Das Boot appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. One of the earlier DVD releases - Das Boot hit shelves in December 1997, nine months after the format’s official launch – this picture looked fairly positive but suffered from some flaws not unexpected in older discs.
Sharpness generally seemed decent. Most of the movie came across as distinct and accurate, but the image tended to become a little “loose” at times. Some of the interior sub shots displayed a less tight picture than I’d expect. Nonetheless, the film usually appeared to be fairly accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did witness a little light edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, some small concerns arose. Due to low-light conditions, composite shots, and some apparent use of stock footage, the picture looked grainier than I’d expect at times. However, as noted, these issues seemed to stem from the original film, so I didn’t have any real problems with them. More annoying were other defects like specks, grit, small hairs and marks. None of these ever seemed heavy, but they created more distractions than I’d like. Still, given the age of the movie, the flaws weren’t bad.
Das Boot generally featured a subdued palette, and the tones came across fairly well. The colors seemed restrained but accurate. I noticed only a few issues related to noise, bleeding, or other concerns, even during the occasional shots that featured red lighting. Mostly the colors remained nicely defined throughout the movie. Black levels were deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared acceptable. Some low-light shots – of which there were many – looked a bit murky and hazy. Overall, the picture of Das Boot seemed decent, but it showed enough concerns to merit only a “B-“ grade.
While the picture seemed lackluster, I experienced no such concerns in relation to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Das Boot. The soundfield appeared terrifically active and involving. The front channels presented a nicely differentiated and spaced sense of environment, as elements popped up in their correct locations and blended together well. Music demonstrated solid stereo imaging as well.
In regard to surround usage, secure your socks or Das Boot may well knock them off your feet. The rear speakers played a heavy role in the production and added a great deal of unique audio to the film. From start to finish, the mix used all five speakers well. Elements seemed appropriately placed in the surrounds and they meshed together smoothly. Movement was clean and natural. Of course, the flick’s action sequences presented the most impressive uses of the rear channels, but even quieter scenes displayed fine utilization of those speakers. Early in the movie, a car went past some drunken sailors, and we heard their racket move past us from front right to rear right as the car drove. Touches like that helped make the soundfield of Das Boot amazing.
Audio quality also seemed solid. Due to production factors, the filmmakers dubbed virtually the entire movie, and some of those lines came across as awkward and artificial. However, they usually blended well with the action, and speech usually appeared reasonably natural and distinct with no signs of edginess. Music came across as lively and bright throughout the film, and effects worked very well. Some of the explosions showed a small amount of distortion; the depth charge scenes displayed the most notable tendency in that regard. However, the flaws remained minimal, and the effects mostly sounded clean and accurate. They definitely packed a serious punch, as the movie featured very deep and loud bass response. Low-end stayed nicely tight and concise, though, and never seemed to overwhelm the production.
A few other comments about the audio: I listened to the film with the German soundtrack accompanied by English subtitles. At times, I tried it with the English 5.1 soundtrack, but I didn't care for it. Sometimes I prefer dubbed versions of films, because subtitles can severely interfere with the visual flow of the movie. However, I didn't find that to be the case with Das Boot. The subtitles integrated well and did not distract me. Actually, the English dub is pretty well done; as noted during the audio commentary, many of the original actors redid their lines. However, it simply doesn't seem to "fit" terribly well; the English lines stand out more than they should. This is surprising, since Petersen indicates that the entire movie was dubbed for the German version due to a too noisy set; there's no reason the English lines should sound any more "artificial" than
the German ones. But they do, so I prefer the German mix with subtitles.
The DVD of Das Boot also contains a few supplemental materials. One could argue that since the director’s cut of the film features an extra hour or so of footage, we could take that as a bonus. However, I don’t regard alternate versions of flicks as supplements unless they appear along with the theatrical cut as well; if we found both editions here – ala ET the Extra-Terrestrial - then I’d count the director’s cut as a bonus.
Since I don’t, the main attraction here is a running audio commentary from director Wolfgang Petersen, actor Jurgen Prochnow, and Ortwin Freyermuth, the producer of the director's cut. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific piece original created for the 1996 laserdisc. Freyermuth assists mainly as a moderator; he contributes some interesting information about the restoration of the film, but he leaves most of the talking to the other two. Petersen dominates the track; Prochnow tosses in some tidbits at times, but most of what he says relates to topics brought up by Petersen.
Before I listened to this track, I’d heard one other commentary from Petersen: his discussion of 1997’s Air Force One. I didn’t much care for it. During too much of the track, he simply detailed fairly dull technical details. Petersen also displayed that tendency here, but not to nearly the same painful degree. He also talked a lot about the differences between the various versions of the film, many aspects of making Das Boot, and a wide variety of other topics. It's a nicely illuminating and informative commentary.
In addition to this track, we find a six-minute and 15-second behind the scenes featurette. Created to promote the theatrical release of the director’s cut, this program offers the standard mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Prochnow, Petersen, and Freyermuth. The featurette suffers from an overly promotional tone and its short length. Otherwise, however, it actually offers a fair amount of good information, and the smattering of material filmed during the shoot seems interesting. The featurette is a poor substitute for a real documentary, but it works better than most in the genre.
Finally, the DVD presents some production notes inside its booklet. While much of this also appears during the audio commentary, I like the data and find it useful.
Overall, I recognize that Das Boot is a very well made film that clearly interests and excites a lot of people. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. I thought the movie had its moments, but generally was somewhat dull; it simply didn't float my boat (or "boot," if you prefer). The DVD presents decent but unexceptional picture quality along with excellent audio and a smattering of acceptably good extras. My lukewarm attitude toward Das Boot means I can’t recommend the DVD wholeheartedly, but fans of the flick should like this package.
Note: Columbia-Tristar recently put out a re-release of Das Boot. This Superbit version dispenses with the supplements but presents noticeably improved picture quality; audio seems identical between the two. If you value visual performance over extras, the Superbit Das Boot may be the one for you.
To rate this film visit the review of the Superbit edition.