Interview: Wolfgang Petersen on ‘Das Boot’

Das Boot

With Das Boot now on Blu-ray, the Los Angeles Film Festival hosted a screening of the director’s cut. Jurgen Prochnow and director Wolfgang Petersen reunited to reflect on the German submarine classic. Before the movie started, I got to interview Petersen. How cool is it to get to cover a movie from way before my time as a journalist?


CraveOnline: Last year, I watched The Neverending Story on Blu-ray. I always liked it as a kid but I finally got it. The Childlike Empress is talking about ME watching the movie. 25 years later you blew my mind.

Wolfgang Petersen: Yeah, yeah, it’s wonderful that that film is on Blu-ray. I have it on home on my big screen and can see it. It’s wonderful.


CraveOnline: You might be happy to know, I once saw the 5 hour miniseries version of Das Boot. Tonight I feel like we’re watching the short version.

Wolfgang Petersen: No, the middle version. There’s a short version, the middle version and the long.


CraveOnline: What is it about guys on a submarine that we’re willing to go with it at such length?

Wolfgang Petersen: Well, I think we today cannot understand it at all. When I made the movie I had no idea how people can go through that. It has a little bit to do with understanding that at the time there was so much propaganda going on that these kids when they went out, they were like superstars. If they survived, when they came back, they were celebrated like pop stars. Also the whole bulls*t with everything for Germany, “give your life for Germany,” they very strongly developed it. Still when you came down to the actual situation, we have scenes like that in the film of course, they themselves just go crazy and don’t understand it anymore.


CraveOnline: What is the trick to keeping the pace moving all in one location?

Wolfgang Petersen: That’s a tough one. It’s really difficult. We thought in the beginning we might kill ourselves after a few weeks because it’s just such a small place. Then you develop a kind of discipline there that you can do it forever and forever. You get very tired. We spent one year, because of the long version, one year in that set. It’s tiresome but more and more, the more we realized we can do it, we’ll make it, we’re getting amazing footage. Because we shot in sequence, the actors got more and more really into it, into their part. They could’ve done that forever. It’s beautiful.


CraveOnline: They don’t make a lot of submarine movies but when they do, Das Boot is the standard they all compare to. What does that mean to you?

Wolfgang Petersen: I’m very proud of that. I see very often films where I see ah ha, they were inspired by this, they were inspired by that. All kinds of films, Aliens, Cameron’s work used a lot of references to Das Boot. It’s great. We just did it very radical. We did not make any compromises. We did not alter the set. We forced ourselves to work inside the small tube and didn’t really use it like a set. It was a submarine when we worked. It was a set but it was a submarine. The feel of it was absolutely real.


CraveOnline: I know you were going to do World’s Finest at one point, and you were attached to Ender’s Game. Is Old Man’s War finally the sci-fi movie you’ve been trying to make?

Wolfgang Petersen: Well, a long time ago I did Enemy Mine and I’ve always wanted to come back at some point. Now with Old Man’s War, I think it’s a great opportunity. That is one unusual story, let me tell you. With sci-fi, I always try to do some kind of a very emotional core to the story. In Enemy Mine it was the strange relationship between these two guys. One was a hermaphrodite and one was a human being, so that’s wild. Here now it’s a love story, it’s two humans but also there is a big twist. It’s a beautiful, beautiful series of books actually.


CraveOnline: I would’ve loved to see your version of Ender’s Game.

Wolfgang Petersen: Yeah, but it didn’t work out. We couldn’t get it really to work. I hope they do it right.