There are submarine movies, and then there’s Das Boot. Director Wolfgang Petersen’s look at a German U-boat crew on a hair-raisingly tense mission to sink Allied shipping in the Atlantic is rightly hailed as one of the best war movies of all time. Now there’s a new eight-part series that expands on the original. But how do you go about remaking a classic? Well, for starters…
It’s a sequel, not a remake
Note, there are spoilers for a 37-year-old movie below.
The original Das Boot doesn’t exactly end on an uplifting note – it’s a German movie about WWII, so no surprises there – but while this series is a sequel, you don’t need to see the film to know what’s what.
The series features a new submarine, with an all-new crew led by a new captain (Rick Okon) – though he does have the same nickname (“Der Alte” – The Old Man) as Jürgen Prochnow’s captain in the film. It’s an ironic twist here, however, as he’s a first-time captain from a distinguished naval family and has a lot to live up to, which his more experienced first officer (August Wittgenstein) doesn’t let him forget.
Like the original film, this series is based on Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s 1973 autobiographical novel Das Boot, based on his experiences as a war correspondent during WWII. But that wasn’t the only novel he wrote based on his war experiences; 1995’s Die Festung was about his travels across France in 1944, and that provides some of the basis for other big differences between the series and the film.
It’s not all happening underwater
Unlike the film, which focused on the undersea action to a claustrophobic extent, this version of Das Boot has two main plots. The first involves the boat of the title, submarine U-612 and its largely untested crew as they go on their first voyage in the autumn of 1942 (an all-action opening sequence suggests this journey may not be smooth sailing). The second involves Simone Strasser (The Phantom Thread's Vicky Krieps) the sister of the U-612’s radio operator Frank (Leonard Scheicher).
She’s working as a translator at the U-boat harbour, but when her brother (who has a sideline business selling morphine) heads out to sea, she has to step in and handle his latest drug deal. This brings her to the attention of both the French resistance, who are involved in the morphine trade, and the local Gestapo chief, Hagen Forster (Tom Wlaschiha).
Later episodes see the appearance of both Lizzy Caplan (from Masters of Sex) and Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men), so it looks like the resistance might be getting some help from the US.
It takes place nine months after the film
Nine months is a long time in war. While it might have been hard to believe while watching what the U-boat crew went through in the original Das Boot, the movie took place when Germany was winning the war in the Atlantic.
This series is set in mid-1942 when the Allies had managed to crack the German Enigma codes, which gave them a much better idea of where the U-boats were operating. By that time, the Allies also had better planes, more ships, more experience running convoys, more skill when it came to sinking U-boats, and the US Navy was now also starting to play a serious part.
While this series takes place on a more advanced submarine (for war buffs, it’s a Type VII C), it’s safe to assume they’re not going to have an easy time of things.
It’s still all about the submarine
It’s no secret that most submarine movies follow many of the same basic rules, and the original Das Boot was no exception. That’s because the basic template is so good at making audiences sweat.
If you want a film that really cranks up the tension, stick a bunch of stressed out men in a very confined space and then drop explosives all around them. One of the reasons the original Das Boot is one of the greatest war movies of all time is that it took that template, cranked it up to eleven, and did it better than anyone had before.
So in this sequel, expect plenty of the following: the crew having to be silent while sonar pings tell them they’re being hunted; someone yelling “depth charges” a second before massive explosions rock the boat; the hull springing multiple leaks after an attack; a watertight door having to be shut to save the ship even though there are still crew members trapped in the section that’s flooding (this one’s optional); the sub having to dive below the hull’s safe depth to avoid detection and the hull creaking and groaning as everyone quietly waits to see if the whole thing will implode and kill them all; the threat of mutiny as the cramped quarters and the captain’s risky choices have the crew on edge; and of course, being attacked by planes when they finally think it’s safe to risk surfacing for fresh air.
Feeling sweaty yet?
Das Boot seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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