"- Rock das boot! - don't rock das boot, baby - Rock das boot! -, don't tip das boot over - Rock das boot! -, don't rock das boot, fräulein!" ... Hey, it's either that or, "We all live in a German submarine, German submarine, German submarine", or, perhaps even, well, no lame song reference at all. This film sounds cheesy enough as it is, what with it's being about, I don't know, a bunch of Germans hanging out in a giant boot that is adrift at sea or something to that effect. No, that's just an ignorant American joke, and the Germans have a cool language, as well as some good films, such as this one, which better be good if it's going to keep me going for two-and-a-half hours with its theatrical cut, three-and-a-half hours with its director's cut and, of course, almost five hours with its uncut... cut. Yeah, I watched the uncut version of this film, don't judge me, because it was good, but after seeing that, as well as the director's cut, I think it's safe to say ich habe mehr als genug Deutsch für eine Weile hatte. Still, it's not like you're likely to fall out of this film, no matter how long it may be, because this rewarding opus sure does know how to keep you going. That being said, this film still isn't quite as upstanding as they say, being a quite smooth ride and all, but one that hardly sails on without taking some damage.
Certainly, this extensively meditative character drama is a generally genuine one that has enough inspiration behind it to be taken seriously, and yet, with that said, the final product takes some very surprising, often offputting lapses in seriousness by turning in quite a bit of comic relief, much of which is kind of cheesy and falls flat as detrimental to tonal evenness and, by extension, the film's momentum as a character piece, which is hurt enough by conventionalism within the writing of our characters. There's enough humanity in characterization for you to buy into our leads as more than just types, and it's not like genericism taints any other aspect of this story, but you'd be hard pressed to not recognize more than a few of the lead characters more than you should, as they are, in too many places, conventionally built, reflecting a moderate degree of laziness that does damage to the final product's kick, though most decidedly not as much as pacing limpness. The earlier acts of the film move a bit too steadily, but make up for slowness with a reasonable degree of liveliness and color in order to flesh the story out, but after a while, when all of the fun and games tone down a bit, the film really starts to drag, never to where it's boring, but to where it takes on some relatively dull spells that mark particular heights in the blandness that loom over to many places during the film's body. Now, the film rarely, if ever slows down so much that your investment is dislodged, leaving the film to, at least for a moment, slip into underwhelmingness, but things do indeed slow down more often than they should, and such an event grows more and more recurring as things progress, creating something of an inconsistent pacing that disengages, and makes this film's being oh so very overlong near-impossible to ignore. As you can imagine, the 293-minute uncut version that I saw, while quite good, really struggles like a trapped animal to pad things out, but it would appear as though no version of this film is without a whole lot of fat too trim, getting to be a bit excessive with its material (I understand that these U-boat battles featured many a long period of suspense, but come on, guys, we got the point within the first two minutes of these, like, ten or fifteen-minute-long sequences of pure waiting), and even more excessive with, of all things, filler, which is needed to flesh out calm, color and characterization within this gritty thriller, but gets to be quite disengagingly repetitious, as it is just so excessive, as well as reflective of this project's more natural shortcomings. It's not like this story concept doesn't deserve to be translated to the screen as a sprawling epic, because it is pretty meaty and promising, yet not as immense as Wolfgang Petersen apparently thinks it is, being just sensitive enough to run the risk of easily falling short if mishandled, and considering that the final product is overlong, with an uneven pacing and a few other errors, it should go without saying that this story concept's potential is not as fulfilled as they say. Still, the film hardly sinks into underwhelmingness, taking plenty of blows, but ultimately sailing on (I'm getting tired of the submarine warfare puns, too) as rewarding, or at least action-packed... at times.
A lot of the tension delivered in this "thriller" is delivered through overlong scenes of suspenseful waiting, which often really do work, and sometimes simply outstay their welcome, making it all the more relieving when the film's thrills really pick up in the form of action, which is not too terribly awe-inspring, seeing as how we're only talking about submarines floating around and shooting stuff at each other (It ain't all "Star Trek" cracks it up to be), but nevertheless more gripping than not, thanks to tight and relatively intricate staging that, when backed by thumping sound editing, immerses you into the heat of battle and catches your eye, which very rarely drifts too far away from the film even when there's no action to be seen, largely because the film looks just so darn good. In the very early 1980s, Jost Vacano could do only so much to pretty up not-so crisp filming technology and methods, but unlike Klaus Doldinger's surprisingly somewhat cheesy, momentum-damaging and thankfully underexplored score, this film's cinematography was fairly unique for its time, and is impressive no matter what era you're in, being about as crisp as it can be in its handsomely well-defined and often gritty coloring and lighting, and truly remarkable in its plays with filming tricks, for although you're bound to get a little bit tired of the many tracking shots of people running through the inside of the U-boat after a while, Vacano's and Wolfgang Petersen's tastes in camerawork, which are evenly framed to give you a sense of space in the U-boat, but not to where you can't notice the tight spots in the environment that give you a sense of the claustrophobia, or, as I jokingly consider it when looking at this German film, klaustrophobia (Ha-ha, but seriously though, no one is safe in this film), that is faced by the who are meditated upon so intensely. Needless to say, the cleverly tight framing of this series' filming comes in handy, as a bottle drama this claustrophobic deserves some high immersive value, something that you are indeed granted, partially thanks to the effective competence of this film's stylistic and technical touches, and largely thanks to the substance value within this story concept. Again, there isn't so much meat to this epic that it could easily achieve excellence, as reflected by the final product's falling short as not much more than simply good, even though it has only so many issues, at least in terms of quantity, yet plenty of meat can nevertheless be found within source material novel author Lothar-Günther Buchheim's vision, and quite a bit of it is brought to life by strengths within Petersen's script, which gets to be excessive and even a touch uneven, but is still with a fair bit of wit, as well as well-rounded characterization. Sure, plenty of characters who lead this film are a bit too familiar, but there is enough humanity infused in their development to earn your investment, and it helps that their portrayals are very inspired, as most every one of our leads share sharp chemistry, and delivers his own distinguished heap of layers and emotional range, which define and sell you on each individual's perception of comradery, claustrophobia and trauma. Many men enter this U-boat, and none of them come back entirely the same, facing many struggles that our leads sell you on with powerful performances, though it's not like Petersen, as director, doesn't deserve compliment, for although many of his storytelling touches are rather questionable, denying the inspiration within his direction is always a difficult task, which becomes all but impossible when Petersen does, in fact, deliver atmospherically, whether when he's keeping up enough soul to keep entertainment value, or at least engagement value adequate, or gracing typically overdrawn moments of suspense with genuine tension, often punctuated by emotional resonance (Oh, the ending is near-soul-crushing). This film's storytelling is audacious and hard to fully predict, being flawed to the point of failing to fulfill the full value of this subject matter, but compelling enough to make the final product engaging much more often than not, and ultimately genuinely rewarding.
Schließlich, once you've surfaced from this experience, the film is left standing a bit beaten by cheesy spots, as well as conventionalism in character, but truly damaged by ever-increasing slow spots that call more to your attention the excessive dragging that bloats this ambitious project into the state of being unable to tightly fulfill its full potential, but never distances you too much, as you're eyes are drawn to the occasional tight action sequence and many a high point in handsome, very well-framed cinematography, while your investment goes sustained by the decent writing, strong acting and reasonably inspired direction that makes Wolfgang Petersen's "Das Boot" a rewarding, if a bit excessive epic of a bottle character drama.
3/5 - Good