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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » All Quiet On The Western Front (Blu-ray)
All Quiet On The Western Front (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // Unrated // July 14, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $22.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matt Hinrichs | posted July 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

The random horror of war is graphically dramatized in All Quiet on the Western Front, the TV miniseries adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic antiwar novel. Though not as well-known as the 1930 feature film, this lavish production (filmed in Czechoslovakia) better fleshes out Remarque's book, tracing the lead character's gradual journey from innocent teen to battle-scarred veteran. With a fine performance from The Waltons star Richard Thomas as a German youth seduced by the call to defend his country, the film is finally getting a good Blu Ray release in its original uncut state by Timeless Media Group.

A little personal background: I first saw this All Quiet the way many did - in high school History class. Watching it again after so many years, the school-ish aspects of this movie truly stand out. As directed by Delbert Mann (Marty; That Touch of Mink), the story ends up being finely crafted in a way that '70s TV movies rarely were, but also kind of watered-down, overly earnest and preachy. At least the full-length version (previous releases on DVD and VHS tape used an edited cut) gives a fuller picture of Remarque's message - that the ease with which intelligent, optimistic characters like Thomas' Paul Baumer get duped into fighting is as much society's fault as the individual's.

This particular All Quiet depicts war as grim, unrelenting spectacle, a never-ending cycle that callously takes in idealistic young men, chews 'em up, and spits 'em out. As with Lewis Milestone's 1930 film, the story is told from the point of view of Paul Baumer (Thomas) - an artistic, sensitive soul with a sense of observation well beyond what a normal teen would possess. Much like John Boy in a typical Waltons episode (John Doughboy?), Thomas narrates Baumer's journey as it unfolds. The film opens on him and several of his schoolmates in the presence of a stern, jingoist professor, Kantorek (Donald Pleasence), who convinces the boys that it's their supreme duty to defend the Fatherland. Following the close of the school year, Baumer and his classmates excitedly enlist and begin their basic training. The boys' first of many letdowns arrive under the command of Himmelstoss (Ian Holm), a sadistic yet cowardly officer. On the battle front in rural France, Baumer and his friends are placed under the care of a grizzled older officer, Stanislaus Katczinsky (Ernest Borgnine), who teaches them the necessary practical skills needed to survive the horror of the front lines. As Baumer witnesses his friends getting traumatized, mortally wounded or killed, the optimistic kid becomes a battle-weary vet who wears his disillusionment like a suit of armor.

The extended All Quiet diminishes Baumer's role in the story while supplying a bigger picture on war itself. The scenes deleted from the earlier DVD edition add a lot in terms of realism, portraying the day-to-day drudgery of World War I military service. One such cut segment has Katczinsky, Baumer and his fellow doughboys lining up for a meal after a punishing morning spent on the front lines. Under orders that he can't serve until a certain number of soldiers arrive, the mess officer refuses to budge - until he realizes that the small gathering of men assembled are all the survivors left from that day's battle. Another cut scene shows Baumer and his fellow recruits playing a cruel, humiliating joke on Ian Holm's conceited Himmelstoss. Despite the film on the whole being too padded out with never-ending battle scenes and Baumer's philosophizing, scenes like these offered some insight into Remarque's view of war as demoralizing tragedy, robbing an entire generation of full lives.

All Quiet on the Western Front serves its purpose decently, laying out a grim story with utmost sincerity. Compared with other anti-war movies, however, it falls somewhat short. In order of preference, the 1930 version directed by Lewis Milestone comes most highly recommended, followed by Douglas Sirk's adaptation of Remarque's A Time to Love and a Time to Die from 1958 (released on DVD and Blu Ray by Masters Of Cinema in the UK), and Bernhard Wicki's searing statement The Bridge (set during World War II but with a thematically similar story, this film got an excellent release from Criterion). This movie takes up the far rear of the line, like the weak soldier trudging along.


Note: images are from promotional sources and do not reflect the quality of the Blu Ray under review.

The Blu Ray:


Previously made available on U.S. home video in a truncated 129-minute theatrical version, Timeless Media Group's high definition release showcases this film restored to the 156-minute length originally broadcast in 1979. This uncut All Quiet on the Western Front had already been released on Blu Ray in the U.K. and Australia, by ITV, in 2009.

Video

While the 1.78:1 aspect ratio used on this Blu Ray edition differs from the original 4:3 television broadcast, the appealingly clean image appears to be mastered directly from the original celluloid with no cropping. The photography is typical of '70s films, slightly faded and with an emphasis on drab browns and greens. The Blu Ray transfer is appealingly sharp, however, with particularly nice dark balances during dark scenes. Although a few instances of dust and other artifacts show up, the print is remarkably well-preserved.

Audio

The 2.0 Mono soundtrack has its share of annoyances, with battle scenes and scoring mixed in at louder levels than the dialogue. For those who don't mind constantly adjusting the movie's volume, it's a relatively clean, satisfactory track. An optional English subtitle track is included.

Extras

A Photo Gallery of behind-the-scenes stills runs for about 5 minutes with no musical accompaniment. The only other bonus is a Theatrical Trailer.

Final Thoughts

Though the 1979 made-for-TV version of All Quiet on the Western Front won't erase anyone's memories of Lewis Milestone's searing 1930 film, it remains as potent an antiwar statement as ever. Timeless Media's Blu Ray offers the original, uncut miniseries in a good, widescreen presentation. Recommended.


Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.

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