Sit down in front and up periscope

As most freedom-loving Limited News readers already know, the Liberal Party has floated the idea of purchasing nuclear powered submarines from the United States to replace our current Collins Class submarines. Now our home-grown versions really never worked, they were loud, they broke down, the software didn’t work and we can’t staff them anyway. So taking from lessons learned, it is obvious we should buy something that works.

This is a terrible idea, because instead we could build another bespoke solution (that again won’t work), but will provide jobs and local know-how to our heroic ex-Holden workers who are building the sole defense against our terrible neighbors in the north. And the word nuclear is very scary, especially for places like the landlocked councils in the inner west of Sydney who have declared themselves nuclear free zones.

Submarines can be effective in war but they generally aren’t the most exciting things when it comes to government expenditure. Now admittedly they are not boring welfare programs or agricultural subsidies for non-alpaca farms, but neither are they a fleet of stealthy F-22 Raptors piloted by robots from the future. Nevertheless they are inherently cool simply because of the amount of firepower they possess. More than half of the entire United States 2200 warhead strong nuclear arsenal is currently in the hands of 18 Ohio Class nuclear submarines. These vessels are powered by a nuclear reactor and have a range limited only by the resources required to feed the crew.

But more importantly,another important thing submarines are good for is giving us some exceptional films over the years.

These are not your usual war films, of which there are hundreds, but films which have more tension and fear than all others of the war genre combined; trapped under water in a tin can, millions of tons of water trying to crush you and your fellow men (because they usually are), while other birds of prey circle, waiting, wanting to send you to the bottom of the ocean.

Those of you familiar with these films will recognise the usual tropes. The torpedo battles, the descents to near crush depth, the guy with the headphones, the wonderful *ping* sound. But behind these cliches lie some superb films made by some of the greatest directors of all time.

Let’s begin with many people’s favourite, The Hunt for Red October. This stars Sean Connery, who I can only assume plays a poor Scottish immigrant who rose through the ranks to become the Soviet Union’s premier submarine commander. Alec Baldwin plays the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan, a role that was later perfected by Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) and subsequently destroyed by Ben Affleck in some film which no one can remember.

Connery is the commander of a new type of sub powered by a silent magnetohydrodynamic drive. In his bearded wisdom, he decides to defect to the United States, (so as to buy some of these new ‘blue jeans’ all the kids are talking about) and to deprive the Soviets of a silent first strike weapon which would tilt the balance of the Cold War. Sam Neil also goes along for the ride, satisfying the local content requirements of this article.

This is your classic cold war film, when good guys were good guys and the bad guys were the evil and godless commies. It has good submarine-on-submarine action, political intrigue, superb actors and excellent scope. You should watch this film if you have not already. I give it four stars.

Then we have Crimson Tide, brought to us by the coke and mega-yacht fueled dream factory that is Jerry Bruckheimer/Don Simpson film-making. This is one of the last high concept films produced by Simpson before he was found dead on a toilet. It stars Gene Hackman as the cigar-smoking crusty old veteran warrior and Denzel Washington plays the young upstart executive officer who has a more cerebral view of war. This is drilled into the audience early in the piece via a quality discussion about Von Clausewitz, with Denzel saying, “the true enemy is war itself”, and Hackman declaring that “war is a continuation of politics by other means”.

Set post cold war, Russian rebels have taken control of a nuclear silo site and are preparing to launch their missiles on the United States. The nuclear armed USS Alabama has received authenticated orders to launch all its nuclear missiles at the site. However, a second partial message is then received, which could have rescinded the order. Hackman, who’s been piloting this giant nuclear penis for years, still wants to launch but Denzel wants to hold off, because nuclear holocaust is generally not a good thing no matter what the intention. Wow, just like in their earlier discussion but for real this time! Crazy, I know.

When you get to the nuts and bolts of this film it is really about two men and their battle of wills. The film does not let you down as both of these men have commanding presence. It is the immovable object against the irresistible force, and being set against the backdrop of nuclear war only adds to the spectacle.There is a wonderful supporting cast with Viggo Mortensen and James Gandolfini both playing impressive roles.

What also increases the standing of this film is the ambiguity of right and wrong. The decisions of both men could easily be argued as correct, and you can finish the film liking both the protagonists.

I flat out LOVE this film. It is a testosterone drenched, patriotic, freedom-loving film with an outstanding Hans Zimmer score. It is wonderfully directed by Tony Scott who is sadly no longer with us. It maybe does not have the cult following of some of Scott’s other work, but this may be his best. I give it four and a half stars.

Which brings me to the final and most brilliant of all, Das Boot.

This isn’t just the greatest submarine film of all time, it is one of the greatest films of all time. With the director’s cut weighing in at 208 minutes, (technically the correct length for any proper film), this one requires a real investment by the viewer. Set during World War II, it tells the story of a well seasoned U-Boat crew sent into the Atlantic to do horrible things to merchant ships trying to move supplies to Europe from the United States. There are no gimmicks, there are no hooks, it is about a group of men in a submarine.

The brilliance of the film lies in its ability to convey to the audience how horrible and terrifying it would be to be part of that world. The stench, the claustrophobia, the fear and the monotony followed by tremendous urgency and elation, is done like no other film. If you watch this in the dark you feel you are sinking to the bottom of the ocean with these men.

The last hour of the film shows us the crew facing certain death as well their valiant attempts to keep this at bay for as long as possible. There are amazing emotionally charged performances by every actor which feel so real you almost forget this is a work of fiction and not a documentary.

Wolfgang Peterson’s direction is just superb, with intelligent shooting up and down the length of the cramped conditions on the submarine sets. There is also a truly beautiful score which plays whenever the U-Boat is coasting across the North Atlantic, along with a jarring battle hymn which thunders along with the screams of the captain when is he up above, willing the vessel on.

This is one film that must be watched by all and is a true triumph of film-making.

Oh, and there is also U-571, which is terrible and it disgusts me with its lack of emotion and heart. Do not see it.

Image by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory via Creative Commons Licence.

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