In any good Submarine Story, there are three specific plot elements that weave together to form a coherent and entertaining tale. In point of fact, the way to tell a bad Boat Flick is to figure out if and when a given story is lacking any of the three. Though they are predictable, a good story will still keep you on your toes wondering what the actual resolution will be when the final credits roll or the last page is turned.
So what are these elements?
First, there is always a technical challenge to be overcome. In a Boat Flick, there are so many potential technical issues that it boggles the mind. A bad engine, an overheating reactor, a circling torpedo or duds that leave a sub exposed to a counter attack.
Second, there is always a moral decision to be made. This decision will always have to be made by the primary characters, usually the Captain, and inevitably will decide the fate of his crew or a significant number of them. Lives are in danger and it is the Captain alone who makes the choices that decide who lives and who dies.
Lastly, or firstly, since there is no real order of importance here, is the enemy. In a Boat Flick, this is actually two-fold. Naturally, there is the human enemy to be faced, but often there is a natural enemy in the form of the sea. Most times, it is clear that human enemies have nothing on the Seas, which is trying to kill everybody without worrying about who is on what side or who God favors.
In 1981, the film “Das Boot,” gave the world a very realistic look at the U-Boat War and the action in the Atlantic in World War II. The original book the film was based upon was darker and more of an anti-war lesson written by a man who actually did work as a reporter and actually did go on a U-Boat War Patrol to write newspaper articles showing how heroic the Sailors were to the Fatherland. The film version was a bit more “American Action Movie” than anti-war allegory. Even so, it has gone down in our lexicons as one of the best Boat flicks ever made.
In 2018, a German film company decided to reboot the film as a full-on TV series, again based upon the book as well as additional source material. The initial reactions that I saw on various Submarine Boards and discussion groups were overwhelmingly negative. The idea of rebooting a beloved and highly intense film is never going to go over well.
As of this writing, I am two full episodes into the first season (eight episodes) of Das Boot and honestly, I am quite hooked. Not only is the submarine action VERY intense, but the added elements of land-based characters related to the ongoing sea action is quite well done.
I am not going to sugarcoat this, the first fifteen minutes of episode one is the stuff of nightmares. Like the invasion scene in Saving Private Ryan, it is an intense combat scene with a sense of hopelessness and palpable fear. The shocking final moments will leave you shaken, but also strangely intrigued. This is war, and both sides are determined to fight it with an intensity that will be a surprise to those who are not already intimately familiar with the Atlantic War. It is scary and it is shocking. It is men in a desperate situation and a hard-fought war. Be warned.
The land-based elements of the show are equally as interesting, adding a fuller sense of the story of the people involved. War is often a mix of ideology and just plain bad luck. In this case, a woman lost between two countries (she was born and raised in Alsace, a German province controlled by France after World War I), she cannot be at home in Germany because she is seen as “French,” while in France she is seen as purely German. She has her beliefs to which she is dedicated and passionate until she discovers that things are not always so clear. Others will and often do change your course in life, even when you don’t want them too. She will find herself having to decide between what she says she believes, and what others have compelled her to do.
Klaus Hoffman, the son of a U-boat Hero, is the newly promoted Captain of U-612. Many in his new crew question his promotion, assuming that it is only because of whose son he is, as he has no practical war experience, unlike his 1st Lieutenant, who most of the crew thought would be named as their new Captain.
Hoffman is tested immediately when his XO fails to inform him of a major incident on the boat which requires the transfer of new radioman on to the boat the night before sailing. Before the Captain can have the maneuvering watch set, his own actions which have condemned a man to death required him to accept his role as Captain and to act in a way that will surprise many.
The new Radioman is the brother of Alsatian-born Simone, who is a translator for Naval Command in La Rochelle. He had decided to desert and to join the French resistance, but his last-second assignment to U-612 has negated his chance to run. His very attractive sister catches the eye of the local Gestapo Commander who see her as a potential lover and professional aide. Before her brother sails, he asks her to deliver “something” to an unknown contact at night. It turns out to be the resistance, and now Simone is caught up in unintentionally helping the French Resistance while being the companion of a Gestapo Commander.
U-612 sails on the morning tide, the Captain conducting demanding drill after drill (been there, done that!). Tensions rise when the Wolfpack of which they are a part makes it’s attack. Forced to dive by an enemy escort, a radio message has been received ordering the U-612 to break off the attack and leave the area for secret orders from Goebbels himself. The crew cannot believe that a U-Boat Captain would leave his brother Submarines in the middle of an attack, but Hoffman believes that his duty is to follow orders. The boat leaves, and the secret mission is begun.
All in all, I have found the realism very good, the tension extremely high and the overall entertainment value of the rebooted TV series Das Boot to be OUTSTANDING. Put it on your list of shows to watch. The show is available on Hulu for free. You won’t regret it!