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Great Film - But Which DVD?
on 24 September 2006
Das Boot is quite possibly the best war movie ever made. If you've not seen it, there is no shortage of recommendations to buy it but the question remains - which version?
Fortunately the original theatrical release is no longer available. One of the things that make Das Boot so remarkable is its portrayal of the tension and, in the Mini Series, long stretches of boredom of life at sea in a U-Boat. The original version misses out almost all the footage where nothing much happens and turns the film into an action movie. This might work well on the big screen but anyone who appreciates Das Boot will not want to go back to this 149 minute cut.
It may be unusual to recommend an extended version of a film because it includes scenes where "nothing much happens," but this is essential to portray the tension. The Director's Cut is an excellent film in a cinema where the big screen and enveloping sound bring in the viewer to experience the agonising wait for sight of their first target or the suspense and terror the crew feel as depth charges repeatedly rain down on them as they try to dodge a British destroyer. Its length of 216 minutes (3 hours 36 minutes) is about as long as can reasonably be viewed in one sitting and just fits onto one disc.
The Superbit edition of the Director's Cut (which I have not seen) has greater picture detail than the standard version, and a highly recommended German DTS sound in addition to the German and English Dolby digital 5.1. If you want the best possible picture and sound and have a high quality screen this may well be the version for you, but it has a serious drawback in splitting the film into two DVDs. This DVD apparently does not include the short 'behind the scenes' documentary included in the other versions.
The Mini Series is the DVD version of the television series (3 episodes in the original German broadcast; 6 episodes in the UK). This includes all of the film and more besides, the overall length being 282 minutes (4 hours 42 minutes). It is harder to maintain tension on television than it is in a cinema because you cannot easily shut out other distractions and the screen size and sound quality are rarely encompassing enough to draw in the viewer. The television broadcast overcame this by shifting the viewpoint more to that of war correspondent Lt. Werner and introducing more incidental detail, character development and what might be called boredom in the early episodes. This has the effect of getting the viewers more interested in the sailors and, during the long voyage across the Atlantic, keenly anticipating meeting the first convoy and finally engaging the enemy. The six episode broadcast divided up the film, possibly accidentally, into themed units. An episode where nothing much happens, the crew getting more and more frustrated and restless, tensions building. Another episode spent continually dodging depth charges - very demanding on the crew and slowly demoralising with no way to fight back. In my opinion, the lack of episode breaks in the DVD is a drawback, though other reviewers disagree. The film is split into two DVDs and the break is very abrupt, not coinciding with a television episode break.
For most home viewers, the Mini Series is certainly the version I would recommend, despite the length and lack of episode breaks - I wouldn't particularly suggest viewing it complete at one sitting. For buyers with a good home cinema system, the Director's Cut may be the preferred option. The choice between the standard and Superbit editions is basically whether you prefer to have the entire film on one disc or have superior picture and sound quality. All versions are widescreen (Superbit 1.78:1 (16:9), others 1.85:1) and even the non-Superbit versions have good transfer to DVD.