Jürgen Prochnow

The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

For almost fifty percent of its run time, every shot one of Michael Mann and Alex Thomson’s shots in The Keep is extraordinary. Mann’s seems more concerned with precise composition than he does narrative and Thomson’s photography perfectly complements it. So, while the film isn’t much good in its first half, at least it’s wondrous to watch.

Then there’s the second half, after Ian McKellen (as a sickly historian) and Alberta Watson (as his daughter) show up. Maybe The Keep is supposed to be a metaphor for Watson losing her virginity and abandonment and loss or something, but it’s not. It’s a complete mess and a soap opera between Watson and Scott Glenn (as a savior figure) doesn’t help simplify it. Worse, their romance–and McKellen’s decision to, as a Jew, to side with a demonic evil against the Nazis–confuses the things Mann’s able to do right in The Keep.

Except the German army is about all Mann does right. He’s ripping off Das Boot–with Jürgen Prochnow as the sympathetic Wehrmacht commander who doesn’t care for the Nazi stuff. It’s a decent enough rip-off and not uninteresting (Nazis versus demons). Gabriel Byrne shows up as the S.S. guy and bickers with Prochnow before they both disappear so Mann can focus on McKellen.

Prochnow’s okay, Byrne’s great, McKellen’s awful, Watson’s weak, Glenn’s unintentionally hilarious. Mann’s dialogue and plotting is terrible. There’s nothing good about the film except the special effects and Thomson’s photography.

At least it’s relatively short.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; produced by Gene Kirkwood and Hawk Koch; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Scott Glenn (Glaeken Trismegestus), Alberta Watson (Eva Cuza), Jürgen Prochnow (Captain Klaus Woermann), Robert Prosky (Father Mihail Fonescu), Gabriel Byrne (Major Kaempffer), William Morgan Sheppard (Alexandru) and Ian McKellen (Dr. Theodore Cuza).


The Fourth War (1990, John Frankenheimer)

With all the monologues–there aren’t any conversations, just one character talking while another listens–in The Fourth War, it feels like an adaptation of a play. It’s not. It’s based on a novel, which must be a brief read since War is plodding at ninety minutes. Given Frankenheimer got his start in television–adapting plays–one might think he’d notice treating War like a play would produce a better result.

He does not.

He also doesn’t realize Roy Scheider is a lot more interesting a devolving lunatic than as a misunderstood American hero. Harry Dean Stanton–who gives the film’s best performance as Scheider’s commanding officer–occasionally has voiceovers explaining and qualifying Scheider’s actions. It’s a terrible move, especially since the film later turns Scheider’s adversary–an atrocious Jürgen Prochnow–into a stereotypical evil commie.

Scheider similarly suffers. He’s good when he’s unlikable, but it’s Roy Scheider, half his onscreen persona is being likable. Once Lara Harris enters as the girl he needs to help, War falls even further to pieces. Harris isn’t bad, but it’s like she got the job to fool audiences watching the trailer into believing Isabella Rossellini is in the picture.

Tim Reid shows up–occasionally–as Scheider’s second-in-command. His lack of screen time, and Frankenheimer’s reliance on summary storytelling for really simple scenes, makes one wonder if War ran out of money during filming and the script got hacked down.

But in Frankenheimer’s tired hands, the film wouldn’t have been better longer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross, based on the novel by Peters; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Robert F. Shugrue; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Alan Manzer; produced by Wolf Schmidt; released by New Age Releasing.

Starring Roy Scheider (Col. Jack Knowles), Jürgen Prochnow (Col. Valachev), Tim Reid (Lt. Col. Clark), Lara Harris (Elena), Harry Dean Stanton (Gen. Hackworth), Dale Dye (Sergeant Major) and William MacDonald (MP Corporal).


Wing Commander (1999, Chris Roberts)

Watching Freddie Prinze Jr. court Saffron Burrows feels like some kind of archaic punishment. It’s the filmic equivalent of the rack.

Thankfully, not all of Wing Commander concentrates on the courtship, which might very well be the anti-Christ of screen romances–trying to decide if it’s Prinze or Burrows who gives a worse performance (Prinze through his abject incompetence in the acting profession and Burrows through her ludicrous posturing) can occupy a lot of the viewer’s time.

There isn’t really anything else to do during Wing Commander once Ginny Holder dies. She and Matthew Lillard are fantastic together and then she dies and then it gets worse. Sure, it’s always bad, but at least she and Lillard have this wonderful romance going; even with the film’s present action running something like sixteen hours, the two of them make it work.

Director Roberts created the source video game (I think) and directed the live action sequences for some of the video game sequels and that excellent experience shows. Though he does seem to understand how to construct a basic battle scene (the film owes a lot to World War II films, both submarine and air force ones), he can’t direct actors. With Lillard, it’s fine. With almost everyone else, it’s a disaster. Besides Lillard and Holder, the best performances are bit ones from Hugh Quarshie and Simon MacCorkindale. David Suchet looks embarrassed if not humiliated and Jürgen Prochnow has certainly seen better days.

It’s hard to believe it opened theatrically.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Roberts; screenplay by Kevin Droney, based on his story and the video game created by Roberts; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Peter Davies; music by Kevin Kiner and David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Todd Moyer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Freddie Prinze Jr. (1st Lt. Blair), Saffron Burrows (Lt. Cmdr. Devereaux), Matthew Lillard (Lt. Marshall), Tchéky Karyo (Taggart), David Suchet (Capt. Sansky), Jürgen Prochnow (Cmdr. Gerald), David Warner (Adm. Tolwyn), Ginny Holder (Lt. Forbes), Hugh Quarshie (Obutu) and Simon MacCorkindale as the flight boss.


Das Boot (1981, Wolfgang Petersen), the uncut version

Das Boot probably has–of serious films–the most number of alternate cuts released. Besides the two and a half hour theatrical version, there was a three and a half hour director’s cut (which I saw theatrically, so I suppose I only saw the original version on VHS), and finally, now, there’s the five hour “uncut version,” which is actually just the original German miniseries. Das Boot‘s such an immersive experience, whether two and a half or four and a half, the added footage isn’t particularly perceptible. When the film started, there were a few things I noticed new, but I stopped bothering to look after the first fifteen minutes. For such a long film, it moves really fast. Quite a bit happens and the viewer is expected to keep track of a large number of characters (one of the visible changes in the longest version is the attention paid to the supporting cast).

Starting Das Boot–maybe even from the opening shot–I remembered it was an excellent film, excellent to an almost mythical degree. I’d forgotten, taken it for granted maybe. The first fifteen minutes, establishing the primary characters at an officer’s party, I also realized something tragic happened to Wolfgang Petersen. He went from making Das Boot to some of the most unwatchable–without music video editing–mainstream films of the 1990s and, presumably (since I certainly don’t see them anymore), 2000s. Fortunately, Das Boot‘s so good, I didn’t dwell for long.

Much of the film’s success is Jürgen Prochnow as the captain. There are some other excellent performances, like Otto Sander’s cameo at the beginning, and Klaus Wennemann as the chief engineer and Martin Semmelrogge as the comedy relief. The entire cast is good, but it all revolves around Prochnow and he has to be good, because it’s five hours. Even if it’s two and a half hours, not a lot happens. Das Boot chronicles the minutiae, not just of boring days at sea or of battle scenes, but also of being bored at sea. Not much else is quite as immersive.

I haven’t seen Das Boot in about nine years, since the director’s cut came out on laserdisc. I always waited for DVD, because the SuperBit version of it was supposed to be better than the regular disc (then I guess wasn’t), but finally the miniseries version came out… and I took a couple years to watch it. I’m hoping next time I won’t wait so long again.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Petersen, based on a novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Hannes Nikel; music by Klaus Doldinger; produced by Gunter Rohrbach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jurgen Prochnow (Captain), Herbert Gronemeyer (Lieutenant Werner-Correspondent), Klaus Wennemann (Chief Engineer), Hubertus Bengsch (First Lieutenant-No. 1), Martin Semmelrogge (Second Lieutenant), Bernd Tauber (Chief Quartermaster), Erwin Leder (Johann), Martin May (Ullmann), Heinz Honig (Hinrich), U.A. Ochsen (Chief Bosun), Claude-Oliver Rudolph (Ario), Jan Fedder (Pilgrim), Ralph Richter (Frenssen), Joachim Bernhard (Preacher), Oliver Stritzel (Schwalle), Konrad Becker (Bockstiegel), Lutz Schnell (Dufte) and Martin Hemme (Bruckenwilli).


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