The new German/English version of All Quiet on the Western Front that was
released on Netflix in October of last year, probably did not get the attention
it deserved. But now it is getting more play because it is doing so unexpectedly
well in the awards races. It won seven British Academy Film Awards, and it is
nominated for an astonishing nine Oscar categories (only
Everything Everywhere all at Once
has more nominations) including best picture and best adapted screenplay.
But itís my sad duty to report that although this war film is a very good and
respectable adaptation of the novel, it pales before the 1930 masterpiece with
the same name. Also, I would not put it in the same class as such groundbreaking
classic war films like Attack (1956), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Apocalypse Now
(1979), and 1980ís The Big Red One (Sam Fuller was a great underrated war film
director). I might have been more impressed if I saw it on the big screen (it is
still in some theatres at this time) but alas I saw it on Netflix.
The film was based on a classic and then controversial novel by Erich Maria
Remarque, which is still mandatory reading in many high schools. The Germans saw
the glory less book as an insult to front line fighters and other combatants.
They even stripped the author of his citizenship and he ended up fleeing his own
country and being an exile in Switzerland.
The director, Edward Berger is relatively unknown in the US, and he has mostly
done German films and shows such as Female 2 Seeks Happy End (2001) Jack (2014)
and Deutschland 83 (2015). But his American miniseries, Patrick Melrose which
gained much critical attention in the states featured an astonishingly
convincing performance by Benedict Cumberbatch (which gained him an Emmy nom) as
an antihero trying to overcome his addictions.
Felix Klemerer is fine playing Paul Bauer, the spirited young man who becomes an
army recruit hoping to be a hero, but he ends practically drowning in mud, dirt,
and blood seeing many of his closest allies killed. Significant parts of the
novel have been excised including the sections in which he meets a female
companion and spends time in the hospital. Taking the scenes out makes the
character less multi-dimensional than his counterpart in the novel. Early on,
Paul is happy to get a uniform (in a scene not in the original novel), but he is
unaware that the uniform was taken off a body of a dead soldier which suggests
the military recycles human beings just as it recycles uniforms.
The film ends in a different way than the novel. It shows the armistice hammered
out at the end of the war and while historically accurate-it is much less
dramatically effective than the endings of the novel or the 1930ís version.
Overall, although this is a commendable version that keeps your interest it is
far from the definitive one (although it is probably better than the 1979 TV
version that featured Richard Thomas, the actor who played John Boy Walton from
The Waltons show in the lead.) Still, All Quiet on the Western Front is
certainly superior to most of the franchise films that have been dominating the
theatre box office, and it is definitely worth a look from history buffs.