Boot filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen dies at the age of 81

German director Wolfgang Petersen, whose WWII submarine epic Das Boot catapulted him onto the A-list of Hollywood blockbusters, has died at the age of 81.

Etersen died Friday at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles after a battle with pancreatic cancer, Representative Michelle Bega said.

Petersen, born in the northern German port of Emden, made two feature films before his breakthrough in 1982, Das Boot, which was the most expensive film in German film history at the time.


Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney arrive for the UK premiere of The Perfect Storm (PA)

The 149-minute film (the original cut lasted 210 minutes) chronicled the intense claustrophobia of life aboard a doomed German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic, with Jürgen Prochnow as U-boat commander.

Heralded as an anti-war masterpiece, Das Boot was nominated for six Academy Awards, including for Petersen’s direction and adaptation of Lothar-Gunther Buchheim’s best-selling 1973 novel.

Petersen, born in 1941, recalled running alongside American ships throwing down food as a child. In the turmoil of post-war Germany, Petersen – who started out in theater before attending the Berlin Film and Television Academy in the late 1960s – turned to Hollywood films, in which good and evil clearly collided.

“They never talked about the Hitler era at school – they just put it out of their minds and concentrated on rebuilding Germany,” Petersen told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.

“However, we kids were looking for more glamorous dreams than rebuilding a devastated country, so when American pop culture came to Germany, we were really ready for that. We all lived for American films, and by the time I was 11 I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker.”

The Boot started Petersen as a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he became one of the top makers of action-adventure films that address war (2004’s Brad Pitt-starring Troy), pandemics (the 1995 Ebola virus-inspired outbreak), and other disasters in the world Ocean (2000’s The Perfect Storm and 2006’s Poseidon – a remake of The Poseidon Adventure).

But Petersen’s first foray into American filmmaking was in children’s fantasy: the enchanting 1984 film The NeverEnding Story.

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Based on 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 Void rages.

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 mustered his considerable skill at building suspense for a more open but equally tight thriller that sped over Washington DC rooftops and monuments.

In looking for a director for the film, Eastwood thought of Petersen, with whom he had spoken at an Arnold Schwarzenegger dinner party a few years earlier.

Eastwood met with Petersen, reviewed his work, and gave him the job. In The Line Of Fire was a big hit, grossing $177 million worldwide and garnering three Oscar nominations.

“You have seven-year cycles sometimes. You look at other directors; They don’t always have great success. Up until NeverEnding Story, my career was one success after another,” Petersen told The Associated Press in 1993.

“Then I got into the stormy international scene. I needed time to get a feel for this work – it’s not Germany anymore.”

Petersen viewed the political thriller – which portrayed the heroic Eastwood as a weary but devoted defender of a less honorable president – as an indictment on Washington.

“When John’s character says, ‘Nothing they told me was true and there’s nothing left to fight for,’ I think his words will resonate with a lot of people,” Petersen told the Los Angeles Times.

“The film is rooted in a deep pessimism about what has sadly happened to this country over the last 30 years. Look around – corruption is everywhere and there is not much to celebrate.”

After Outbreak – with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman – Petersen returned to Air Force One in 1997 as President. Harrison Ford starred as the President who was forced into a fight with terrorists who were hijacking Air Force One.

Air Force One was also a hit, grossing $315 million at the global box office, but Petersen aimed for something even bigger in 2000’s The Perfect Storm, the true story of a Massachusetts fishing boat lost at sea.

The cast included George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, but the main attraction was a 100-foot computer-generated wave. With a budget of $120 million, The Perfect Storm grossed $328.7 million.

For Peterson, who grew up on the north coast of Germany, the sea has long held a fascination.

“The power of water is incredible,” said Petersen in a 2009 interview. “As a kid, I was always amazed at how strong it is, how much damage the water can do when it turns around and hits the shore in a matter of hours.”

Petersens followed The Perfect Storm with Troy, a sprawling epic based on Homer’s Iliad that received less critical acclaim but still grossed nearly $500 million worldwide.

The big-budget Poseidon, a high-priced flop for Warner Bros., was Petersen’s last Hollywood film. His last film was 2016’s Four Against The Bank, a German film rebooting Petersen’s own 1976 German TV film.

Petersen’s first marriage was to the German actress Ursula Sieg. When they divorced in 1978, he married Maria-Antoinette Borgel, a German screenwriter and assistant director.

He leaves behind Borgel, son Daniel Petersen and two grandchildren. Boot filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen dies at the age of 81

Fry Electronics Team

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