Based on the novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque, the 1930 adaptation of All Quiet in the Western Front remains one of the most impactful anti-war films to ever be made, so I was instantly skeptical at the announcement of a new adaptation (the third, following a TV movie adaptation in 1979). On top of having to compete with the original masterpiece, the German adaptation would also inevitably be compared to recent successful war movies, like 1917. While these comparisons are fair, I was surprised at how much All Quiet on the Western Front stood on its own, playing off of successful war narratives rather than trying to imitate them.
The story follows a group of eager young boys who idealistically join the German Army during World War I, hoping for an adventure. The film’s main protagonist is 17-year-old Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), who joins the army alongside his three friends but soon finds that he must face the horrors of war on his own. The adventure as well as the patriotic duty Paul joined the war efforts for proves to be little more than a façade, with the true ugliness of war exposed through his experiences.
All Quiet on the Western Front is occasionally episodic, taking the audience with Paul through a variety of bleak wartime experiences. Thankfully, the narrative is not void of bright spots found in the relationships Paul builds with fellow soldiers, though there is always the ominous sensation that these fleeting moments could end suddenly, and often do. The narrative is impactful because it allows the audience to grow attached to characters who have no guarantees of survival.
The story is as impactful as the it was in the 1930 adaptation, but also has the benefit of modern filmmaking techniques. Emphasis is on the human experience of war, but there are some fascinating sequences of the machine-like operations of battle viewed from the human perspective. Large lumbering tanks, constant explosions, and endless gunfire make up the soundtrack, alongside one of the most unique scores of the year. The film’s cinematography also presents imagery which is both beautiful and horrifying. Each of the technical aspects of the storytelling are so effective that it makes the performances feel that much more visceral.
As great as the film itself was, the 4K Ultra HD release matches the quality. While most films released on Netflix are not guaranteed a home entertainment release, All Quiet on the Western Front has been given a loving tribute in this 4K package, which also comes with a Blu-ray copy of the film. This should not come as a surprise, given the film is now tied for the most Academy Award wins for a foreign film, winning four awards including Best International Feature. For the sound design and score alone, I am happy to have this film on 4K disc. The visuals are also an improvement on any streaming capabilities, regardless of internet speed.
Special features on the disc include a commentary track from director Edward Berger, as well as a making-of featurette. The special features on the disc are somewhat limited, but also contain no filler extras just to pad the content. And the package itself also contains a 24-page booklet with production photos and several interviews and essays. Along with more from director Berger, there is also an interview with a historian about the film’s accuracy.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 10/10
Historical Significance: 9/10
Special Features: 9/10