Director of “Das Boot” and “Air Force One,” Wolfgang Petersen, Dies at 81!
Wolfgang Petersen, whose career began with the celebrated German-language film “Das Boot” and included Hollywood blockbusters like “In the Line of Fire,” “Air Force One,” “The Perfect Storm,” and “Troy,” has died. He was 81.
His producing company officially verified the news. “Das Boot” (1981) was the harrowing story of life aboard a German U-boat during World War II.
the film’s genius was that Petersen achieved the unlikely feat of making audiences feel for the ordinary men serving on the submarine, who were all at least nominally in service to the Nazi cause — even the captain, played by Jurgen Prochnow, who himself parlayed the role into a career as a character actor in Hollywood.
“Das Boot” was nominated for six Oscars, an extraordinary number for a foreign film, including two nominations for Petersen, for director and adapted screenplay.
On IMDb’s list of the 250 highest-rated films, “Das Boot” is at number 71. A 293-minute director’s cut was broadcast as a TV miniseries in Germany in 1985 and released on DVD in the United States and abroad.
Petersen directed and co-wrote the 1984 fantasy adventure “The NeverEnding Story” as his first picture in Hollywood. The narrative centered on a boy living in our world and the fictional country of Fantasia.
“The only thing standing between Fantasia and Nothingness is the faith of a young child named Bastian,” observed Roger Ebert (Barret Oliver).
Bastian discovers the kingdom at a magical bookstore, and as he begins to read the adventure between the pages, it becomes so real that the characters in the book recognize him.
The concept of a story within a story is one of the novel’s charming elements. Another is the notion that a child’s faith can alter the path of events.”
The film has been adored by moviegoers and home video viewers since its premiere, with Variety describing it as “a brilliantly accomplished flight of pure fantasy.”
However effective Petersen was at appealing to children, he rapidly moved on to making pictures for adults. “Enemy Mine” depicts an astronaut (Dennis Quaid) who crash-lands on an alien planet and forms an alliance with a lizard-like alien (Louis Gossett Jr. ) from the species he was fighting in order to survive the hard environment.
This picture was neither well regarded by critics nor profitable, and as a result, Petersen did not produce another film for six years.
In 1991, he returned with the thriller “Shattered,” starring Tom Berenger, Bob Hoskins, and Gretchen Scacchi.
The film, which centers on Berenger’s rich Dan Merrick, who suffers from amnesia following an accident that becomes increasingly suspicious, featured numerous plot twists, but the majority of critics deemed the screenplay to be subpar. Similar to “Enemy Mine,” the picture grossed little money.
With the critically praised Clint Eastwood movie “In the Line of Fire,” Petersen achieved an extraordinary creative leap (1993).
The intriguing, well-written picture stars Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent devastated by his inability to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy thirty years previously; John Malkovich portrayed an effective assassin intent on killing the current president.
Using then-revolutionary technology, the effects team digitally placed pictures of Eastwood from 1960s films onto footage of JFK, but it was merely the icing on the cake of a well-directed film.
Variety remarked, “Director Wolfgang Petersen keeps the plot on the straight and narrow, expertly crafting the struggle of wills between two desperately devoted men.”
Petersen said to Variety prior to the film’s premiere, “It’s my biggest experience since ‘Das Boot.'” Working with Clint was an enjoyable endeavor.
In 1993, “In the Line of Fire” was Petersen’s first film to gross more than $177 million worldwide. Petersen’s arrival in Hollywood was confirmed by the film’s 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and its remarkable box office.
The moment seemed right for a movie about a killer virus after two best-selling books on the subject, but in 1995’s “Outbreak,” director Wolfgang Petersen had to contend with the problem that a deadly virus lacks the visual appeal of a vampire or a great white shark.
Thus, the picture featuring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman presented spitting ex-spouses, hints of a conspiracy, and melodramatic clichés. The film was not critically acclaimed, but it grossed $190 million worldwide, so Warner Bros. had no need to complain.
In “Air Force One” (1997), the president personally kicked asses, not the Secret Service agents protecting the president. Harrison Ford was young enough to appear physically capable of taking control of a terrorist plot aboard the presidential jet, yet also old enough to portray the seriousness of the U.S. president.
According to Rolling Stone, “Air Force One” does not disrespect the audience. It is the work of a director who takes satisfaction in the thrills and sly humor he pours into each picture.” The film was a box office success, grossing $315 million worldwide.
Next was the 2000 film “The Perfect Storm,” an adaptation of Sebastian Junger’s book about the confluence of meteorological events that created a monstrous storm off the coast of the Northeast and the crew of a fishing vessel, portrayed by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and others, who were caught in the midst of the storm.
The massive wave that capsizes the boat was created by visual effects, yet the picture would have been thrilling and terrifying anyway. Critics were dissatisfied, yet moviegoers around the world spent $329 million to see it.
Petersen shifted gears for his next project, “Troy,” which was based on Homer’s Iliad and brimming with epic-scale action — and starred Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom.
“Despite a sensationally handsome cast and a plethora of well-staged fighting scenes presented on a gigantic scale, Wolfgang Petersen’s greatly condensed portrayal of the Trojan War lurches onward in stops and starts for the majority of its lengthy running time, to acceptable effect,” stated Variety.
The New Yorker’s David Denby was an unusual backer of the film’s critical reception; he stated, “Harsh, serious, and simultaneously exciting and heartbreaking, the perfect tone for Homer.”
In general, though, Petersen was a pioneer of the critic-proof film; “Troy’s” worldwide gross was $497 million, most of which came from overseas. “Air Force One” was the director’s most successful film (adjusted for inflation)
Petersen was riding high, but his subsequent film brought him down. Petersen’s final Hollywood film was “Poseidon” (2006), a lackluster remake of “The Poseidon Adventure” with a production budget of $160 million and a worldwide box office of $182 million, resulting in a massive loss for Time Warner after promotional costs were factored in.
A decade later, the director filmed “Vier Gegen die Bank” (Four Against the Bank), a remake of his 1976 German TV film of the same name, which was inspired by the 1972 novel “The Nixon Recession Caper” by Ralph Maloney.
Four members of an upscale country club decide to rob a bank to remedy their financial issues in the original version. Til Schweiger starred in the new flick.
Petersen was born in Germany’s Emden. He attended the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums in Hamburg from 1953-60. During the 1960s, he directed performances at the Ernst Deutsch Theater in Hamburg. He attended Berlin’s Film and Television Academy after studying theater in Berlin and Hamburg (1966-70).
The director began his career in Germany by filming TV movies, receiving his first credit in 1965 and continuing to do so from 1971 to 1978.
While working on the popular German television series “Tatort” (Crime Scene), he met and collaborated with actor Jurgen Prochnow, who would later star in numerous of his films, including “Das Boot” as the U-boat commander.
Petersen’s debut feature picture, starring Prochnow, was the 1974 psychological thriller “One or the Other of Us.” Next was the 1977 black-and-white film Die Konsequenz, an adaptation of the autobiographical novel about homosexual love by Alexander Ziegler.
The Bavarian network declined to carry the film when it first aired on German television because it was regarded as radical at the time.
Petersen was previously married to the German actress Ursula Sieg until their 1978 divorce.
He is survived by his second wife, German script supervisor and assistant director Maria-Antoinette Borgel, whom he wed in 1978, and his son by Sieg, writer-director Daniel Petersen.
Wolfgang Petersen Death Cause
Wolfgang Petersen passed away on August 12, 2022, following a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He passed away at his Brentwood, Los Angeles, United States, residence.
What Happened To Wolfgang Petersen?
Long-term pancreatic cancer rendered Wolfgang Petersen extremely frail and ultimately led to his demise.
His household consisted of his wife, son, and grandchildren. His family provided him with excellent care, but he succumbed to cancer, a fatal condition.