Wolfgang Petersen, blockbuster filmmaker of ‘Das Boot,’ dies

Aug 16, 2022, 12:52 PM | Updated: Aug 17, 2022, 7:55 pm
FILE - German film director Wolfgang Petersen speaks during a press conference promoting his latest...

FILE - German film director Wolfgang Petersen speaks during a press conference promoting his latest film "Poseidon," a remake of the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure," in Tokyo, on April 19, 2006. Petersen, the German filmmaker whose WWII submarine epic “Das Boot” propelled him into a blockbuster Hollywood career, died Friday at his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 81. (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara, File)

(AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 — who started out in theater before attending Berlin’s Film and Television Academy in the late 1960s — gravitated toward Hollywood films with clear clashes of good and evil. 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 ebolavirus-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.” Adapted from Michael Ende’s novel, “The NeverEnding Story” was about a magical book that transports its young reader into the world of Fantasia, where a dark force known as the Nothing rampages.

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. In it, Petersen marshalled his substantial skill in building suspense for a more open-air but just as taut thriller that careened across rooftops and past Washington D.C. monuments.

Seeking a director for the film, Eastwood thought of Petersen, with whom he had chatted a few years earlier at a dinner party given by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Eastwood met with Petersen, checked out his work and gave him the job. “In the Line of Fire” was a major hit, grossing $177 million worldwide and landing three Oscar nominations.

“You sometimes have seven-year cycles. You look at other directors; they don’t have the big successes all the time. Up to ‘NeverEnding Story,’ my career was one success after another,” Petersen told The Associated Press in 1993. “Then I came into the stormy international scene. I needed time to get a feeling for this work — it’s not Germany anymore.”

Petersen considered the political thriller — which cast the heroic Eastwood as the tired but devoted defender of a less honorable president — an indictment of Washington.

“When John’s character says, ‘Nothing they told me was true and there’s nothing left worth fighting for,’ I think his words will resonate for many people,” Petersen told The Los Angeles Times. “The film is rooted in a profound pessimism about what’s unfortunately happened to this country in the last 30 years. Look around — the corruption is everywhere, and there’s not much to celebrate.”

After “Outbreak,” with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman, Petersen returned to the presidency in 1997’s “Air Force One.” Harrison Ford starred as a president forced into a fight with terrorists who hijack Air Force One.

“Air Force One,” with $315 million in global box office, was a hit, too, but Petersen went for something even bigger in 2000’s “The Perfect Storm,” the true-life tale of a Massachusetts fishing boat lost at sea. The cast included George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg but its main attraction was a 100-foot computer-generated wave. With a budget of $120 million, “The Perfect Storm” made $328.7 million.

For Peterson, who grew up on the northern coast of Germany, the sea long held his fascination.

“The power of water is unbelievable,” Petersen said in a 2009 interview. “I was always impressed as a kid how strong it is, all the damage the water could do when it just turned within a couple of hours, and smashed against the shore.”

Petersen’s followed “The Perfect Storm” with “Troy,” a sprawling epic based on Homer’s Iliad that found less favor among critics but still made nearly $500 million worldwide. The big-budget “Poseidon,” a high-priced flop for Warner Bros., was Petersen’s last Hollywood film. His final film was 2016’s “Four Against the Bank” a German film that remade Petersen’s own 1976 German TV movie.

Petersen was first married to German actress Ursula Sieg. When they divorced in 1978, he married Maria-Antoinette Borgel, a German script supervisor and assistant director. He’s survived by Borgel, son Daniel Petersen and two grandchildren.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - This still image from video taken Oct. 4, 2021, and provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a...
Associated Press

Ruptured oil pipeline off California approved for repairs

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Texas oil company was granted permission to repair an underwater pipeline that ruptured off the coast of Southern California a year ago, spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude, and forced beaches and fisheries to close. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the approval Friday to Amplify Energy […]
21 hours ago
FILE - This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020, by then Venezuela's Foreign Mini...
Associated Press

Venezuela swaps 7 jailed Americans for Maduro relatives

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rare softening of hostile relations, Venezuela freed on Saturday seven imprisoned Americans in exchange for the United States releasing two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years on narcotics convictions. The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, follows […]
21 hours ago
CORRECTS FIRST NAME TO PAUL, INSTEAD OF TOM - Members of mediccorps.org, who arrived with two helic...
Associated Press

Pine Island residents recount horror, fear as Ian bore down

PINE ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — Paramedics and volunteers with a group that rescues people after natural disasters went door to door Saturday on Florida’s devastated Pine Island, offering to evacuate residents who spoke of the terror of riding out Hurricane Ian in flooded homes and howling winds. The largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, […]
21 hours ago
FILE - President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington, on Nov. 5, 2020. In a Friday...
Associated Press

Archives: Records from Trump WH staffers remain missing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Archives and Records Administration informed lawmakers that a number of electronic communications from Trump White House staffers remain missing, nearly two years since the administration was required to turn them over. The nation’s record-keeping agency, in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that despite […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

UN says detained Iranian-American was allowed to leave Iran

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An 85-year-old Iranian-American who formerly worked for the U.N. children’s agency and was detained in Iran in 2016 has been permitted to leave the country for medical treatment abroad, the United Nations said Saturday. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced the departure of Baquer Namazi and said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was grateful […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

What the war in Ukraine means for Asia’s climate goals

NEW DELHI, India (AP) — The queues outside petrol pumps in Sri Lanka have lessened, but not the anxiety. Asanka Sampath, a 43-year-old factory clerk, is forever vigilant. He checks his phone for messages, walks past the pump, and browses social media to see if fuel has arrived. Delays could mean being left stranded for […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Wolfgang Petersen, blockbuster filmmaker of ‘Das Boot,’ dies