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Director Wolfgang Petersen (1941-2022)


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The German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen, whose success with the 1981 World War II drama "Das Boot" ("The Boat") led to a distinguished international career, has died at the age of 81.

Publicist Michelle Bega of Rogers & Cowan PMK told The Hollywood Reporter that Petersen succumbed to pancreatic cancer at his home in Brentwood, California on Friday, August 12.

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"Das Boot," a West German film starring Jürgen Prochnow as the anti-Nazi commander of the German submarine U-96, received six 1982 Academy Award nominations: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (Petersen), Best Cinematography (Jost Vacano), Best Film Editing (Hannes Nikel), Best Sound (Milan Bor, Trevor Pyke and Mike Le Mare) and Best Sound Effects Editing (Le Mare). The drama was based on the 1973 novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. "Wolfgang Petersen's direction is an exercise in pure craftsmanship," wrote Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert. "The film is constructed mostly out of closeups and cramped two- and three-shots. All of the light sources are made to seem visible (when the lights fail, flashlight beams dance in the darkness). Long, involved shots are constructed with meticulous detail; when a sailor races toward the torpedo room, the reactions from the other men seem exactly right.

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"The NeverEnding Story" was Petersen's 1984 German fantasy film in the English language. It was based on the 1979 novel "Die unendliche Geschichte" by the children's author Michael Ende. Petersen directed and co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Herman Weigel. The picture starred the American child actor Barret Oliver as Bastian Balthazar Bux, who borrowed a book about the fantasy world of Fantasia -- and experienced it through his imagination. The movie's title was apt. There were sequels in 1990 and 1994.

Petersen's 1993 thriller "In the Line of Fire" starred Clint Eastwood as a U.S. Secret Service agent who was on duty in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. John Malkovich earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination as a potential assassin who could cause another international tragedy on the agent's watch three decades later. The drama also earned Academy Award nods for Best Original Screenplay (Jeff Maguire) and Best Film Editing (Anne V. Coates).

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"Outbreak," Petersen's prophetic 1995 suspense film about a deadly virus was a worldwide hit when it was released in theaters. It also was much talked about 25 years later during the COVID-19 pandemic. The film starred Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo as a onetime couple with experience in dealing with disease-causing microorganisms. Petersen directed and co-produced the drama, which was adapted from writer Richard Preston's 1994 non-fiction book "The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story." Also starring in the production: Morgan Freeman. Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Patrick Dempsey and J.T, Walsh.

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In Peterson's 1997 thriller "Air Force One," Harrison Ford played U.S. President James Marshall -- an embattled Chief Executive determined to reclaim his hijacked airplane from the clutches of a Russian terrorist (Gary Oldman). Written by Andrew W. Marlowe, the film also starred Wendy Crewson, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, Paul Guilfoyle, Jürgen Prochnow,  Liesel Matthews and Glenn Close as the vice president. 

Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane, the 2000 drama "The Perfect Storm" was based on the true story of the doomed commercial fishing vessel Andrea Gail and her six-man crew, lost at sea in October 1991. Directed and co-produced by Petersen, the film was adapted from the 1997 non-fiction book of the same title by Sebastian Junger. The drama also starred John Hawkes, John C. Reilly, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, William Fichtner, Bob Gunton and Karen Allen. The production was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects and Best Sound.

"Troy" -- Petersen's 2004 retelling of the ancient Trojan War -- starred Brad Pitt as the mighty Greek hero Achilles, who fell in love with a captured Trojan princess and priestess named Briseis (Rose Byrne). Interestingly, Pitt was sidelined for a time during the filming because of an injured Achilles tendon. The film -- which did not cast actors as Greek gods -- also starred Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Peter O'Toole, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Christie and Diane Kruger (as Helen of Troy).

Achilles Meets Briseis | Troy (2004) Brad Pitt/Rose Byrne - YouTube

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And as Germany's top big-budget director, helmed Germany's big national-treasure kids'-bestseller The Neverending Story (1984), which made his US-film name in Hollywood.

the-neverending-story-ss2.jpg

(But then his Big CGI Wave in A Perfect Storm made him Warner's one-trick pet go-to guy for SFX movies...Who wondered if he could do that kewl Big-Wave thing again in Poseidon (2006).)  🙄

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Das Boot (1981) is one of my very favorite films. I'm always fully invested from the first second. 

I've always liked what he had to say about going to the movies: "Theaters are always going to be around, and doing fine. With computers and technology, we're becoming more and more secluded from each other. And the movie theater is one of the last places where we can still gather and experience something together. I don't think the desire for that magic will ever go away."

Rest well, Herr Petersen.

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