I am sure that many consumers have noticed the disturbing trend taking place in DVD land with regard to the same movie being released in multiple versions. This practice, commonly referred to in the industry as “multiple bites at the apple”, is a cheap way for studios to persuade consumers to buy movies that they already own over and over again, since each new release offers some sort of extra upgrade from the previous versions. Even those of us in the DVD community sometimes get burned on this type of thing, as ther… is not always a way to tell if we should purchase a product when it is new, or wait for a few years, in the hopes that a better version will come along. Adding to the frustration is the fact that on some occasions, versions are so different that consumers actually want to own multiple versions of a film. This is the case with the Lord of the Rings films, as the extended editions are quite different from their theatrical counterparts. Arguably, the upcoming Kill Bill releases will merit this kind of double purchasing as well.
Das Boot is also one of those films that has fallen victim to the practice of multiple releases. Originally, the film was released in a standard American theatrical version. It became such a hit with movie buffs, however, that an extended Director’s Cut was issued as well. Following this release, a separate Superbit edition of the Director’s Cut hit the shelves. All versions sold well, and the legend of Wolfgang Peterson’s epic film about a German submarine crew during World War II continued to grow. As more and more people saw this film, word started to circulate about the existence of a massive five-hour version of the film. Being a town that never misses a chance to make a buck, Hollywood listened to the ramblings, and in 2004, the complete epic was finally released on DVD.
Peterson must have had some idea of the future scope of his film during production, as he exposed enough film to create two complete cuts of the film. One was the international release that continues to grow in length to this day. The other was a six-part mini-series created for West German television, and aired in 1982. This DVD set is comprised of the entire mini-series, edited together without credits or commercials, and spread over two discs in the interest of quality. The result is a film that is more powerful and moving than any version that has previously been available in North America.
Films about the German side of WWII are few and far between, which makes this a rare treat. Peterson has been able to obtain the goal of every filmmaker with his epic tale; viewers don’t just see what it is like to be a member of a submarine crew, but they begin to actually feel like they are a part of the crew. This is not a film about battle, this is a film about the spaces between the battles. The day-to-day monotony of life on a submarine. Wondering aimlessly in a vast ocean, hoping to stumble upon an enemy ship before they stumble upon you. This is a film that is part documentary, part prose. The mission is real, the names are real, and the experience is real. This is easily the best film about the life of a submarine crew ever put to film.
As was the case with the previously-issued Director’s Cut, this version gives viewers the option of watching the film with a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, in either dubbed English or in the original German. Naturally, I opted for the original German, with English subtitles. I was thoroughly pleased with this track. The first thing that I noticed was the abundance of bass notes emanating from my subwoofer. If ever there was a film that deserved plenty of action in the low end, this is it.
I was also very pleased that the new 5.1 mix did an excellent job of balancing out the intentions of the original soundtrack with the advances in modern audio technology. Instead of overwhelming the viewer with powerful, out-of-place sound effects, the new mix just fills out the original soundtrack, enveloping the listener is the sounds of underwater warfare. This goes a long way to help make the viewer feel like he/she is actually in the submarine with the sailors.
I was also pleased that Peterson knew when to be loud, and when to be quiet. Long sections of the film are devoid of all sound, which just adds to the tension of the film. Again, as is the case with the new 5.1 format, the quiet moments help to involve the viewer, as they begin listening just as intently as the crew for sounds that might be coming from outside the boat. This is an excellent soundtrack, and I am quite pleased with how effective it is in the context of the film.
While this is not a perfect transfer, I was quite happy with the look of this film on DVD. Black levels are deep, and color, when it exists, is rich and bold. This is an excellent contrast to the dark, dull conditions inside the submarine itself. I was afraid that the picture would be marred by grain, due to its age and the number of dark scenes, but surprisingly there are really no significant amounts of the fuzzy stuff to speak of. In fact, the only real problem areas come in the form of some obvious stock footage that was used to portray shots of airplanes and distant Allied warships. Besides this one minor point, this is a superbly restored transfer.
For as much effort as they put into the new version of the feature, they sure skimped on the extras. This is essentially an extra-free title. There are trailers for the Director’s Cut of the film, as well as for two other Peterson films, In the Line of Fire and Air Force One. Also here is a short making-of featurette, that actually pertains to the Director’s Cut of the film, and not to this new edition. While this is a well-done little piece, not all of the information contained therein applies directly to this version.
All that this really tells me is that there may be a plan to release yet another version of this film on DVD. One including the full-length cut of the film, as well as a boatload of extras. Keep watch, sailors.
So the big question is, “Is this version good enough for me to upgrade from a previous release?” The answer to that question depends on your feelings about the film. If you are a fan of previous versions, than this upgrade is a must buy. The added length adds considerably to the rich story, and nothing feels like it is added back in just to pad out the running time. (This was originally a mini-series after all, remember?) However, if you are a marginal fan of the original, or if you have not seen it before, you may want to go for the shorter version. This epic will easily fill the majority of your Saturday (as it has mine). The shorter Director’s Cut is still a fine film, and it is a much more reasonable length, clocking in at a full hour and 24 minutes less than the Original Uncut Version. Either way, you really can’t go wrong with this extraordinary film.
Special Features List
- Making-of Featurette