All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues)

Director: Edward Berger
Screenplay: Edward Berger & Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell (based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque)
Stars: Felix Kammerer (Paul Bäumer), Albrecht Schuch (Stanislaus Katczinsky), Aaron Hilmer (Albert Kropp), Moritz Klaus (Franz Müller), Adrian Grünewald (Ludwig Behm), Edin Hasanovic (Tjaden Stackfleet), Daniel Brühl (Matthias Erzberger), Thibault de Montalembert (General Ferdinand Foch), Devid Striesow (General Friedrichs), Andreas Döhler (Leutnant Hoppe), Sebastian Hülk (Major Von Brixdorf)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2022
Country: Germany / U.S. / U.K.
All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front

Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues) is the third film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s seminal 1929 novel, the previous two being Lewis Milestone’s Oscar-winning 1930 version and Delbert Mann’s 1979 made-for-television film. It is also the first German adaptation, which is significant given the novel’s controversial place in German literary history. Following its publication, many accused Remarque of overstating the horrors of war and being anti-German, and subsequently no German film company would touch an adaptation (Milestone’s film, which was heavily cut for its German release, became culture-war fodder for the loudest voices in the rising Nazi party, who immediately banned it as “degenerate art” once they were in power three years later).

The horrors of war are front and center in Berger’s new version, which spares little when it comes to its depiction of the visceral and grisly violence of warfare. That violence is made all the more unnerving because we witness it in the context of the larger violence of dehumanization required to turn fervent young men into brutal soldiers. The story centers on Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), a teenager who, along with his friends, eagerly joins the German war effort in the final years of World War I. Along with hundreds of other young men, they are fed heightened speeches of war glory and nationalism, which flames their naïve yearning to fight. The idea of these young men being cannon fodder is established in the unexpected opening sequence, which begins on a muddy and bloody battlefield and then follows the uniforms worn by the soldiers who have been killed as they are dutifully collected, washed, pressed, mended, and made to look new again for the next set of recruits. When Paul eagerly receives his uniform, we already know that another soldier has died inside their threads, which turns it into a silent totem of doom. Whether you know Paul’s eventual fate or not, there is something deeply unsettling about the idea of this new soldier unknowingly putting on the uniform in which another soldier has died.

The majority of the film is set in and around the trenches in northern France where some of the worst fighting of World War I took place. There are many, many battles in All Quiet on the Western Front, but what we take from them is not their individual significance, but rather their mundane interchangeability. Unlike so many other war films in which battles have clear goals and plans, all we know here he is that the Germans are trying to take ground from the French and vice versa. Sometimes they reclaim some ground, sometimes they lose it, but mostly the result is just death and stasis (at one point we hear that 40,000 Germans were killed in a single week). The redundancy of the battles becomes the film’s central motif, hammering us with war’s unrelentingly charge to continually rush into the maw of death, even if there is virtually no point. We watch as Paul, like so many others, is ground down into a killer and survivor, his ruthlessness on the battlefield always framed as a desperate plight to survive, rather than the actions of heroism. All the words of national pride and honor ring hollow, which is what makes the accompanying scenes of various military brass planning their next moves that much more unnerving. Even as head German negotiator Mattias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) leads a delegation to try to end the war, General Friedrichs (Devid Striesow), who comes from a long military family and is unwavering (or deranged) in his commitment to winning the war, insists that the only way forward is to keep fighting, even if it is utterly in vain.

The film’s nihilistic portrait of war itself is balanced by the way Berger depicts the characters, all of whom suffer through the war, but are never entirely subsumed by it. Thus, even though Paul quickly devolves from the fresh-faced, eager young man we first meet on the streets of his small town signing his recruitment papers on a friend’s back, he remains resolutely human—albeit one who is frequently coated beyond recognition in mud and viscera and who, at his most desperate moment, is willing to do the worst to ensure his own survival. We see this in his relationship with Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch), an older, more experienced soldier who takes Paul and his friends under his wing and teaches them how to survive. Survival means not just staying alive on the battlefield, but also getting enough to eat and not freezing to death in the brutal winter weather. As much as it is a film about bullets and mustard gas and shrapnel, All Quiet on the Western Front is a film about starvation and freezing, both of which Berger and cinematographer James Friend (who has worked primarily in British television) depict with a visceral tangibility.

In many ways, All Quiet on the Western Front tells a familiar story about the nature of war and young men in the trenches. No new ground is broken here, but Berger directs the film with such skill and the young performers convey the immensity of their challenges with such conviction of simple humanity that it achieves an intense level of emotional engagement that reminds us that some lessons we should never stop learning.

All Quiet on the Western Front Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.39:1
  • German Dolby Atmos
  • German Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Czech Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Polish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Ukrainian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian
  • Audio commentary by co-writer/director Edward Berger
  • Making-of featurette
  • Original German trailer
  • U.S. trailer
  • International trailer
  • Teaser trailer
  • DistributorNetflix
    Release DateMay 9, 2023

    All Quiet on the Western Front is a visually gorgeous film despite all the horrific violence, and the new Blu-ray conveys the film’s look very well. Although not nearly as impressive as the 4K UHD disc, which comes closer to the native 6.5K in which the film was shot, the 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray nevertheless leaves little to complain about, with solid detail, contrast, and color. Much of the film has a bluish hue to it and some scenes are very nearly monochromatic (much of it takes place during the winter), although there are numerous shots with gorgeous sunrises, green trees, firelight, and so on. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is duly impressive throughout, with incredible separation, sonic detail, and a heavy low end that gives the explosions and gunfire and rumbling tanks, as well as Volker Bertelmann’s unnerving score, a real sense of depth. In terms of supplements, we get a thoughtful, informative audio commentary by co-writer/director Edward Berger that provides a great deal of background information and context. A 19-minute making-of featurette covers a broad range of production information, including location shooting, set design, special effects, costumes, and casting via behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Berger, cinematographer James Friend, producer Malte Grunert, and a half dozen cast members. We also get the original German trailer, a U.S. trailer, an international trailer, and a German teaser trailer.

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    Overall Rating: (3.5)

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