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A few words about...™ All Quiet on the Western Front -- in Blu-ray

A Few Words About

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#1 of 18 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted February 14 2012 - 02:26 PM

When one looks back upon our film heritage, even half a century, fewer and fewer films stand the test of time.  And by that I mean to still have the audience holding power anything near what they did when new.


Get back into the 1930s, and even some of the finest tend to creak a bit.


But return to that era when sound was just coming into vogue, and actors could still be seen occasionally emoting and speaking into birdcages and flower pots and things get worse.


As the second release in their 100th anniversary collection, we've been given Lewis Milestone's 1930 All Quiet on the Western Front, a tale of young German students going off to The Great War.  And the first Academy Award for Outstanding Production for Universal.


There are a handful of films that can truly be considered as "anti-war."


Paths of Glory was one.


Abel Gance's J'Accuse, both the silent as well as the sound 1937 version, were others.  One could put together a short list.


These films were brilliantly anti-war.


All Quiet... may have been the first.  And what an odd perspective to take for an American studio to show what had been our German enemies, caught up in a nationalistic fervor shadowed by every other nation, and not to show them in a negative light.


The question that many will be waiting to have answered, is precisely how has Universal, which came under a bit of discussion for detraining optical "push-ins" in To Kill a Mockingbird do with an 82 year old cinematic artifact?


The answer, at least to my eyes, is very, very well.


Let's go to the facts.


The original negative of the film (shot in 1929 and 1930) was incomplete and generally no longer useable.  Of 14 reels, 6 survive, and of those 6, two were far too deteriorated to be of any use.


A decision was made, and for what it's worth, I concur, that the best plan of attack was too use a 1930 lavender, which had been donated to the Library of Congress for safekeeping.  While one might think of this element as akin to a fine grain master, it wasn't.  It was more like a print, but on a lavender based stock, which helped to hold back contrast.  Grain had a tendency to come to the fore, rather than be toned down and softened as is seen with later stocks.  You can see this easily on cut-in printer functions in the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty.


Before the decision was made to use the 82 year old element, every newer element was tested, and compared for quality.


Using the 1930 lavender as the basis of the restoration, digital technology was essential, and again, with minor exceptions, my feeling is that things were handled beautifully.



The gray scale is far better than I might have envisioned.  Blacks have real body, and grain is pleasing.  But just as important, we're presented with a stable, attractive image that doesn't bob, weave or flicker.

  Everything was scanned at 4k, without pin-registration, as the element might have been damaged.  The final workflow was performed at 2k.


MTI was used for image stabilization and dirt removal.


Grain management was performed via Relativity by Dark Energy.  I like that name.


De-flickering was performed within Revival by DaVinci.


Scratch removal was performed via tools combining both MTI and Revival, as needed.


Multiple film tears, warping, and shifts were repaired using tools within the Fire, Inferno and Smoke bays by Autodesk.


The image had to be digitally stabilized, and de-flickered before any clean-up could be performed.  Once that was accomplished both dirt and scratch removal could be used.


For the entire film, only two sections were harvested from alternate elements.  The end title, which was not found to be proper in the lavender, and the Last Supper Allegory sequence in reel 5, in which the resolution was found to be superior in the LoC fine grain.


I like everything that was done to the film with a single exception.  To my eye, grain manipulation affected some portions of the image, making things unstable.  Please read that statement again, to understand it, and see the words "to my eye."


I'm willing to bet that out of the tens of thousands of people that will view this Blu-ray, less than ten will see any problem at all, and that statement is the one to go with.


When I'm critiquing a film of this caliber, with the amount of work that went into its restoration, I'm viewing it from a perspective that very few people will take.  I have to be honest about what I'm seeing, or what I'm writing will be worthless.


Let's move to audio for a moment.


Two sets of  nitrate optical track negatives were accessed from the LoC.  They were transferred to 24-bit DA98HR at Chace Audio.  65 hours of manual processing were used to piece together the final monaural combine track.


And here's something that I actively applaud.


No one removed the highest bit of hiss from the track.  The air is still in the track, and the highest frequencies are unaffected by any clean-up.


It's the bottom line that matters, and the it's really simple.


I don't believe that All Quiet on the Western Front has looked anywhere near this good since the early 1930s.


I've been very vocal about problems at Universal for the past year or so, but I couldn't be more pleased to see their tech division doing this kind of superlative work.  I've a feeling that the bad old days at Universal may be over.


Let's go for something a bit new here, which will make these commentaries fit in a bit more cohesively with other on-line discussions.  Where helpful and applicable, I'm going to begin giving stars.  But stars based upon what something should look like, and how close it comes to fulfilling that requirement.  The number of stars given a production are personal, and take into consideration the original quality of the work, as well as how it stand that "test of time."


All Quiet on the Western Front on Blu-ray from Universal receives 4 1/2 stars for image quality, 5 stars for audio, and 5 stars for the production.  My only caveat on this entire Blu-ray was some very minor problems with grain and digital work.


As a major extra, and unfortunately, not in HD, is the original silent version of the film, as restored by The Library of Congress.


The bottom line.  An extraordinary work of art that stands the test of time after over eight decades.


A gorgeous Blu-ray.


Very Highly Recommended.


RAH


Adding a final note:


All of the digital work that was performed on this project was necessary toward achieving a final product of high quality.  In this case, for example, removal and replacement of grain was not something done on a whim.  It was done to get around problems with the grain structure of the second generation surviving element.




"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#2 of 18 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted February 14 2012 - 11:53 PM

Thanks Robert. Day 1 Purchase for sure
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#3 of 18 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted February 15 2012 - 01:50 AM

The screenshots on DVDBeaver simply blew me away. The difference between the DVD caps and the Blu-Ray caps were like night and day.

#4 of 18 OFFLINE   ahollis

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Posted February 15 2012 - 02:12 AM

With some of the most wonderful Blu-rays of older films coming to us such as Wings and All Quiet of the Western Front, all I can say is thank goodness for LOC, UCLA and other institutions that have worked hard to hold on to decent elements. We owe them a debt of gratitude.


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#5 of 18 ONLINE   Charles Smith

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Posted February 15 2012 - 02:18 AM

Boy, you can say that again.  I expect to be watching Wings, finally, within the next couple of days, and I am completely in for this one as well.  As iconic as both titles are, the films are new to me and I don't mind saying I'm excited about them.  We certainly do have some riches at hand.



#6 of 18 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted February 15 2012 - 02:24 AM



Originally Posted by Chas in CT 

Boy, you can say that again.  I expect to be watching Wings, finally, within the next couple of days, and I am completely in for this one as well.  As iconic as both titles are, the films are new to me and I don't mind saying I'm excited about them.  We certainly do have some riches at hand.



Coming out of the silent era, these early sound films, when done well (many were not), still used the heightened imagery of the silent era to make their points.  And not to give anything away -- and I would ask that those who have seen the film do not post spoilers -- the ending of this film stands as one of the finest ever created.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


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Posted February 15 2012 - 04:31 AM

This film contains one of the most shocking images I have ever seen in a motion picture.



#8 of 18 OFFLINE   JoHud

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Posted February 15 2012 - 05:36 AM

I'm a bit worried how the silent film will look upconverted--was hoping for a HD transfer. Still, I greatly look forward to owning this one, as I was very impressed watching it on the small screen many moons ago. A little disappointed that Universal wasn't also able to get Hughes' Hells Angels on blu-ray this year, even though that one is a bit more spectacle than either Wings or AQOTWF.

With some of the most wonderful Blu-rays of older films coming to us such as Wings and All Quiet of the Western Front, all I can say is thank goodness for LOC, UCLA and other institutions that have worked hard to hold on to decent elements. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

I definitely agree. It even looks like they've begun a restoration of Universal's King of Jazz this year.

#9 of 18 OFFLINE   benbess

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Posted February 15 2012 - 05:56 AM

So was the print that they used put in the Library of Congress in order to claim copyright way back then?

#10 of 18 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted February 15 2012 - 06:03 AM



Originally Posted by benbess 

So was the print that they used put in the Library of Congress in order to claim copyright way back then?



The lavender is presumably a studio holding donated or placed on deposit with the LoC.



RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#11 of 18 OFFLINE   Nick Laslett

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Posted February 18 2012 - 07:02 PM

I've never seen this film, although know of it by reputation. The release seems quite timely, what with War Horse currently in the cinemas and the adaptation of Birdsong showing on the BBC. The topic of the first world war seems to be in the air. Without this series of consequences I might just have overlooked this release, but coupled with Mr Harris recommendation I think I shall make a purchase.

#12 of 18 OFFLINE   Scott Calvert

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Posted November 01 2012 - 02:10 PM

I finally got around to this one and I have to say while it's spotless and blacks are nice and the image is rock solid as far as stability is concerned, in every frame you can see a knock-down drag-out epic struggle between the film grain and whatever "grain management" software they used. It makes everything look more like creepy-crawly video noise than anything that looks like photochemical film grain. It just looks funky. And actually not unlike the fuzz in Marnie in some spots. I simply can't understand why this would be seen as a good alternative to just leaving the grain alone, dupe sections and all.

#13 of 18 OFFLINE   cinerama10

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Posted December 08 2012 - 01:26 PM

It is still a masterpiece but it is only one of numerous anti-war films that have been made over the decades. What about the british film KING AND COUNTRY.Other classic anti-war films were STALINGRAD (USSR);MEN BEHIND THE SUN (HONG KONG);COME AND SEE (USSR) -truly the MOST DEVASTATING anti-war film of ALL time-it leaves ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT for dead. Most war films from the Soviet Union were anti-war films. In my opinion the greatest anti-war film ever made was THE BURMESE HARP (aka Harp of Burma) (JAPAN).If you have never seen it or COME AND SEE ,then do yourself a favour and see them both.There are many better anti-war films than ALL QUIET but it would take too long to list them all.It is sad that to-day that most people see only American films and never get to really experience the greatest films from round the world.

#14 of 18 OFFLINE   cinerama10

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Posted December 08 2012 - 01:35 PM

ObvIously you have never seen the Russian film COME AND SEE.- truly the most devastating anti-war film of ALL time.A child watching a massacre has NEVER been surpassed in the cinema of anti war films..Truly one of the most memorable scenes ever seen in any film. My favourite anti-war film was the Japanese classic BURMESE HARP. Now that was one of the greatest of all the anti-war films made (and there have been hundreds).

#15 of 18 OFFLINE   Michel_Hafner

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Posted December 08 2012 - 10:22 PM

Grain management was performed via Relativity by Dark Energy.  I like that name.

Luke, don't underestimate the dark side of the force. Fear of grain is the path to the dark side. Fear of grain leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. :) http://magazine.crea...-restored-to-4k

#16 of 18 OFFLINE   AnthonyClarke

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Posted December 09 2012 - 10:59 AM

What an interesting director Lewis Milestone was. I've always loved 'All Quiet on the Western Front' but I must also commend wholeheartedly his 'The Halls of Montezuma' which, although supporting the dreadful necessities of the shocking war in the Pacific, really did underline the dehumanising aspects of warfare. As well as a fine achievement by Milestone, it was the first movie to open my eyes to what a fine actor Richard Widmark was. It's Interesting too for its amazing integration of actual combat footage into the drama of the movie.

#17 of 18 OFFLINE   jeffsultanof

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Posted December 10 2012 - 06:35 AM

I was stunned when I saw this new release of ALL QUIET. It has had an incredible history of being cut down and altered over the years. It was reissued in 1939 and the soundtrack had been 'modernized.' In the Blu-ray booklet, a letter from Milestone can be found commenting on a 101 minute version that was being used for television showing, although he states that prints circulating in Europe were uncut. I was informed back in the sixties that the negative was in unusable shape. Thank you Mr. Harris for informing me of the source for this release. Universal has done a stunning job with this film. To these eyes and ears, it looks like it came from the camera negative.

#18 of 18 OFFLINE   Ray Faiola

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Posted December 28 2012 - 05:58 AM

Here's the original 1930 trailer. I had a silent print and created a new optical track for it using the feature track (fortunately most of the same takes were used in the trailer as in the feature). The exception was Zasu Pitts, who not only didn't speak in the feature but she was replaced by Beryl Mercer!! So in this print of the trailer, Ms. Pitts speaks with a brogue. Sorry, Zasu.

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