Das Boot: Superbit

Review by Guido Henkel

Das Boot: Superbit  (1981)
Columbia Tristar Home Video

Length:        210 mins.
Rated:          R
Format:       Anamorphic Widescreen · 1.85:1
Languages:German, English
Subtitles:    English

Wolfgang Petersen’s 1985 action-drama "Das Boot" was one of the first releases that hit DVD in 1997 and ever since, fans of this amazing movie have been hoping to eventually see a release that would present the movie on a non-flipper single disc. Well, that still hasn’t happened, but Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment now has prepared a Superbit version of the movie, spread over two entire DVD-9 discs, effectively giving the movie twice the storage space than before in order to improve on the overall presentation quality.

"Das Boot" tells the story of the crew of U-96, a German submarine during World War II. The crew consists mostly of rookies, lead by their seasoned captain (Jürgen Prochnow). From La Rochelle they set out to the Atlantic on a mission to destroy every British ship they can find but for weeks the ship is out on sea without a single enemy vessel in sight. Boredom and frustration set in as they cruise the rough seas until one day a radiogram comes through, indicating the position of an entire British convoy. Quickly the boat sets course and by nightfall, in the heavy fog, they encounter the convoy consisting of a series of seemingly unguarded British freighters. Quickly they fire four torpedoes in a successful effort to sink three of the vessels when suddenly, out of the fog, peels a British destroyer who is dead-set on sinking the submarine by dropping seemingly never-ending salvos of depth-charges into the waters above the boat. To evade them the boat has to go to it limits and descent into the depths of the ocean.

"Das Boot" succeeds marvelously at what it sets out to do. It is a claustrophobic nod to the seamen who spent months and years of their lives in those steel cigars without any outside contact, without even as much as a ray of sunlight or fresh air. The pressure that mounts within such a group of people is beautifully portrayed in the film’s script and has been brought to life by Wolfgang Petersen. Without overly romanticizing the life aboard a submarine, the movie nonetheless manages to capture some amazing pictures, like the boat cruising into the golden sunset, or the furious camera moves through the narrow interior of the vessel. The action scenes are gripping and explosive, making you feel like you have been thrown right into the boat with the crew. The biggest achievement however lies in the movie’s final minutes. I do not want to spoil the ending of the movie, so you will have to watch it yourself to see the statement the film makes here.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has prepared "Das Boot" as a Superbit release, which means the film is using all the storage space on the disc for the feature presentation. Given its considerable length of 210 minutes, the film has been split onto two discs to maintain the quality and the result is evident. However, "Das Boot" does contain a number of extremely grainy shots – which are result of the film stock used and of some technical limitations of the movie’s actual production. While this is distracting at times, it should not be mistaken with deficiencies of the DVD. It is inherent in the film and simply reproduced in all its splendor here. Apart from those shots however, you will find that the DVD renders an immaculate picture. The image is razor sharp and no hint of edge-enhancement is evident. The colors are absolutely beautiful. The film makes a lot of use of red and blue lighting – battle station lighting in the boat – and during those moments the screen is awash in those bright colors. However, these colors never bleed and are full of incredible detail and hues. It is hard to describe and has to be seen to be fully appreciated, as true red and blue are colors that truly tax home theater systems.
The movie is, of course, presented in anamorphic widescreen on the DVD and the framing is perfect.

"Das Boot" comes with a Dolby Digital audio track, as well as DTS track. Both tracks do an incredible job at recreating the atmosphere inside the boat. Surrounds are very aggressive to create the illusion as if the viewer is right in the middle of the action. Voices in the front, the back are only a few of the great effects put to use. When the boat is moaning under the water pressure the sound of it is entirely engulfing viewers. The DVD contains Englis hand German language tracks but for some strange reason the film defaults to the English dub rather than the German original, which goes counter to the Superbit mentality claimed by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

As expected, the Superbit version of "Das Boot" is a flawless rendition of the movie that makes the film look better than ever before on home video. Never before have the reds and blues looked so vibrant and clear, devoid of noise, and never before has the image been so rich in detail. I keep hearing people argue the improvements Superbit has to offer, but so far I have been very impressed with every one of the Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment’s Superbit releases, and "Das Boot" certainly ranks as one of the best ones in the line.

    

February 24, 2003

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