Produced at a cost of DM25 million (circa $12 million), Wolfgang Petersen’s The Boat is far and away the most expensive German film made since World War II, possibly in the history of German cinema. It’s based on a bestseller by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim and is a two hour-plus action film on the fate of a German U-Boat in 1941.
Everything described in the film is authentic: it’s the story of a single mission in the Atlantic, from the departure of the boat from La Rochelle in Occupied France to its return to port some months later. In between, it’s constantly a question of life or death, give and take, kill or be killed – a descent into the pit of hell with slim odds of ever returning.
When Buchheim joined one of these boats as a photo-journalist during the war, he was a kid among equals. His experiences on missions were later compiled into an autobiographical book. The captain, tagged the ‘old man’ (Jurgen Prochnow), already wears an iron cross for bravery in action. So does another drunken U-Boat officer, Thomsen (a strong cameo by Otto Sander), who nearly incites a riot in the Bar Royal by speaking his mind on both the war and its Fuhrer in vividly blunt terms.
Then comes the dull, monotonous early days at sea followed by some initial skirmishes and hide-and-seek games with the enemy. At last, about midway through the film, the first opportunity to strike presents itself, and the real action begins. Then come orders to brave the Strait of Gibraltar and enter the Mediterranean for further seek-and-kill operations.
Two model subs were constructed for shooting at La Rochelle and the Bavaria Atelier in Munich. All the actors are, with a few major exceptions, unknown faces to the German film and TV scene.
[Pic was also made as a six-hour TV miniseries. A 207-min. Directorector’s Cut was released theatrically and on homevideo in 1997.]