All Quiet on the Western Front is the second big salvo in Universal’s 100th Anniversary Blu-ray schedule, and it’s another easy recommendation for purchase. The movie itself continues to have a fair amount of shock value, some 80 years after its original release. The Blu-ray presents a new high definition transfer and restoration that like To Kill A Mockingbird, show a great amount of respect and care for the movie and the elements. The Blu-ray also includes a restored print of the silent version of the movie, along with the same trailer and introduction that came with the 2007 DVD release. This release is Highly Recommended.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Length: 2 hrs 13 mins
Genre: Drama/World War I
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 25 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (1.8 mbps)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Film Rating: Unrated (Intense Scenes of War Combat and Violence)
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Starring: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Slim Summerville, William Bakewell
Dialogue by: Maxwell Anderson and George Abbott
Adaptation by: Maxwell Anderson
Screen Story by: George Abbott
Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque
Produced by: Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Directed by: Lewis Milestone
Film Rating: 5/5
All Quiet on the Western Front is a movie that, despite showing its age in various ways, still speaks with power and immediacy to a modern audience about the horrors of war. Yes, some of the dialogue is a bit stilted. Yes, some of the performances are a bit larger than life in a way that Robert Harris beautifully described in his A Few Words… column on this release. This is a film that was made at the time that movies were transitioning to the inclusion of sound. (I’ve read that the film was shot with two cameras side by side, in the same way that The Robe would do so 20+ years later, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.) In its simplest terms, the movie puts the audience in with a bunch of young German recruits to the Great War led by Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres), and over the course of the next two hours, subjects the recruits and the audience to a small taste of the brutality of combat. It’s a sobering and at times unrelenting experience – the audience sits in a trench bunker with the boys for what feels like forever as the bombs drop outside, before the group is ordered out into total carnage as the German and French forces advance and retreat with machine guns, grenades and finally bayonets at close range.
SPOILERS HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM: The actual title of the original book more properly translates to “Nothing new in the West”, meaning that the death of all these young boys in the meat grinder of World War I is not considered shocking by the men who gave the orders. And that of course, is the real message of this movie – and it resonates as much today as when the book was written in the late 1920s. The movie begins with the young men being exhorted to war by their jingoistic schoolteacher, who tells them how good it is to die for their country. And they all go for it, ripping up their textbooks and running out to sign up for military service. The next section of the movie is as brutal a representation of boot camp as seen in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The boys are badly treated by their drill instructor (actually their former mail carrier, now on a power trip due to his Sergeant rank) and begin to get the idea that this isn’t going to be what they thought. Then the group gets sent to the front, where the real mayhem starts. And over the course of the movie, the boys are picked off, one by one – sometimes with an immediate shot and more often with a lingering injury. When Paul finally gets a leave to return to his hometown, he is so burned out and disillusioned that he can barely stand to be there. The movie makes a further point by forcing Paul to listen to his father’s buddies armchair quarterback the war without any thought of the human cost, and then bringing Paul full circle to his teacher’s classroom, where the man is still exhorting his classes to enlist! In the end, Paul is the only one left of that group of boys, and the only friend he has left is one older soldier Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim), and sadly, the only place he feels at home is on the battlefield. Any innocence he had at the story’s outset is now long gone, and the saddest part of it is that the new wave of soldiers who have joined his unit are even younger than he was when he joined. And yes, per the book’s title, this is all par for the course. Nothing new going on here, nothing unusual to see.
It’s important to note that this movie was a fairly large budget event for its time, part of Carl Laemmle, Jr.’s move to generate prestige projects for Universal from the late 1920s to the 1930s. In the case of All Quiet on the Western Front, this resulted in a movie that won Oscars for Best Director and for Best Picture – the first time Universal had been so honored. It’s also important to note that this was going on during the onset of the Great Depression. Just six years later, the Laemmles would be ousted from the studio and the whole enterprise would teeter on the financial edge. Should I have the good fortune to review the upcoming DVD of Three Smart Girls, we’ll be able to discuss one of the ways the studio was able to dig back out of the problem…
Five years ago (on February 4, 2007), I published my first review at Home Theater Forum. My first title was this movie, at that time presented on standard definition DVD as part of the Universal Cinema Classics series. In looking back on my earlier review, it’s clear that the movie had a similar effect on me then. Watching it again for this release was actually more instructive, as I was able to focus more on the surrounding details of the transfer when not getting sucked back into the maelstrom of the story. Five years later, and now 270 reviews later, this film still has a primal force to it. As I said back then, if you have not seen this film, I strongly recommend you do so, and this Blu-ray is a terrific way to accomplish that.
The Blu-ray release of All Quiet on the Western Front is actually the 3rd DVD edition of the movie. The first DVD was inexplicably listed as a “Widescreen Edition”, which makes little sense for a movie shot and presented in the 1.33:1 ratio. The second DVD was the 2007 Universal Cinema Classics DVD which used a restored print from the Library of Congress. The 2007 DVD also included a revival trailer and a brief introduction by Robert Osborne. The Blu-ray presents new HD picture and sound restorations, along with the 2007 extras and two HD featurettes celebrating Universal’s 100th Anniversary. The Blu-ray comes in a digibook package which includes a 40 page booklet containing an introduction by Leonard Maltin, production notes, poster art, press excerpts and some correspondence. A standard-definition DVD is also included in the packaging. Again, this release is Highly Recommended.
One final note: For some reason, there is no Main Menu on this disc. When you start the disc, you’ll go right to the feature, from which you can select the “Pop Up” Menu to bring up chapter, setup and extras options. But there is no separate Top Menu…
VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5
All Quiet on the Western Front is presented in a black and white 1080p AVC 1.33:1 transfer that, like To Kill A Mockingbird, has clearly been assembled with a lot of care and affection for the film. For a thorough analysis of this, I again strongly recommend that readers check out Robert Harris’ A Few Words assessment. What I’m seeing here is a carefully modulated restoration of very old elements. Where the Library of Congress restoration was a revelation above the transfer available on the earliest DVD, the new transfer goes several steps farther. More detail than ever before can be seen in the costumes and sets, as well as in the faces of the cast. The flicker reduction shown from the Universal featurette has resulted in the image being much clearer. Further, it appears to me that some shots may have been stabilized – one early shot pulling back from the classroom window looks much smoother on the new transfer than it does on the Library of Congress restoration. The only thing I’m noticing that was a little distracting at times was a small amount of digital noise – which I believe to be something that comes with the territory here – to have removed it would have also removed other information I’m happy they kept on the screen.
AUDIO QUALITY 5/5
All Quiet on the Western Front is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix that provides the best possible sound quality from the elements. There is a lot of atmospheric sound in the background, but the voices are mostly clear. Certain shots show how new the whole sound process was at the time – that early classroom shot has the teacher’s voice drowned out by the crowd for the first few seconds before he is dialed up over the top. (And this is an intentional effect, as can be heard from the point in the dialogue where he becomes prominent.) There are also a few shots here and there where the soundtrack does not include all of the onscreen actions – a shot of a truckload of shouting soldiers passing the camera does not have any of the shouting in the mix. (And again, this is clearly the original intention of the mix and not an error in the restoration.) This mix is as clear a presentation as one could wish for.
SPECIAL FEATURES 4/5
The Blu-ray presentation of All Quiet on the Western Front comes with a few special features, including the complete Silent Version of the movie and the 2007 extras. The Blu-ray also includes the HD featurette about the work done to restore several Universal classics, and adds a new HD featurette about Universal movies that have won Academy Awards. The Blu-ray also carries the usual BD-Live and pocket BLU functionality. The packaging also includes the standard-definition DVD of the current edition. Instructions for downloading a digital copy are included in the packaging.
Introduction by Robert Osborne (2:40, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 2007 DVD) – Robert Osborne’s introduction to the film from the 2007 DVD is included here. He discusses the career of Lew Ayres and mentions a few bits of trivia, including the work of George Cukor as the movie’s casting director.
Silent Version of All Quiet on the Western Front (2:12:54, 480p, Full Frame) (NEW FEATURE FOR THIS BLU-RAY) – Here we have a really interesting extra – the complete “silent” version of the movie as restored by the Library of Congress, presented in standard definition. It runs about the same length as the “talkie” version, but there are some big differences. First, a bit of the time is actually taken up with the dialogue cards. Second, there is one major scene that simply can’t be included in this version. In the “talkie” version, Paul and two of his classmates have an interlude with some maidens in a French cottage where Paul spends some time with one of the girls. Paul’s dialogue with the girl is left completely off camera, and we listen to their discussion from the next room. At the end of the scene, the guys all go running out the front door. In the silent version, this entire part of the cottage sequence is removed.
Trailer (2:30, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 2007 DVD) – This unrestored revival trailer for the movie shows just how poor the movie looked before the Library of Congress restoration and the new Blu-ray.
100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics (9:13, 1080p) – This high definition featurette is repeated from the To Kill A Mockingbird Blu-ray.
100 Years of Universal: Academy Award Winners (9:35, 1080p) (NEW FEATURETTE) – This high definition featurette discusses the Universal movies that have won the Best Picture Oscar, and then gets into the various actors and creative people who have won for their work on Universal movies. Most of the running time is taken up with clips from the movies in discussion.
BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present.
Pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present.
The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present. As I said, there is no Main Menu, but you can access everything you need via the pop-up option. I should also note that the earlier 2007 DVD was chaptered but did not have a menu – the new Blu-ray corrects that problem.
Digital Copy – Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie are available on an insert in the packaging. The download may not be available after 12/31/2012.
SD DVD – (1.33:1 Full Frame, Black and White) – As a bonus, the digibook also contains a standard definition DVD of this new transfer. The sound is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix (at 192 kbps) All of the special features except for silent version of the movie are included here.
IN THE END...
All Quiet on the Western Front continues to be a shocking and compelling film, now over 80 years after its initial theatrical release. The new Blu-ray presents a great new HD transfer of picture and sound, and even presents the silent version of the movie as a bonus. This is one of those movies you really should have in your collection. The release is Highly Recommended.
February 20, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer