Wolfgang Petersen, the acclaimed German filmmaker behind such blockbusters as “Das Boot” and “In the Line of Fire,” died at 81.
Petersen was best known for his work in the action and thriller genres, and his films were often set in wartime or other high-stakes situations. He was a master of suspense, and his films were noted for their tight plotting and expert craftsmanship.
Petersen’s “Das Boot” is considered one of the greatest war films ever made, and it won him the Best Director prize at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. His other notable films include “The NeverEnding Story,” “Enemy Mine,” and “Out of Africa.”
Petersen was a visionary filmmaker, and his death is a tremendous loss to the film world.
Petersen, hailing from the north German city of Emden, directed two features before his 1982 breakthrough, “Das Boot.” It was the most expensive movie in German cinematic history at the time.
The 149-minute film (the original cut ran 210 minutes) documented 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.
Petersen, born in 1941, grew up near the American ships that would give food to German children. In the postwar era, Petersen was pulled to Hollywood films that depicted straightforward battles between good and evil. John Ford’s films were a significant influence on Petersen.
Growing up, Petersen never learned about the time of Hitler in school– it was as if the teachers and students just tried to forget that it ever happened. All they ever talked about was rebuilding Germany. But Petersen and other kids his age were looking for something more. They wanted something exciting and glamorous, like what they saw in American pop culture. American movies were a big hit in Germany, and by the time Petersen was 11 years old, he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker.
“Petersen’s film debut, “Das Boot,” propelled him to Hollywood stardom, where he became one of the industry’s leading directors of action-packed adventure films set in a variety of settings, including war (e.g. 2004’s “Troy,” starring Brad Pitt), pandemic (e.g. 1995’s “Outbreak,” inspired by the ebola virus), and other ocean-based disasters (e.g. 2000’s “The Perfect Storm” and 2006’s “Poseidon,” a remake of the classic “The Poseidon Adventure” about the capsizing of an ocean liner).”