Star director Wolfgang Petersen dies: obituary of the man who made films such as “Das Boot”, “Outbreak”, “Air Force One” and “Der Sturm”. Petersen died of cancer at the age of 81.
The 1981 film “Das Boot”, which was shown in cinema and also as a television mini-series, was Wolfgang Petersen’s Opus Magnum. Nominated for an Academy Award six times, it was also a box office success in the USA and earned the director a Hollywood entry ticket. Petersen has repeatedly emphasized in interviews that he always dreamed of making films there. For decades, he was one of the Dream Factory’s most sought-after directors and a guarantor of box office success. And he died at the age of 81, according to American media, Friday in Los Angeles, in the arms of his wife, Maria. Petersen had cancer.
He was born in 1941 in the East Frisian city of Emden. He belonged to the generation of directors of the “new German film”, but he never wanted to be a film director like Wim Wenders or Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Although Petersen taught from 1966 to 1969 at the newly founded German Film and Television Academy in Berlin, his graduation film actually showed his talent for storytelling and his preference for popular genres. I Will Kill You, Wolf (1970) is a crime thriller: a woman kills her lover.
Petersen’s house in the ’70s was a TV
This work made him an offer to direct a film for what was at that time a new crime TV series, which was famous in its early days for its well-thought-out social material: “Tarator”. Petersen filmed a total of six “crime scenes” with NDR Commissioner Klaus Schwarzkopf, the last “Testimony of Maturity” (1976/77), becoming the most famous. In this psychological drama, Nastassja Kinski plays a student who loves her teacher and kills a classmate because he is blackmailing her.
Petersen’s home in the 1970s was television, which at the time was very open to experimentation and education. He filmed socially critical television plays for WDR, which caused debates. In 1973’s “Smog,” he blended fantasy and documentation into a hazy, hazy environmental disaster story so perfectly that WDR featured a note that it was a fictional TV show when it aired. “Consequences” (1978) was perhaps the first gay love story on German screens – the Bayerischer Rundfunk story faded immediately after it aired.
Jürgen Prochnow played the main role in “The Consequence”, and with this actor Petersen also realized the most expensive German film production to date: “Das Boot”. It was a disappointing war movie, patrolling a German U-boat in the year of war 1941. The film derives its appeal from the alternation of boring lanes aboard the ship and the hustle and bustle of battles, with which Petersen photographer Jost Vacano had a portable camera darted through the boat aisles and bulkheads.
After “Das Pot” Petersen completed two major international projects shot in English at the Bavarian studios, The Never-Ending Story (1984) based on Michael Indy’s novel and The Enemy Mine (1985). Then he moved to the United States. His second film there, In the Line of Fire (1993), was an American masterpiece. Clint Eastwood plays an elderly bodyguard who fails to protect John F. Kennedy and must now thwart the assassination of the current president by a highly intelligent and diseased killer. This is very interestingly orchestrated yet with a lot of sense of the inner world of the two broken characters.
At least since his thriller ‘Outbreak’ (1995), Petersen has been seen as a big-budget film specialist, spoiled by success, knowing how to combine work and coherent psychology. He proved this with “Airforce One” (1997), “The Tempest” (2000) and “Troy” (2004). But his film “Poseidon” (2006) failed.
Meanwhile, the world of cinema has changed: major American studios have focused on blockbuster superhero films and franchises, such as the “Star Wars” saga. In Germany, Petersen released another remake in 2016, this time based on his own model: the fraudulent comedy “Four Against the Bank”, in which the star director hired the cast: Til Schweiger, Matthias Schweiger, Jan Josef Levers and Michael Herbig .