Das Boot Season 1 Review
Run silent, run deep
Sky Atlantic's 'sequel' to the classic 1981 Das Boot proves to be more like a soft reboot, but is no less enjoyable for it.Wolfgang Petersen's original movie (which was turned into a TV series and then back into an extended Director's Cut movie) was one of the most expensive German productions at the time (second only to Fritz Lang's Metropolis), but it was also one of the most critically and commercially successful, enjoying the most Academy Award nominations of any German film to date.
This new co-German production is being touted as a sequel, in part because it is based upon the same source novel - also called Das Boot - that the original was based upon (as well as that novel's own sequel, Die Festung, written over three decades later) and in part because it quite literally continues straight on from the end of the last series. Within seconds, however, this new story goes in a very different direction, following an entirely new U-boat crew, whose plight is juxtaposed and cross-connected with a resistance movement on land, making you wonder whether it might have been better pitched as a brand new U-boat series, and perhaps simply called the name of this new boat, U-612.
It might have been better pitched as a brand new U-boat series, simply called U-612
Introducing us to the relatively fresh new crew of U-612, complete with an inexperienced Captain who the crew don't yet trust, we follow the ship's trials in open water, whilst the sister of one of the crew mates struggles back in French-occupied territory, working as a loyal German interpreter but shocked - on the day his U-boat sets sail - to find out that her brother actually intended to defect...
Das Boot - as you could probably guess from its very name - was always supposed to be about the boat, and so it's understandable that the land-based shenanigans may be somewhat disappointing. The reality is that the eight-part series does its best to expand the scope afforded by the original, highly claustrophobic piece, allowing for a broader and likely more accessible character set (the director curiously cited the #MeToo movement as inspiration for having a dominant female cast on land), even if it does come at the expense of some of that aforementioned claustrophobia.
The cast are undeniably good (the little-known German actors manning the U-boat do the heavy lifting, but Game of Thrones' Tom Wlaschiha enjoys a darker part back on land), and perhaps it's worth the sacrifice of a bigger 'international' cast of characters - many of which are Western players (Lizzy Caplan, recently in Netflix's Extinction; Phantom Thread's bilingual Vicky Krieps; Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser; Dunkirk's James D'Arcy) - if that helped secure the decent budget that must have been required so that they could still have some modestly good effects and underwater action. This may not be Hunter Killer, or even The Hunt for Red October, but the complexities it is afforded thanks to its broader scope do make for a slightly more conventionally unpredictable voyage, rather than just an outright blow-by-blow retread of the extended dive dive dive, watch the mines, fire the torpedos, surface before our oxygen runs out threats that pervaded the original.
The story becomes quite compelling as you go along and eventually earns a right to be judged apart from the classic 1981 production
Certainly, this new Das Boot enjoys a very adult temperament, dishing out nudity, violence, rape and torture with atypical commercial sensibilities (likely commensurate to its international funding), adding to the gritty feel of the endeavour beyond its ostensibly glossy style. The gloves are off here, particularly when it comes to the rape and torture, and between that and the strict adherence to native languages - it's predominantly in German, with French as the second most common language and only snippets in English - the show manages an authenticity, grabbing your attention at the outset, and then serving up latter stage revelations, twists and seriously hardcore feats of endurance to reward your patience.
As already stated, this may have been better served if distanced from the original, rather than pitched as a direct sequel - which it feels like in name only - because the story becomes quite compelling as you go along and eventually earns a right to be judged apart from the classic 1981 production.
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