stereo. The director's cut is remixed in Dolby Surround.

    I have also mentioned that we miss out on a German Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which is rather annoying given that this is the language the film was recorded in. In my view, this is even more irritating than having French put on a DVD as the default soundtrack when the film was originally recorded in English. Why the French soundtrack was included at all is beyond me, as German soldiers speaking French is somewhat like the Khmer Rouge singing that John Lennon song about giving peace a chance. The Region 1 version of this disc has a German Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but it is a flipper. The UK (Region 2) version of this disc also has a German Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and RSDL formatting, so it should be considered the version to go for.

    Dialogue was usually quite clear in both German and English, although the heavily-accented English dub is somewhat difficult to understand because the original cast of the film recorded it, and they make it clear at times that English is not their native language. However, the film does not sound as bad with the English dub because of this, but it still sounds a lot better in the original German. Audio sync was never a problem on either of my players during the original German dialogue, but the English dialogue only coincides with the movements of the actors' lips every now and then. This is as much the fault of the German language as anything else, so audio sync is not an issue here.

    The music score by Klaus Doldinger (don't laugh, I dare you) was mostly comprised of simplistic military anthems and even a traditional German folk song (read: beer drinking music). Nonetheless, it creates the appropriate atmosphere for this film, accentuating the tension, the triumphs, the revelry, and, possibly the most important part of all, the irony. Klaus was quite involved in the restoration process, with the score music being digitally remixed by him with wonderful results. Indeed, much of the soundtrack benefits quite well from being re-recorded or remixed using techniques that were not available during the original production of the film.

    The surround channels are heavily used during this film with both the English and the German soundtracks. A great deal of sound comes from the rear channels, and their presence is felt quite often. This is definitely one of the best surround mixes of a film I've heard on DVD so far, and I expect it to only be bettered when Lucasfilm come to their senses and bring the Star Wars saga to our beloved format. The creaks and bursts are just some of the noises that help envelop the viewer in this film, and there are some moments when the combination of the claustrophobic picture and the sound of waves crashing into metal honestly made me feel seasick. The main difference between the German matrix mix and the English discrete mix is the precise placement of sounds within the field. The difference between these two mixes is surprisingly minimal. The subwoofer was worked quite hard, supporting the plethora of bass-heavy sound effects within the film that you would expect from a submarine setting.


    The words "quality, not quantity" often come to mind when I describe the kind of extras I want on a DVD. Das Boot meets that description.


    The menu is themed around the movie, complete with comprehensive scene selection. It appears to be 16x9 Enhanced.

Audio Commentary - Wolfgang Petersen (Director), Jürgen Prochnow (Lead Actor), and Ortwin Freyermuth (Director's Cut Producer)

    Wolfgang Petersen, Jürgen Prochnow, and Ortwin Freyermuth sit around and basically offer some very interesting insights into the making of this film. This is one of the best commentary tracks I have heard so far, although it is very difficult to listen to in one sitting. Wolfgang Petersen and Ortwin Freyermuth speak with very heavy German accents and are rather hard to understand at times. Jürgen Prochnow is much easier to understand, but he speaks the least about the film. The commentary is presented as a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack with surround encoding and the movie lightly mixed into the background. This commentary track is very insightful, going from the topic of the film to the novel to the war experiences that both are based on, and even to the cast and crew's experiences as children growing up after World War II without missing a beat.

Featurette - The Making Of Das Boot

    This featurette lasts about six minutes, and presents footage from the theatrical trailer combined with snippets from interviews with members of the cast and crew. It is presented in the 4:3 ratio with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

Theatrical Trailer

    A theatrical trailer for the director's cut, presented in 4:3 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Some picture information appears to be missing from the sides during this trailer.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 4 version of this disc is vastly preferable to the Region 1 version, but Region 2 is the one to go for due to the presence of the original dialogue in the best possible format and RSDL formatting.


    Das Boot is a great film which the American film industry still hasn't caught up with nineteen years later. It is quite moving and powerful, so much so that it really quite surprised me when I first viewed it.

    The video quality is nearly perfect, and truly amazing given the conditions the film was shot under.

    The audio quality is highly immersive, but the absence of a German Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is somewhat disappointing. If not for this glaring omission, this disc would be a Hall Of Fame shoo-in.

    The extras are limited, but their quality is mostly limitless.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh (read my bio if you dare)
March 9, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer