Boot, Das (The Boat) (1982): Wolfgang Petersen’s Oscar Nominated Masterpiece


It’s always encouraging when a foreign movie gets recognition in major Oscar categories, as did Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot” (“The Boat”) in 1982, a German film that chronicles the physical and psychological hardships endured by the Nazi crew of a U-Boat.

The film boasts a splendid, at once powerful and authentic, performance by Jurgen Prochnow as the man in charge, Captain-Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, who needs to make tough decisions as he oversees an inexperienced crew, during the “battle of the Atlantic” in WWII.

The crew confronts the endless, nearly-paralyzing fear of the unknown enemy above, while they are in the claustrophobic iron belly of the German U-boat.  For some viewers, the intense experience was like descending into the pit of hell.

In his staging, shooting, and editing, director Petersen shows craftsmanship of the highest order. His close and focused shots meticulously capture the gritty realism of pursuing rival ships from undersea, in a largely blind environment, humid with sweat and rank with the bitter scent of metal

Set mostly within the confines of one submarine, this fascinating, claustrophobic movie occupied the fifth place among 1982’s most nominated pictures, receiving six citations, some in major categories (Direction, Screenplay). Moreover, few foreign-language films have received six Oscar nominations, such as Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” in 1983.

Originally made for German TV as a series of 6 hours, the thrilling tale was cut to 145 minutes for its theatrical release. Acclaimed by all film critics, “Das Boot” also proved popular with the public, grossing $4.5 million dollars, which made it the most popular German film ever to be shown in the U.S.

Unfortunately, after this picture, Petersen was lured into Hollywood and made the mediocre picture “The Never-ending Story” (1984), followed by the disastrous picture “Enemy Mine” (1985).   His commercial record improved in the 1990s with the Clint Eastwood thriller, “In the Line of Fire,” “Air Force One,” and “The Big Storm.”


Columbia (Bavaria Atelier Production)


Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 6

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Screenplay (Adapted): Wolfgang Petersen

Cinematography: Jost Vacano

Sound: Milan Bor, Trevor Pyke, and Mike Le-Mare

Film Editing: Hannes Nikel

Sound Effects Editing: Mike Le-Mar


Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context

In 1982, Richard Attenborough’s historical epic, “Gandhi,” swept most of the Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography for Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor, and Editing for John Bloom. The Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart for “Missing,” which was also nominated for Best Picture and acting awards. Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” won the Oscars for Sound and Sound Effects Editing.