All Quiet On The Western Front [DVD]
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All Quiet On The Western Front is an acclaimed remake of the devastating war story--about a generation destroyed--written by novelist Erich Maria Remarque. It tells the tragic tale of a group of young German recruits during World War I. Directed by Delvert Mann and starring Richard Thomas.
Taken from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front is a devastating portrait of a small group of German soldiers during World War I. In this 1979 made-for-TV version the star-studded cast is lead by Richard Thomas (The Waltons) as Paul Baumer, strongly supported by screen veterans Ernest Borgnine, Ian Holm and Patricia Neal. As both narrator and star, Thomas occasionally seems to reincarnate his familiar John-Boy persona, but does at least succeed in creating a character that has more levels than his television alter ego. After watching all of his high school buddies loose their lives, Paul returns home a changed man, conflicted in his feelings about the Army and war, and altered from an idealistic schoolboy into a fearful and humble veteran.
Although Lewis Milestone's 1930 films remains the cinema's definitive version, director Delbert Mann (Desire Under the Elms, Marty) has done a workmanlike job bringing the novel to the screen. The scenery and costuming in this period piece are well done, and surely contributed to its winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Made for TV. Also exceptional are the cinematography and special effects that, while realistically gruesome, truly emphasise the horrors of war. --Zachary Lively, Amazon.comSee all Product description
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Unlike the 1931 version, this version follows the flashback structure of Remarque's novel much more closely and provides a slightly different ending (because it was a new adaptation of the novel rather than a remake of the Universal film, they couldn't use the butterfly ending invented for the 1930 film), but still retains much of its power. The cast is starrier but good - Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Patricia Neal and Ian Holm are all memorable - the attack sequences are well staged and the ugliness and daily horrors of life in rat-infested trenches are portrayed with more discomforting realism than you'd expect for 70s US TV. Indeed, footage from them has even crept into historical documentaries over the years. It may not be as great and enduring a piece of filmmaking at Lewis Milestone's version, but it's still a forceful and worthwhile adaptation.
The version currently available on DVD in the UK is the theatrical release, which is slightly shorter than the US TV version. The German DVD includes both the two-and-a-half hour TV version and the feature film version with English soundtrack option (though here are synch problems with the German soundtrack). But the best release to date is ITV's Blu-ray release (also released by Beyond in Australia), which is the full 156-minute version in its original fullframe ratio with stills galleries and the film's cinema trailer as extras. The only irritant is an infuriating 90-second trailer for ITV's other releases that it's impossible to skip.
The story is one which is probably familiar to most and follows the experiences of a group of students from leaving Gymnasium through training to service on the Western Front in the first world war. The central character is Paul Baumer, played by Richard “John Boy Walton” Thomas, although he may not be the first name that might be considered for the leading part in an epic film of the great war he gives a solid performance and in a sense the fact that he was always associated with the rather whimsical and innocent world represented by the Waltons actually worked well given Paul Baumer’s journey from school boy to soldier. The other principal character is Kat, an old soldier played by the ever reliable Ernest Borgnine who plays his part wonderfully well. The rest of the cast (including Donald Pleasance and Ian Holm) all give solid performances. The character of Himmelstoss is one of the great creations of military fiction and as a result of the first movie the character came to be seen as representing drill NCOs of the German Army, a particularly unsympathetic and brutal character when training his recruits. The original version had several genuinely iconic moments (notably the sections where Paul Baumer kills a French soldier then has to watch the soldier die, the end of Kat and the close of the story) and the remake successfully recreates these iconic moments although the ending is not an exact remake.
The story is one of those stories that seems to be susceptible to differing interpretations. The original novel was written by Erich Maria Remarque to tell the story of front line soldiers of the German army and was not seen by him as advocating any message however it very quickly came to be seen as an anti-war story. Whatever Remarque’s intentions this is the enduring way that his story has been received and it remains one of the most powerful stories of war. In a way the fact that Remarque told a story about soldiers and their experiences and pain and refrained from overt political statements and moralising is the reason for its enduring appeal and relevance. Where most anti-war stories and movies date badly as a result of their overt political messaging it is the fact that All Quiet on the Western Front tells a simple human story and respects the abilities of its audience to interpret its message that has made it a timeless story that remains as relevant today as it was when first written. This film (as was the original) remains true to the spirit and story of Remarque’s book for the most part. The viewer goes on a journey forming a connection with the characters who are genuinely multi-dimensional human beings and their story is genuinely emotional.
The title of the book and the subsequent films has become iconic in its own right. The literal interpretation (in the West, nothing new) actually works far better for the closing scene however Arthur Wesley Wheen’s interpretation of All Quiet on the Western Front has a wonderful almost poetic quality that has entered the English language and remains one of the most memorable titles of any book or film.
The blu ray disc offers good picture quality and sound and is a worthy improvement over the DVD. Despite being a made for TV production the film was very well produced with a lot of attention given to the costumes and props to give the film a sense of authenticity. Whilst not as polished as the best big budget movie productions the film certainly does not feel cheap or made down to a cost, it stands up remarkably well next to most made for cinema movies. Although this should not be seen as replacing the wonderful original, it is a very good film and deserves to be recognised as a fine film in its own right. Any people who dismiss it as some sort of cheap and unworthy knock off are missing a fine film.
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Well acted, very moving.