Saturday, August 19, 2017

FINAL: #1 Das Boot vs. #2 Run Silent


                We have finally reached the end of the tournament.  I have to admit it was not a thrilling one.  There were a few minor upsets, but nothing shocking.  In the end, the two movies that critics consider the best of the subgenre ended up in the finals.   That was fairly predictable, especially for “Das Boot”.  Although suspense was missing, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit this subgenre and pass on some information about the various movies that comprise it.  It is a subgenre that was once a thriving one and occasionally returns as a branch of the action genre.  In my process of preparing for the tournament, I learned a lot about the history of WWII submarine warfare.  It is fascinating to me and it was interesting to see how submarine movies pass on that history.  Unfortunately, knowledge of how submarines fought makes enjoyment of the movies problematical.  Submarine movies exist mainly because movie makers see the potential for drama in a confined space.  They usually are not concerned with tactical or historical accuracy.  This means that what makes them entertaining for the masses makes them less so for history buffs like me.  As you can perceive by following the tournament, I do not think there are very many good submarine movies.  However, the tournament did give some recognition to some forgotten gems like “Above Us the Waves”, “We Dive at Dawn”, and “Hell and High Water”.  Although there is only one great movie in the subgenre, there are some other must-sees. 

PLOT:  Boot =  A     Run  =  C                                      
ACTING:  Boot  =  A+     Run  =  A                                                
TACTICS:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  F       
CLICHES:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  D       
DIALOGUE:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  B   
ACTION:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  B            
SPECIAL EFFECTS:  Boot  =  C       Run  =  B     
ACCURACY:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  C
CHARACTERS:  Boot  =  A       Run  =  B  
REALISM:  Boot  =  A+      Run  =  D                                               
SAILOR BEHAVIOR:  Boot  =  A+       Run  =  C                                       ENTERTAINMENT:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  B                                             

DAS BOOT  =  102

ANALYSIS:  No one should be surprised by the winner of the tournament.  “Das Boot” is an acclaimed movie that created quite a stir when it came out in 1981.  It is an adaptation of one of the best submarine novels and it was in the hands of a great director (Wolfgang Petersen) who was obsessed with the quality of the production.  The effort that went into the film was amazing and it shows.  The production costs were very high.  Petersen assembled an ace cast and one hell of a great cinematographer (Jost Vacano).  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards including Director and Adapted Screenplay.  It still holds the record for most nominations for a German film.  It has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Most importantly, as far as war movie buffs are concerned, it avoided the clichés that make the subgenre so tiresome.  It also avoided the requirements of the action genre.  Even though it came late in the subgenre, it is a unique film.

                “Run Silent, Run Deep” should have been a worthy opponent.  It is also based on a great novel, but in this case the adaptation was poor.  It does have a decent cast and certainly star power with Gable and Lancaster.  However, the director (Robert Wise) was not sterling.  The big problem with the film is that in making the movie entertaining for the average viewer, it insults war movie lovers.  Not played for laughs, it still provides them if you know submarine warfare.  It is noteworthy that in spite of its flaws, it made it to the finals.  This speaks volumes for the weakness of the subgenre.

                Thank you to everyone who followed the tournament.  I am self-motivated, but it is still nice to know someone is following.  Now I have one year to ponder what the next tournament will be.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

#1 Das Boot vs. #4 Crimson Tide


CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT:  “Das Boot” is outstanding in this category.  The Captain is enigmatic, but we know why he is cynical and jaded.  He is a veteran of numerous patrols.  Each of the officers is distinct.  They are recognizable archetypes - the fanatical Nazi, the naïve rookie, the well-respected chief engineer, the frat boy Second Watch Officer, etc.  Since it’s a long patrol fraught with boredom broken by intense stress, there is time and opportunity to develop even some of the minor characters.  When the camera pans over the dead at the end, you know these men.  GRADE  =  A

“Crimson Tide” is dominated by Capt. Ramsey and Lt. Commander Hunter.  It is clear through dialogue where each man is coming from.  They are stereotypes, but in the hands of Hackman and Washington, you don’t mind it.  Ramsey is given a dog (which the Navy was not happy about) as part of his character.  Hunter jogs on the sub.  (Try that, u-boat captain!)  Some of the officers get a little development and some of them are interesting, like the Chief of the Boat who idolizes Ramsey but sides with Hunter.  This contrasts with Weps (Viggo Mortensen) who is Hunter’s best friend and yet inexplicably joins the Ramsey faction.  There is virtually no crew development except we know two of them are big Silver Surfer fans.  GRADE  =  C+

                                             Crimson Tide  =  7

REALISM:  No sub movie comes close to “Das Boot” when it comes to realism.  If you want to know what life was like on a German u-boat in particular and any WWII submarine in general, it is a must-see.  There is not a lot of action, which is appropriate for a typical patrol.  Most people do not realize that most subs returned home with torpedoes unfired.  It is the only sub movie that depicts the role mother nature plays in submarine warfare.  It is the gold standard in showing the effects of life in a cramped setting aggravated by lack of success.  The movie leads off with a title card that points out that the u-boat service had a 75% casualty rate and then proceeds to show you why.  GRADE  =  A+

“Crimson Tide” is based on a far-fetched scenario.  Considering the situation in the former Soviet Union when the movie was made, it is plausible that nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands.  However, the U.S. government responding with a preemptive strike goes against established doctrine.  It is also highly unlikely a mutiny as depicted in the movie would take place in the modern U.S. Navy. (The Navy absolutely refused to cooperate with the film.  It did cooperate with “Hunt for Red October”.)  The turmoil that takes place on board the Alabama is classic cinematic license and must be taken with a grain of salt.  GRADE  =  C

HALFTIME SCORE:  Das Boot  =  19
                                   Crimson Tide  =  13

SAILOR BEHAVIOR:  “Das Boot” does an outstanding job in depicting submariner behavior on a u-boat.  The men go through a lot and all of their reactions are genuine.  Other than Bengsch, no one is a hard-core Nazi.  This accurately reflects the make-up of the u-boat service.  These are young men who volunteered for a very dangerous, yet at times exhilarating job.  They run the gamut of emotions appropriate to the various stresses they encounter.  The movie is particularly adept at rendering the crude nature of sailor interaction.  This is the only sub movie that shows someone flicking boogers on a mate.  GRADE  =  A+

“Crimson Tide” requires the officers on a US nuclear sub to divide into two factions to battle for control of the sub.  It is no wonder the Navy refused to cooperate with the movie.   A captain and his exec yelling at each other in front of the crew?  Highly unlikely.  Two groups pointing guns at each other?  Only Hollywood could conjure up such foolishness.  The submarine service has the historical reputation of being a bit lax in discipline, but this movie takes that to an extreme.  As far as exhibiting submariner behavior, the movie concentrates on the officers so we get almost know crew behavior.  They don’t even discuss dames.

                                              Crimson Tide  =  18

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:  Although any submarine movie fan will find “Das Boot” mesmerizing, it was not designed to entertain the masses.  It avoids most of the clichés that most sub movies rely on to gin up excitement.  Just like the voyage, there are long stretches where nothing much happens.  The tedium of u-boat life is painstakingly recreated.  If you love great acting in confined spaces, this is the movie for you.  It is far from an action picture, but when it does get hinky it is pulse-pounding.  GRADE  =  B

“Red October” was probably created in a lab where scientists put together all the ingredients that please 18-45 year-old males.  Alpha males, turf warfare, sub duel, clock ticking to an explosion, etc.  And this is all done with a straight face and with no shame.  It is well crafted and if this is what a modern sub movie will have to be like to be made in the modern cinematic universe, so be it.  Better this than an embarrassing throwback like “U-571”.  GRADE  =  A

FINAL SCORE:  Das Boot  =  37
                           Crimson Tide  =  27

ANALYSIS:  “Das Boot” (1981) and “Crimson Tide” (1995) are part of the fourth wave of sub movies.  The first was the rare movie made between the world wars, the second were the ones made during WWII, the third was the fertile 1950s period, and then we have the modern ones that basically began with “Das Boot”.  “Crimson Tide” is a better example of the modern sub film.  It and “The Hunt for Red October” have taken the sub film into the action genre.  Better to be there than nowhere at all, I suppose.  The cramped environment does lend itself to drama.  And with CGI you can even make a sub chase film!  “Das Boot” is the best sub movie ever made because it bridges the third and fourth wave adroitly. It keeps some of the clichés from the third wave and adds technical proficiency.  Some of its tropes are well-worn, but it manages to do them better than ever before.  No surprise it took a foreign film to accomplish this.  No American studio would have greenlit this movie.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017



#2  Run Silent, Run Deep  vs.  #3  Hunt for Red October

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT:   “Run Silent, Run Deep” is in many ways a two man show.  It has the classic command dysfunction dynamic we see in several sub movies.  It set the template for that.  Richardson and Bledsoe are well developed.  In fact, Richardson is perhaps too well developed as he comes off as insane with his obsession with Bungo Pete.  The movie includes a scene where he is desk-bound but continually war gaming revenge against his Japanese nemesis.    Bledsoe is clearly upset that he is not promoted to command the Nerka and justifiably so.  The movie also develops two crew members.  Mueller (Jack Warren) is Richardson’s toadie and Cartwright (Brad Dexter) is the boat’s blowhard.  There is little development of the enlisted men.    GRADE  =  B

“The Hunt for Red October” revolves around two men also.  CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) gets a back-story of being a family man.  We know he is an intellectual and a neophyte when it comes to international crises.  Soviet skipper Ramius (Sean Connery) is a bit more enigmatic.  The movie is unclear as to his motivations.  It floats the idea that he is upset with his wife’s death.  He is obviously very highly respected, but it is unclear why his officers have decided to risk execution for him.  The script does an excellent job developing the sonar operator Jones (Courtney Vance) and there are several other memorable characters.  GRADE  =  B

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Run Silent  =  8
                                             Red October  =  8

REALISM:  The biggest flaw in “Run Silent” is its lack of realism.  This starts with the opening scene.  Richardson’s boat is sunk and the next thing we see is he is in a lifeboat.  Where did the lifeboat come from?  He is given a desk job and (with apparently no psychological review) a new boat over the obviously more qualified Bledsoe.  Then the Navy tells this Ahab not to go after Bungo Pete!  His whole tactic of working for a bow shot on a destroyer is ridiculous.  The crew’s chicken reaction to being sent to a dangerous patrol area is demeaning.  Richardson’s death and burial at sea is just bizarre.  One the plus side, the firing procedures are well done.  It’s a movie that can be picked apart if you want.  GRADE  =  D

“Red October” tries to be realistic within the parameters of an action thriller that is totally fictional.  However, if you are going to make a crowd-pleasing blockbuster set on a submarine, logic will have to take a back seat.  The whole defection scenario would be unbelievable if set in the US Navy, much less the Soviet Navy.  The sub chasing and cat-and-mouse elements are brain cell reducing.  A lowly CIA analyst becoming an action hero could only happen in Hollywood.  And the big finish is rousing, but laughable.  GRADE  =  D

HALFTIME SCORE:  Run Silent  =  13
                                   Red October  =  13

SAILOR BEHAVIOR:  My big problem with the behavior of the crew in “Run Silent” is their reaction to word that they are being sent to Area 7.  They are uniformly upset about the news.  It seems to me that at this stage of the war they would at least pretend to be tough guys.  When Richardson declines to attack a convoy, there are rumblings of discontent which change to hero-worship when he sinks a destroyer.  Later, they are happy when the sub is going to return to Pearl Harbor with almost a full load of torpedoes.  This makes little sense.  The decision of Bledsoe, supported by the other officers, to depose Richardson is believable given the situation posited by the plot.  GRADE  =  C

“Red October” is very shaky when it comes to the behavior of the Soviet officers.  It defies reason that they would all (aside from the doctor and the political officer) go along with Ramius’ suicidal plan.  The movie has little time for the crews of either sub.  Jones is the only enlisted on the Dallas that gets any significant screen time, but he does represent the modern Navy’s recruitment of the video game generation.  GRADE  =  C

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Run Silent  =  19
                                              Red October  =  19

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:   “Run Silent” has two superstars going head-to-head.  This is almost enough to overcome the numerous clichés and ridiculous plot twists.  For the time it was released, it was crackerjack entertainment, but it does not hold up very well when compared to the entire subgenre.  A modern remake would fit in well in our current movie mentality since we now expect the kitchen sink approach to plotting.  You get the clash of alpha types, the mutiny, and several combat scenes for your viewing pleasure.  Unless you are a stickler for logic, it’s entertaining.  GRADE  =  B

“Red October” is based on a best-seller and has an all-star cast.  It is just as implausible as “Run Silent”, but not as laughably so.  It is more edge of your seat than the earlier film.  The hopping between various locales keeps things moving at a rapid clip.  It manages to aid chase elements to a thriller plot.  Unfortunately, in its attempt at a big finish, it ends with a preposterous sub on sub on sub encounter that exemplifies the worst of the modern Hollywood action pictures.  GRADE  =  B

FINAL SCORE:  Run Silent  =  27
                           Red October  =  27

ANALYSIS:  “Run Silent” is a classic and was appropriately seeded at #2.  Most would say it is second only to “Das Boot” in the canon of submarine warfare movies. But clear-eyed analysis can’t help but reveal that it has significant flaws.  If it would have been made with any other actors in the lead roles, its reputation would be much lower.  it is also helped by its attachment to the most famous submarine novel.  However, it is not an accurate rendering of Beach’s book.  “Red October” is modern updating of the submarine film.  Hollywood’s attempt to revive the sub film within the action movie genre was successful.  It has possibly the best cast of any sub movie and all the bells and whistles you can get with modern cinematic technology and a huge budget.  Both movies are a product of their times and reflect what was expected in a sub movie from its era.  I personally think neither is a very good movie.  Since we ended with a tie, I am going to advance “Run Silent” because it is more of a traditional sub movie.

Monday, August 14, 2017

#1 Das Boot vs. #9 Above Us the Waves


DIALOGUE:  “Das Boot” has a good mixture of dialogue and action.  The dialogue is divided between the officers and the crew.  The officers are a heterogeneous lot and their conversations offer a variety of takes.  The captain in particular offers a cynical, war-weary view of the war.  When he observes the men carousing before they go on patrol, he says:  “Scared f***ers.  They need sex as much as the infantry needs alcohol.”  He is not a man of many words, however.  His facial expressions do his talking for him.  The sailor banter is crude as you would expect.  GRADE  =  B

There is nothing special about the dialogue in “Above Us the Waves”.  It’s a very British movie so the dialogue is sparse.  There are no speeches and little exposition.  There is some humor of the British ilk.  Very dry.  GRADE  =  C

                                             Above Us the Waves  =  6

SPECIAL EFFECTS:  “Das Boot” is not famous because of it special effects.  There is little undersea footage.  The depth charge scenes eschew the descending cans imagery.  The explosions themselves are well-done and the effects on the sub interior are the best of any sub movie.  The sound effects are also the acme.  The effects for the burning tanker are awesome and there is a bomb laden final scene that saved the best pyrotechnics for last.  GRADE  =  B

“Above Us the Waves” has some fine underwater camerawork.  It was obviously done in a pool in daylight, but I am fine with that considering when it was made and for how much.  These shots include a sequence that includes the cutting of a submarine net, going under a torpedo net, and then placing some limpet mines on the hull of a ship.  However, the scene where one of the subs gets trapped under the Tirpitz is underwhelming.   GRADE  =  C+

HALFTIME SCORE:  Das Boot  =  16
                                   Above Us the Waves  =  13

ACTION:   One of the things that makes “Das Boot” so realistic is that it is not nonstop action.  There are long stretches where the sub sees no action.  It is frustrating for them, but not for us.  The reaction of the officers and crew are fascinating.  The action we get is pretty much confined to depth chargings and the efforts of the crew dealing with the damages from them.  GRADE  =  C

 “Above Us the Waves” is light on action.  It’s more of a claustrophobic thriller. It’s as slow moving as the mini-subs.  But no one advertised it as an adrenalin rush.  It does build well to the attack on the Tirpitz.  GRADE  =  C

                                              Above Us the Waves  =  19

ACCURACY:  It is hard to judge the accuracy of “Das Boot” because it is based on a novel that is based on an actual u-boat patrol.  The movie is more realistic than accurate.  It gets the details and vibe right.  The attitudes and behavior of the submariners are authentic.  It lays the frustration and cynicism on a bit thick considering this was not the low moment in the war for the u-boats.  There was an actual u-boat and the book author is represented by the naval correspondent Werner.  However, the actual U-96 did not experience the incidents covered in the movie.  Since it does not claim to be a true story, I am going to grade it mainly on its accuracy in depicting life on a u-boat.  GRADE  =  B

“Above Us the Waves” is based on Operation Source which was the attempt by Royal Navy mini-subs to sink the German battleship Tirpitz at its anchorage in Norway.  It also covers the original plan which was to try to use Chariot manned torpedoes to attach mines.  That mission failed as depicted in the film.  The action by the X-craft is pretty close to what happened.  One of the subs was lost mysteriously, probably to fire from the Tirpitz.  The other two placed their side cargoes under the warship and two of them exploded causing significant damage that put it out of action for six months.  The two successful craft tried to escape, but were taken under fire and had to surrender.  Six men were captured and two were lost.  GRADE  =  A

FINAL SCORE:  Das Boot  =  30
                           Above Us the Waves =  28 

ANALYSIS:   “Above Us the Waves” is not a traditional sub movie.  It might not have made the tournament if I could have found another movie where a torpedo was fired.  I’m glad I did this tournament because I might not have run across this little gem.  And it is admirably accurate in dramatizing an operation that I had not been familiar with.  Still, it’s hard to pit it against possibly the most acclaimed sub movie.  The categories this round did not really play into the strengths of “Das Boot”.  It is no doubt the better of the two movies so it deserves to move on.