Tuesday, December 10, 2013

All Quiet on the Western Front (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1930)

All Quiet on the Western FrontAll Quiet on the Western Front has finally gotten the DVD that it deserves. After languishing for years in a stopgap DVD release that was difficult to hear and had terrible picture quality, this classic anti-war film has been restored by the Library of Congress and digitally remastered. The results are fantastic.

Note: This review refers to the new Universal Cinema Classics release (black case with close-up of Lew Ayres), not some of the older releases (bluish monochrome case with a German helmet) which Amazon has seen fit to post this review on.

Picture: Huge improvement. The previous release was dull, low-resolution, sometimes blurry, and reproduced lots and lots of distracting scratches and dirt from old reels. Now the picture is crisp, very sharp, and as clean as it has ever been.

Sound: Another huge improvement. The 1930-vintage sound effects are still rather clunky and the dialogue is hard to understand once or twice, but overall the restoration is a phenomenal improvement. Very good.

There are no special features to speak of, although the DVD does include a later, probably 1940s-era trailer and an introduction from Turner Classic Movies' resident film historian Robert Osborne. The restoration of the sound and image are the big selling points, here.

The only negative thing I have to say is pretty trivial--there is no chapter menu. This is only a minor concern, though, and in no way detracts from the quality of the DVD or the film itself. If you've been waiting for a good release of All Quiet on the Western Front or have never seen it, this is the DVD and now is the time.

Highly recommended.

This reviewer give this move 5 stars. It is actually 10 out of 10.

Some people will say the movie's black and white color is distracting. This the Great War we are watching. Only the paintings were color. Color photography was not invented yet. So it actually enhances the feel of the movie.

This movie is a great. It completely captures what trench warfare was like. It was a muddy, miserable life with rats and little food. Somebody was always shooting at you. That is trench warfare.

The basic plot is about a school student, Paul, who is convinced by his school teacher to join and fight with the army in 1915. The class enlists in mass, goes through training together, and then march off to fight at the Western front.

The movie is like chapters in a book. Most Americans don't understand what old Germany was like. Old Germany was a land of Christian values. The Kaiser (translation: the emperor) was seen as a direct official working under God's blessing. The family of Germany was the center of society. All students were good in school or properly learned their jobs. They obeyed their parents and the Church. Old Germany was quite highly though of in pre-WWI America.

The fact that Paul was in high school (gymnasium) proves he was an exceptional student. In Germany the poorly performing students are sent to trade school. Paul's being in gymnasium proves he is one of the more intellectually advanced students.

Yes, this movie is shot in America. However, the sets look like they were made in old Europe. There are cobblestone roads, the signs are in German, the writing on the chalk board is in old German script, and the soldiers sing German folk tunes. The movie is like a time machine to another age. Even a graveyard looks like a European graveyard, not American. The technical lenghts this movie goes through is nearly boundless.

The shown German basic training was quite realistic. Why? An American army unit would band together people from all over the nation. Strength through diversity and all that. Germany was much more realistic. They had training centers in every "state". This had advantages in training because the Germans started with a much more heterogeneous group and later subordinated the unit to a greater good, such as their division. In America there are racial, regional (like Texas vs New York), and religious problems which never were worked out in WWI or WWII. Thus Paul and his group are much more worried about their Oberfreiter (sergeant) and conforming to the norms of their assigned army unit than a likewise American unit would be during that time period. So, Paul's unit training as a cohort is quite correct.

And Paul's unit joining the front lines is quite realistic. They go from being a group of trainees to veterans very fast after being caught in an artillery bombardment. The wire laying detail is quite correct. When Corporal Katczinsky is smoking his pipe watching the operation that's correct. Pipes don't have the glow of a cigarette at night time, the walls of the pipe mask the burning.

The technical details on this movie are fantastic. The soldiers actually eat at a real German food kitchen. The Soldier's equipment is what the Imperial German Army actually wore in the war. The European villages are quite convincing sets. The artillery bombardments look so good that out takes of the scenes are used in other war movies. Take note of this, the German Army in WWI and WWII did not do a very good job of feeding their soldiers. The German army felt a well fed soldier would not want to fight. The logic was the famished German soldiers would at least raid the enemies lines for food. In real life the underfed Germans had to loot the locals. They were all starving. This leads up to a very strong scene with some French girls.

Another underrated scene is inside of the German Bier Garten (bar). The sausage, pickles, and snacks the Germans ate was quite accurate. The posters on the wall are all quite correct for the period. The German soldiers are all singing a happy German beer drinking song. I loved this snapshot of old Germany.

The friendship between Paul and Katczinsky is quite believable. Katczinsky is a working man from Eastern Germany. Paul is a soon-to-be-playwright. However, these two divergent characters soon develop a strong friendship almost immediately.

This movie closely follows the book, but not exactly. The movie didn't have the time.

Now, as a child this reviewer was taught that the Great War, WWI, was not that significant. Actually, it's the most significant war of the 20th Century. It is the start of a 20 year period of warfare in Europe, with some minor breaks, that ends with Soviet troops standing in the pulverized rubble of Berlin.

Everything is gone by 1945. The royalty of Europe is destroyed (You think Prince Charles is in the same League as King George?). The families are shattered by war. The land is laid waste. The Christian faith went from over 95% church attendance to less than 10% in less than 60 years: the wars destroyed the faith in King, Country, and God. Europe was the pearl of Western Civilization in 1910. By 1945 millions were dead and Europe was reduced to a minor player in the world stage.

The movie is an analog of real life. The best that Western civilization can offer is destroyed and all that exists in the end is destruction and death.

This is a must see movie. It should be part of every military historians library.

Buy All Quiet on the Western Front (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1930) Now

Winner of the 1930 Oscars for Best Picture and Director, "All Quiet on the Western Front" remains a stunning and timely film. Based on Erich Maria Remarque's classic anti-war novel, the movie follows a group of patriotic German schoolboys as they are urged to enlist in World War I, and shows how their initially idealistic spirits are forever changed by the brutal reality of death and dismemberment, suffering and sorrow. Beautifully acted by its entire cast (with special kudos going to Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, and Slim Summerville), the film also features some incredible special visual effects (those two detached hands clinging to the barbed wire fence never fail to shock) and some meticulously staged battle scenes that manage to put the viewer into the heart of the action. Arthur Edeson's cinematography is often truly astonishing in its artistry; his visual choices are impeccable. Worth a special note is the film's soundtrack; how incredible the terrible sounds of exploding ammunition must have seemed to audiences in 1930, who had first heard Al Jolson speak in 1927's part-talkie, "The Jazz Singer"! The very last sound effect in the film, which abruptly and startlingly leads to the close of the movie, is superbly executed and remains an innovative use of sound technology.

The Universal DVD release of this film features a great sound transfer: on my six-speaker system, the rumbling explosions, staccato machine guns, and whizzing bullets sounded remarkably nearby. Sadly, the visual transfer was sorely lacking; the source was plagued by jumps, scratches, lines, and breaks throughout the film, and the contrast was sometimes out-of-balance. This cinematic masterpiece demands and deserves to be fully restored, and then remastered and rereleased on DVD. (Are you listening, Universal Home Video?) The DVD extras include production notes; cast and director biographies and filmographies; and a Theatrical Trailer from one of the film's many reissues. Warts and all, this DVD edition is definitely worth a look the film's brilliance is such that it shines above and beyond this rather shoddy presentation.


*** 2011 UPDATE ***: My original review was based on the first DVD release, which bears a 1999 copyright. Apparently, the powers that be at Universal WERE listening to those of us that criticized this flawed DVD transfer. I've recently purchased and watched the 2007 "Universal Cinema Classics" remastered version, which features an introduction by film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne, and was gratified to note that the video has been significantly improved. Cheers to the team at Universal Studios for finally doing justice to this landmark film! This newly restored edition, which in addition to Osborne's introduction also includes the Theatrical Trailer, is unquestionably the one you'll want to own. It comes highly recommended, without reservations.

Read Best Reviews of All Quiet on the Western Front (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1930) Here

For a movie in the 1930's, Lewis Milestone's adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front, based on Erich Maria Remarque's novel, follows the book reasonably well. However, rather than starting with the soldiers lining up to get the cook Ginger's stew per the novel (that part comes later), it starts with Paul Baumer's school teacher telling him and his fellow students that they are the light of the Fatherland, the iron men of Germany, the brave heroes who will repulse the enemies when called to do so. In other words, he's exhorting them to enlist, which they do, pressed into patriotism in what was initially thought to have been a quick war with small losses.

From the start, the recruits are eager to get into uniform and to the front, and are puzzled by the behaviour of burned-out experienced soldiers like Tjaden and Kat. This latter, a large, pleasantly ugly man has a knack for scrounging for food and finding enough for the group, and soon, all the recruits stick with and respect this man, especially after their first bombardment. When one of the recruits realizes he has wet his trousers, Kat tells him not to worry about it, as it's happened to better men.

The stages of attacking, the bombardment, attack, counterattack, and repulse, is presented in graphic detail for that period, with the shots of men dying by artillery shells, being bayoneted, or machine-gunned. Some recruits go crazy waiting in the bunker during the bombardment, and one of them rushes outside, only to get cut down by bullets. And the aftermath isn't pretty for some. Franz Kemmerich ends up in the infirmary and has his leg amputated. From the grueling experience of phantom limb pain to the realization that one has lost his limb, the greed of some like Muller who wants Franz's nice boots, to the unconcern of the doctors who see Franz's death as another free bed, war is hell.

War changes people's perspectives. Paul fights and stabs a French soldier at close quarters in a foxhole, and he pleads and apologizes to the dying man, telling him that without these uniforms, they could be friends, and promising to write to his wife. And on leave, Paul is clearly alienated from the older civilians who have no clue that war has burned out his soul, and just keep telling him to give those Frenchies a licking and push on to Paris. I'd go for Tjaden's solution to war: get the politicians and generals wearing just their underpants into a big field and fight it out with clubs. But the discussion of the soldiers yields something still relevant: manufacturers want a war to sell more arms.

The subplot involving the butterflies is new, but the shot of the soldier reaching for the butterfly before being shot by a sniper symbolizes a soldier's whose burned out soul is suddenly heartened as seeing something beautiful, and suddenly thus illuminated within, reaches toward it.

All Quiet On The Western Front deservedly went on to win four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in the US. However, Joseph Goebbels' antics in Berlin demonstrates how Germany was in a state of war denial. The incident at a theatre of the second night showing of the movie involved Goebbels' men starting disturbances and yelling anti-Semitic epithets that resulted in the film's termination after ten minutes. Goebbels hadn't even seen the film; he merely wanted to demonstrate Nazi power in Berlin and discredit Albert Grzesinski, Prussia's Interior Minister who was a Social Democrat. When the film was banned by the Board of Censors because it "endangered Germany's image abroad", the headlines of Goebbels' newspaper Der Angriff (German for The Attack) read "Grzesinski Defeated."

One of the few war films I'll watch due to its pacifist message, denouncing the glorification of war. The prologue at the movie's beginning, taken from Remarque's book, says it all: this story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all, an adventure. For death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men, who even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.

Want All Quiet on the Western Front (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1930) Discount?

The film begins with a group of German schoolboys, including the film�s main star Paul, listening to a statement by their teacher about why they should join the army. Outside, a group of soldiers are parading down the street to cheering crowds and parading music. Filled with images of the glory and honor of serving in the war, the boys decide to enlist. After their military training, they arrive at the front where they learn all there is for them is hunger, fear and death. They fight rats as well as the enemy and they watch the slaughter of soldiers from both sides and even kill some of them. In one moving moment, Paul kills a French soldier and stays in a blast crater with the dying soldier, asking for forgiveness.

Among one of the other powerful scenes is when Paul goes on leave and returns to his town. There, he visits his former teacher, who is giving another lecture to another group of students about why they should join the army. When asked to talk about the war, Paul says �We live in the trenches and we fight. We try not to be killed. Sometimes we are-That�s all�. He is booed at by the boys who see him as a coward. Meanwhile, when he talks with a group of old-timers, he is told to push on to Paris. After fighting for too long, he fells that the only place he is conformable at is at the front. When he returns back to his unit, he finds that only a few remain and most of those are recruits who were once like him: Boys who found the front to be different from what they thought it would be.

It is obvious that this movie was made in 1930. �Talkies� had been around for only a few years, so silent-era acting was still widely present. The special effects in the film are also not as realistic as today. The scenes are filmed in black and white with scratches visible in some scenes. But All Quiet on the Western Front has not dated when it comes to its power. It is (Along with Platoon and Saving Private Ryan) the best anti-war movie ever made.

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