The Film

RESTORING THE FILM

It was at the beginning of 1996 that Ortwin Freyermuth began preparing a re-edited version of the film, together with Wolfgang Petersen. In the intervening years since 1981, almost all of the film crew had enjoyed successful careers. For example, Jürgen Prochnow, who was the best known of the DAS BOOT actors had become an international star, Herbert Grönemeyer became a pop idol for millions, and Jost Vacano rose to become one of the most sought after cameramen in Hollywood – the list is endless.

Even so, everybody agreed, without exception, when asked to help out on the "Director's Cut" film version. Ultimately, DAS BOOT had changed their lives. "We have succeeded in gathering the complete original team“, said Wolfgang Petersen happily. "And everybody still remembers every single detail. It was as if we had completed filming only yesterday.“ Wylie Stateman, the sound designer and long-standing employee of the director explains: "We looked at the work on the project as a sort of favour. So there was really no question in deciding to help Wolfgang realise his dream.“

Full steam ahead was finally declared when original editor Hannes Nikel brought about 500 different sound and film units to Hollywood. These had survived the years at the Bavaria Studios in Munich surprisingly well. Nikel explains: "The material was very well suited to lending a greater emotional depth and sharpness to the film. At the same time, we were able to generate even more tension with these previously unused scenes because they detailed both the characters and life on board in a better way.“

Nikel worked closely together with Wolfgang Petersen to realise Petersen's dream as precisely as possible. Working on the new version of DAS BOOT was relatively easy for both men. "This version of DAS BOOT is really the one we wanted to make 15 years ago“, stresses Nikel. "Now it was easier to insert the new scenes. The material just seemed to slot into the right places by itself.“

The work on the soundtrack was the most extensive of all. In this unusual submarine adventure, the noises are as important as the pictures. The men under the ocean live and survive almost exclusively by means of their sense of hearing. Stuck in a metal tube, it is their only connection with the outside world. Only if they pay attention to the smallest noise are they able to react in a timely manner. This is just as valid for listening to an approaching destroyer as for finding a loose rivet. This existential significance of the sense of hearing is a crucial factor for the spectator too. "The original sound of the film was already excellent“, stresses Freyermuth. "Both Oscar nominations for this really were well-earned. So we didn't want to alter this in our concept in any way at all, but were very anxious to adapt the tone to modern technical possibilities. Much more is possible in this day and age. By means of individually adjustable Surround loudspeakers one can generate the illusion of movement, involving the audience and placing them right in the centre of the events. 15 years ago, it just wasn't possible to create an audience reaction with the sound of a bolt coming loose, but nowadays the audience reacts to it just as the crew on the U 96 did.“

As a basis for the modernisation of the soundtrack, over 400 original cassettes were used. Working with these recordings provided the technicians with a freedom they had never previously had to realise the technical modernisation of the compositions. However, before this, the sound engineers still had to solve a gigantic problem: During the storage period at the Bavaria Studios in Munich, the cassettes had become damp and nearly disintegrated. After long discussions with several experts from Bavaria Studios and the cassette manufacturer BASF, they realised that there was only a single avenue left open: To digitise the original tone. They proceeded to dry the tapes at 10°C for 24 hours. This unusual procedure worked, and the sound engineers were able begin their work.

One of the biggest changes was achieved by transferring the original 4-track tapes onto 8-track tapes. This enabled the frequency spectrum to be substantially extended. Now explosions sounded more real, and water leaking in even more frightening. Sound editor Michael Keller explains the technical background: "Surround-sound loudspeakers generate the illusion that a mass of water is pouring down onto the audience from all sides. Aeroplanes seem to fly up from the rear, and the whole background noise moves the audience out of the auditorium and into the situation of being enclosed in a submarine.“ New sound effects were added, for example, noises from a washbasin, or the noise which an exploding tank makes. Every single space in the submarine was provided with its own acoustic characteristic. "The original dialogue was recorded in a studio. The typical sound that occurs within a metal container was therefore absent. Today's technical possibilities have allowed to us to insert this specific background noise afterwards”, explained Keller.

In addition, the original tone could be changed at many places in such a way that they now precisely corresponded to Petersen's original concept. Sound designer Wylie Stateman explains this: "Wolfgang wanted to contrast moments of absolute silence with scenes in which the noise suddenly explodes. The big advantage of digital technology is that the impression of a sound is substantially strengthened – quiet sounds are more urgent and accordingly, more dynamic.“

After the dialogue had been digitised, it had to be completely re-edited. With the help of extremely efficient computers, they succeeded in merging the old with the new. Finally, Klaus Doldinger merged his wonderful soundtrack into this digital procedure so that the restored DAS BOOT version was finally finished after a whole year of intensive work.