By Andy Duncan, Vice-Chairman of Mises UK
Review of the New ‘Das Boot’ TV Series, Episode 1, ‘Neue Wege’:
[Spoilers ahead, you have been warned.]
If Karl Marx knew what he was doing, when he unleashed the twentieth century upon us from his venomous seat in the British Library, an avowed century of socialism and mass death, then he truly existed as both a servant of the Devil and as a master of evil.
Unfortunately, we will never know. But what we do know, is that he gave us both international socialism in Russia and national socialism in Germany.
This truth reflected itself perfectly in the original movie, ‘Das Boot’, in which the fabulous Jürgen Prochnow gave us the definitive performance of his and many other lifetimes, as a man torn between duty, honour, and purity, combined with annihilative destruction, a cornucopia of depth charge bombs, and ultimately his own death.
So what to make of this new television sequel to the original 1981 movie?
Well, first of all it proved an absolute relief that despite being financed by Sky television, they shot it in a mixture of mostly German, some French, and a little English.
If they’d shot it entirely in English, it would have immediately plasticised it inside a sheath of ersatz Hollwoodisation, and I might have turned it off immediately. I’m far from claiming to be a fluent German speaker, but to pick up the odd word, the odd phrase, or even the odd part where I could feel whole sentences and whole interactions as if I was actually German – not even actually translating into English – was subliminally excellent.
There was something, some emotional undercurrent, a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that unfortunately got lost at sea.
It lacked the intensity of the original, the grittiness, and dare I say it, the humanity. For instance, too many of the men seemed just too good looking. Their cheekbones were too cutting. Their muscles were too well honed. Men just didn’t have bodies like this in the 1940s. Yes, they were fit. Yes, they were strong. In many ways, indeed, in almost all ways, they were more like proper men and far tougher than our own powder-puff me-too generation. But they weren’t a collection of modern underwear models and body building fanatics.
Take a look at the original. In that, the men are greasy, paunchy, and with bad skin. In a word, they were real. In this televised sequel, it seemed just too clichéd, too predictable, and too polished, with the grimy war-torn 1940s portrayed through a cleaned-up lens.
Fortunately, and forgive me for this foible, the whole thing was saved by Fraulein Simone Strasser. If I do tune in again next week, it will be down entirely to Fraulein Strasser, the new love of my life. But more of her, perhaps, later.
The opening felt good. It was almost as if it they’d re-used a cut scene from the original. They even borrowed a few of the same shots. But then they spoiled it with some random Americans. They could’ve used some British sailors, with some earthy northern accents, to temper the fray, but in a nod to selling this into America, I suppose they felt compelled to make use of some G.I. Joes.
Forgivable, I suppose, because business is business, but for me it quite spoiled the whole mood.
I’ll try to keep the plot talk to a minimum, so you can enjoy this for yourself when you watch it, but they did create some good scenes, perhaps enough to save it beyond even the wonderful help of Fraulein Strasser.
However, the gratuitous nudity – Game of Thrones style – seemed incongruous and unnecessary, and I could’ve done without a particularly gruesome and sweaty sex scene in the bordello. That might have just sold it to a few of you, alas, though I shall leave that to you and your own conscience! 😅
The director did shoot some good scenes, one of the them particularly reminiscent of a similar scene in Schindler’s List. The tempered use of the original music also blended into the action well, as both a necessary and brilliantly understated filmic component.
However, the main problem pivoted around the new Captain, the supposed fulcrum of the entire series. I hope he grows his character in the next few weeks, but in this episode he came across as stiff, taciturn, and without too much in the way of likability. Whereas Prochnow’s captain had obviously earned the respect and devotion of his own dedicated band of brothers, this new man in charge – whose name absolutely escapes me, which is possibly a clue – completely lacked any charisma whatsoever. Would you go to sea and die for this man? Only if you pointed a Luger at my head and handed me a bottle of particularly fine Scottish whisky.
I’ll avoid saying too much more, except to say that I will tune in to the second episode. It generated enough watchability for that. Though in these days of ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Man in a High Castle’, I simply think a television series ought to achieve more. Yes, it must have proved an incredibly tough ask to follow the original movie and that amazing first twenty minutes, as especially enlivened by the amazing Kapitän-Leutnant Philipp Thomsen, but I was just ever so slightly disappointed.
But let us avoid casting too many aspersions. I do think they did just about a good enough job to gain my high-time preference attention, next time around. And let’s face it, this could’ve been an absolute car crash, with English actors, Indiana Jones style ‘Nazis’, or even too close a devotion to the original movie.
My rating? Well, I’ll give it seven stars out of ten. It did an adequate job at entertaining me, but failed to blow me away.
Except of course, for Fraulein Simone Strasser, as played by the fine Luxembourgish actress Vicky Krieps. She’s far from being a stunning femme fatale, but if I ever got locked in a U-Boat with a person of the opposite gender, assuming there are still only two, I would fail to complain if it was her.
We would listen to gramophone records together and speak about poetry and Goethe. What an evening that would be, before I kissed her hand and bid her goodnight, as a true Edelweiss in a storm of civilisational horror.
Yes, this show should really be about a fight to the death between U-Boat captains and Royal Navy captains. But I’ll forgive them if we do spend just a little more time in La Rochelle with this particular sub-plot mademoiselle d’amour.