Das Boot: Abandon this Ship
William Toti
June 10, 2019
I was asked to do this review of the new submarine miniseries that was streaming on Hulu. Having loved the Wolfgang Petersen movie of the same name, I had high hopes for this remake. As you will read below, I was sorely disappointed.
As a submariner, an aficionado of submarine movies, and someone who loved Wolfgang Petersen’s original film, I was really looking forward to seeing the limited series of “Das Boot.” Petersen’s film is one of my favorites. He really gave voice to the gritty, stinky, unpleasant, fear-stricken reality of a submarine in combat. Because there is just so more depth you can go into with a miniseries that you can’t cover in even a 2-hour feature film, I expected the limited series to be a remarkable experience.
…a movie about U-boats turns itself into an opportunity to sneer at the nation that liberated Europe.
But over the first four episodes of this series (the point at which I finally had to stop watching), the show crossed from merely bad filmmaking, into the realm of egregious, outrageous nonsense. Where it crossed the line: by grossly misinforming viewers, the majority of whom are unaware and ignorant of World War II history and events, of some of the most significant events in the European theater of operations. For example, the only American character in this European Union-made drama is a distinguished American citizen who is actually a war profiteer secretly selling the Nazis equipment in order to finance his ambitions to be president. So, in part, a movie about U-boats turns itself into an opportunity to sneer at the nation that liberated Europe. This plot point crossed the line from merely being a dramatic device to outrageously offensive crap. Draw your own conclusions as to the truth of such a message, but it outrages me. If you think my reading of that message is over the top, then I’ll just tick off a few of the hundreds of the tired cliches that make this a bad fit of melodrama masquerading as suspense:
  • Unproven officer trying to live up to his hero-father’s legacy? Check.
  • Mutinous XO trying at every turn to undercut his unproven captain? Check
  • Melodramatic backstory of Gestapo officer trying to woo French citizen by proving he’s just a normal guy forced to uphold the orders of those evil men back in Berlin? Check.
  • Communist partisan power female figure who chain-smokes cigarettes while embarrassing the male partisans into action? Check.
  • Second partisan female who is captured in perhaps the stupidest, most canned bit of police action you can ever imagine, then goes to prison and endures relentless torture protecting the identity of “the guys,” eventually volunteering to die rather than snitch? Check.
  • Gratuitous violence against women? Check.
  • De rigueur scene where torpedo breaks loose in torpedo room critically injuring a sailor? Check.
  • German sailor who gets a Jewish girl pregnant and has to get fake American passports to get her out of the country, a scene straight out of Casablanca? Check.
  • Sailor actors leaning into nonexistent wind while supposedly steaming at Ahead Full on the surface, but are really bobbing up and down on a fake submarine that’s dead-in-the-water, going nowhere? Check.
  • Nearly everyone understands and speaks English when it’s advantageous for the story for them to do so, but otherwise speaks only in subtitled German? Check.
  • The Gestapo officer and the German Navy Commodore break into English whenever they are alone with each other, while neither can actually speak French, the country that they have occupied and in which they live? Check.
  • The misunderstood Nazi who is really a nice guy but is merely following orders from those evil dudes in Berlin? Check. (There must have been a couple million nice guy Nazis merely following orders during that war.)
  • The Nazi sympathizer whose eyes are opened in response to insidious action by the Nazis, eventually turning her into a Partisan? (I didn’t actually stay with the program long enough to confirm that she does, but that’s where her obvious trajectory is taking her, so Check.)
  • The jack-booted Nazi who thinks those cowardly, traitorous dudes back in Berlin aren’t pushing hard enough to win the war? Check.
  • The happy, cheerful French house of ill repute with welcoming kind-hearted French women, who say they are merely allowing the jack-booted, women-beating German soldiers to “have a good time?” Check.
  • The prisoner exchange of an American who has an audacious, affected, over-the-top New York accent, the kind you only hear in movies? Check.
  • The “it was a setup!” prisoner exchange on an American ship that somehow couldn’t have anticipated that the German submarine would be able to sink them if the exchange didn’t go as planned, and are “shocked shocked” that the bad Germans would ever do such a thing, forcing the Americans to do what they actually committed to do? Check.
  • The partisans who have dialogs where one side speaks nothing but English while the other side responds with nothing but French, like C3PO talking to R2D2? Check.
  • The captain who is held out as a coward by his crew when he decides to actually follow orders to disengage from battle and instead carry out a special operation of great importance to the defense of Germany? Check.
  • The captain who, when a sailor somehow fails to die after being shot by a firing squad, pulls out a Lugar and shoots the kid himself? Check.
Oh, I could go on. But I won’t. I’ve given up watching the thing.
I had to GIVE THE BOOT to “Das Boot”