NEW YORK –
Wolfgang Petersen, the German filmmaker whose World War II submarine epic “Das Boot” launched him into a successful Hollywood career that included the films “In the Line of Fire,” “Air Force One,” and “The Perfect Storm,” passed away. He was 81 years old.
Petersen died Friday at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles after a battle with pancreatic cancer, Rep. Michelle Bega said.
Petersen, born in the northern German port city of Emden, made two feature films before his 1982 hit “Das Boot,” then the most expensive film in German film history. The 149-minute film (the original cut was 210 minutes) chronicles the intense claustrophobia of life aboard a doomed German submarine during the Battle of the Atlantic, with Jurgen Prochnow as the sub’s commander.
Billed as an anti-war masterpiece, “Das Boot” was nominated for six Oscars, including for Petersen’s direction and his adaptation of Lothar-Gunther Buchheim’s best-selling 1973 novel.
Petersen, born in 1941, recalled running alongside American ships as a child as they dropped food. In the turmoil of post-war Germany, Petersen, who began in the theater before attending Berlin’s Film and Television Academy in the late 1960s, gravitated toward Hollywood movies with clear clashes between good and bad. the evil John Ford was a huge influence.
“At school they never talked about the Hitler era, they just blocked it out of their minds and focused on rebuilding Germany,” Petersen told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. “We kids were looking for more glamorous dreams than rebuilding a destroyed country.” However, we were really ready for when American pop culture came to Germany. We all lived for American movies, and when I was 11, I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker.”
“Das Boot” launched Petersen as a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he became one of the leading creators of cataclysmic action adventures in films spanning war (“Troy” in 2004, with Brad Pitt), the pandemic (the “Outbreak ” inspired by the 1995 ebolavirus) and other disasters set in the ocean (“The Perfect Storm” from 2000 and “Poseidon” from 2006, a new version of “The Poseidon Adventure”, about the sinking of an ocean liner).
But Petersen’s first foray into American cinema was children’s fantasy: the charming 1984 film “The NeverEnding Story.” Adapted from Michael Ende’s novel, “The NeverEnding Story” is about a magical book that transports its young reader into the world of Fantasia, where a dark force known as the Nothingness rampages.
Arguably Petersen’s best Hollywood film came nearly 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 marshaled his substantial suspense-building skill for a more outdoorsy but just as taut thriller that swept across the rooftops and monuments of Washington DC.
In searching for a director for the film, Eastwood turned to Petersen, with whom he had spoken a few years earlier at a dinner hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Eastwood met with Petersen, reviewed his work, and gave him the job. “In the Line of Fire” was a huge success, grossing $177 million worldwide and earning three Oscar nominations.
“Sometimes you have seven-year cycles. You look at other directors; they don’t have big hits all the time. Until ‘NeverEnding Story,’ my career was hit after hit,” Petersen told The Associated Press in 1993. “Then I went into stormy international scene. I needed time to familiarize myself with this job, it’s not Germany anymore.”
Petersen considered the political thriller, which cast the heroic Eastwood as the weary but devoted defender of a less honorable president, an indictment of Washington.
“When John’s character says, ‘Nothing I’ve been told is true and there’s nothing left worth fighting 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 unfortunately happened to this country in the last 30 years. Look around you: corruption is everywhere and there is 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 played a president forced to fight terrorists who hijack Air Force One.
“Air Force One,” with $315 million at the worldwide box office, was also a hit, but Petersen went 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 its main attraction was a 100-foot computer-generated wave. Budgeted at $120 million, “The Perfect Storm” grossed $328.7 million.
For Peterson, who grew up on the north coast of Germany, the sea held his fascination for a long time.
“The power of water is unbelievable,” Petersen said in a 2009 interview. “As a kid, I was always impressed with how strong it is, all the damage that water could do when it spun around in a couple of hours and crashed into the wall.” bank”.
Petersen followed “The Perfect Storm” with “Troy,” a sprawling epic based on Homer’s Iliad that found less favor with critics but still earned nearly $500 million worldwide. The big-budget “Poseidon,” a big-ticket flop for Warner Bros., was Petersen’s last film in Hollywood. His last film was 2016’s “Four Against the Bank,” a German film that remade Petersen’s own 1976 German TV movie.
Petersen was married for the first time to the German actress Ursula Sieg. When they divorced in 1978, he married Maria-Antoinette Borgel, a German script supervisor and assistant director. He is survived by Borgel, her son Daniel Petersen and two grandchildren.