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Ten Things You Didn’t Know: Das Boot

Known unofficially as the best submarine film ever made, Das Boot — translated to mean "The Boat" — follows the other side of the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942. Offering one of the few sympathetic portrayals of the war from the German perspective to be released in the U.S., director Wolfgang Petersen magnificently reiterates the maxim that war is hell — no matter what side of the battle you’re on.

Das Boot provides a gritty, realistic look into the claustrophobic and catastrophic world of one German U-boat hunting enemy ships undersea. The fleet, a crew of 42 raw recruits caught up in a war they don’t understand, are to brought to life on film. Petersen steers clear of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter personalities and god-like leaders by giving each crew member his own qualities and the captain his own flaws. Obeying the ideology of their government and the direction of their captain, the submariners struggle to survive against all odds.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Das Boot

1. Rutger Hauer was offered to play Der Alte — Capt.-Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock — but turned it down to do Blade Runner.

2. The cast was deliberately kept indoors during shooting to look as pale as the real submarine crew would on a mission at sea. To help convey the claustrophobic conditions found on a real U-boat, Petersen also insisted on filming within the actual confines of the ship, which is scarcely wider than a man’s outstretched arms.

3. The bulk of the film’s $15 million budget was spent on scale submarine models built for special effects work. The models were also used in Raiders of the Lost Arc.

4. The human figures on the 35-foot remote-controlled model were modified Barbie dolls.

5. Unusual for a major motion picture, it was filmed largely in sequence.

6. In one scene, actor Jan Fedder lost his grip on the railing of the sub model and washed off, breaking a few ribs. One of the other actors shouted, "Man overboard!" Petersen didn’t realize it was an accident and enthusiastically yelled, "Good idea, Jan. We’ll do that one more time." Petersen still kept the scene and rewrote Fedder’s part so his character spent the rest of the movie in bed.

7. One sub model was steered from the inside by a diver. After three days, the diver quit because he had gotten seasick for the first time in his two-decade career.

8. Most of the movie was shot in Geiselgasteig near Munich.

9. Because the original TV mini-series was severely criticized in Germany for portraying World War II Germans sympathetically, the producer feared the first American showing in Los Angeles, unsure of how a former enemy nation would react — especially in a city with a large Jewish population. Their qualms were reinforced when the audience applauded the opening caption saying 30,000 of 40,000 German submariners were lost in the war. However, when it ended, the audience gave a standing ovation in appreciation of the film’s artistry.

10. Originally filmed in German, all of the major actors could speak English. When the movie was dubbed into English for USA and UK distribution, the actors actually dubbed their own voices.

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