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All Quiet On The Western Front

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    Horace Cordier
    Senior Member

  • All Quiet On The Western Front



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 14th, 2015.
    Director: Delbert Mann
    Cast: Richard Thomas, Ian Holm, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence
    Year: 1979
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    1979's made for television miniseries ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT has been a bit forgotten over the years, despite being both a fine production and boasting an unusually strong cast. The problem of course is that the original 1930 production was such a groundbreaking achievement - in both cinematic innovation and blunt antiwar sentiment (a serious gamble in that more jingoistic era). It also didn't help that the original truncated version had a little of the taint of a slightly graphic ABC Afterschool Special about it. Thankfully, Shout! Factory/The Timeless Media Group have remedied that here by providing the uncut version.

    Paul Baumer (Richard Thomas of The Waltons and The Americans TV fame) is an idealistic young man in school at the dawn of WWI. His story is told through a combination of flashbacks and slightly overbearing narration (voiced by the actor himself) in a mostly straightforward manner. The narrative drive is classic - naive idealistic young man suffers the horrors of war along with his close school friends (who all enlisted together) and becomes a hardened cynic as he watches his nearest and dearest get killed, maimed or driven insane.

    The story is told in a series of defining life episodes for our protagonist starting with the fervent militarism of his schoolteacher Kantorek (Donald Pleasence) who hectors his students constantly about duty to the fatherland. Pleasence plays this martinet to perfection and while the viewer cannot help but snicker at his blather and write it off as peculiarly German, the truth is that this bill of deadly warmongering goods is an international affliction. Upon enlisting and hitting the trenches however, the boys discover that this isn't king of the hill. Director Delbert Mann can't convincingly deliver the blood and guts in a TV movie format but he does do a grand job of nailing the utter chaos of trench warfare. It was both horrifyingly static and thunderously loud with soldiers trapped in muddy ruts for days or weeks where movement was measured in feet or inches while mortar shelling occurred pretty much continuously. Fields were studded with barbed wire and advancing from one trench to the next guaranteed that many boys would be sliced to bloody ribbons by machine gun fire during the necessary periods of exposure.

    Aside from Thomas the other soldiers tend to fall into a blur but Ernest Borgnine as a grizzled vet that teaches the boys sone survival skills stands out, as does the great British thespian Ian Holm as a vicious training officer. The film also does a great job of showing the general futility of war and the particularly stupid nature of the German objectives. And while the battle scenes tend towards the repetitive after an hour, the sequences at the field hospitals are quite effective. The film's most dramatic sequence emotionally comes when Paul returns home for a short leave before going back to the front. At this point a bitter war weary cynic, he is asked by his father to wear his army uniform at the old man's local gentleman's club so that he can "show off his soldier boy". Forced to discuss inane war strategy with pompous older men, Paul's disgust is palpable.

    WWI has never had the quality of film canon that WWII has. Aside from the original ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, Stanley Kubrick's masterful PATHS OF GLORY, brilliant French dark horse WOODEN CROSSES, and the odd worthy historical melodrama like THE BLUE MAX, the pickings are pretty slim. What's often forgotten is that the First World War was often even more brutal than Hitler's nightmare. Poison gas, lousy armor and vicious hand to hand fighting were just a few of the things soldiers dealt with daily. This was also a very primitive surgical age - barely above the mass amputations of the American civil war. Battlefield surgeons were often little more than butchers and reliable pain management was nonexistent. This was also the first war where mass killing tools like the machine gun were deployed against cavalry charges and slow moving troops. Director Mann does a good job of capturing the nature of this war despite his limitations in the TV format. One day perhaps WWI will get something like the fabled first 10 minutes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout!/Timeless have delivered a 1.78:1 framed 1080p transfer that while differing from the film's initial full frame television version is still correct due to the fact that the film was screened theatrically overseas and matted to accommodate both aspect ratios. The actual image quality is a bit underwhelming however with some clumping film grain in evidence and slightly weak color. Flesh tones are a bit off as well. Fortunately, the drab and muddy landscapes so often on display in the film render these weaknesses easier to deal with. This is still a basically organic presentation - simply one on the washed out side. And it's not disastrous but please adjust expectations accordingly and eyeball the high resolution screencaps.

    Audio is provided by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that struggles a bit in the lower range but is serviceable enough. Considering all the high velocity shelling and other battle noises so prominently featured in the movie, a top to bottom remix in 5.1 would have been better but this is acceptable. Extras? A five minute photo gallery of stills and the theatrical trailer.

    The Final Shot:

    A solid remake of a classic film, ALL QUIET 1979, especially in its theatrical uncut form, is an easy recommendation. With fine performances and a gripping narrative it certainly never bores. The a/v won't win any awards but it squeaks by as passable. File this one away as part of a small group of worthwhile WWI films.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!




















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