Das Boot, In the Line of Fire Director Dies

German director Wolfgang Petersen's other hits included The Neverending Story
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 16, 2022 8:36 PM CDT
Das Boot , Neverending Story Director Dead at 81
Brad Pitt and German director Wolfgang Petersen appear at the world premiere of the film "Troy" in Berlin, Germany, on May 9, 2004.   (AP Photo/Jan Bauer, File)

(Newser) – Wolfgang Petersen, the German filmmaker whose World War II submarine epic Das Boot propelled him into a blockbuster Hollywood career that included the films In the Line of Fire, Air Force One, and The Perfect Storm, has died. He was 81. Petersen died Friday at his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood after a battle with pancreatic cancer, said representative Michelle Bega. Petersen, born in the north German port city of Emden, made two features before his 1982 breakthrough, Das Boot, then the most expensive movie in German film history. The 149-minute film (the original cut ran 210 minutes) chronicled the intense claustrophobia of life aboard a doomed German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic, with Jürgen Prochnow as the submarine’s commander.

Heralded as an antiwar masterpiece, Das Boot was nominated for six Oscars, including for Petersen's direction and his adaptation of Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s best-selling 1973 novel. Petersen, born in 1941, recalled as a child running alongside American ships as they threw down food. In the confusion of postwar Germany, Petersen gravitated toward Hollywood films with clear clashes of good and evil, the AP reports. John Ford was a major influence. "In school they never talked about the time of Hitler—they just blocked it out of their minds and concentrated on rebuilding Germany," Petersen told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.

"We kids were looking for more glamorous dreams than rebuilding a destroyed country though, so we were really ready for it when American pop culture came to Germany. We all lived for American movies, and by the time I was 11 I’d decided I wanted to be a filmmaker." Das Boot launched Petersen as a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he became one of the top makers of cataclysmic action adventures in films spanning war (2004's Troy, with Brad Pitt), pandemic (the 1995 Ebola-inspired Outbreak) and other ocean-set disasters (2000's The Perfect Storm and 2006's Poseidon, a remake of The Poseidon Adventure, about the capsizing of an ocean liner.)

But Petersen’s first foray in American moviemaking was child fantasy: the enchanting 1984 film The NeverEnding Story. Arguably Petersen’s finest Hollywood film came almost a decade later in 1993’s In the Line of Fire, starring Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent protecting the president of the United States from John Malkovich’s assassin. It was a major hit, grossing $177 million worldwide and landing three Oscar nominations. Petersen returned to the presidency in 1997's Air Force One, starring Harrison Ford as a president forced into a fight with terrorists who hijack the presidential aircraft. (Read more film director stories.)

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