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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Lewis Milestone
Cast:
Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray, Arnold Lucy, Ben Alexander, Scott Kolk, Owen Davis Jr., Walter Rogers
Writing Credits:
Erich Maria Remarque (novel, "Im Westen nichts Neues"), Maxwell Anderson (adaptation & dialogue), George Abbott (screenpaly & dialogue), Del Andrews (adaptation), C. Gardner Sullivan (supervising story chief)

Synopsis:
Relive the drama, conflict and power of one of the most influential anti-war films ever made - All Quiet on the Western Front. Universal's first Best Picture Academy Award winner is now available in its original glory with a digitally remastered picture restored by the Library of Congress. Follow a group of idealistic young men as they join the German Army during World War I and are assigned to the Western Front, where their patriotism is destroyed by the harsh realities of combat. The hard-hitting, timeless masterpiece returns with stunning visual enhancement to its deserving place in film history!

Box Office:
Budget
$1.2 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 2/6/2007

Bonus:
• Introduction from Film Historian Robert Osborne
• Trailer


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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


All Quiet On The Western Front: Cinema Classics (1930)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 19, 2007)

Those of us under 40 generally seem to imagine that anti-war sentiment really didn't exist anywhere until the 1960s. I guess the Baby Boomers snowed us. They like to act like they invented everything, and many of us believed them in this case, as it never appeared that any prior wars had inspired any sort of formal protests.

For the record, I'm not saying that I believed all citizens of all nations happily marched to their doom without any thought of the consequences. I was always very aware of the isolationist movement in the US that essentially delayed our entry into World War II, and movies like The Best Years of Our Lives showed a darker side of that conflict. Still, I think the general impression we've received follows the jingoistic lines that always display wars in terms of unadulterated support.

1930's All Quiet On the Western Front slaps me upside the head with reality. The film deals with World War I - wasn't that supposed to be the war to end all wars? - and views the conflict from the German side. However, don't regard that emphasis as important to the content, as it really appears irrelevant. If a similar movie were to be made about WWII-era Germany, it would need to be more ideologically-specific, but there's nothing here about the portrayal of the German characters or their opponents that requires them to be from one nation or another.

That makes the film more universal than it otherwise would appear, since we can't watch it and dismiss its lessons as being restricted to one nation. One problem with Nazi-oriented stories is that they're so completely one-sided - and appropriately so, since there was nothing defensible about their actions. However, that means it's more difficult for us to generalize lessons learned because we regard what the Germans did as such an aberration. It's the "it couldn't happen here" syndrome.

Dramas about WWI don't suffer from that problem since it was a much more abstract battle. The lines of "good" and "evil" were much less clearly drawn. In fact, a lot of the isolationism seen during the Thirties stemmed from the impressions that WWI was fought over little and concluded nothing. No concerns were fully resolved, so the entire brutal action appeared to be a waste of lives, money and time.

That tone comes through clearly in Front, a surprisingly searing and effective anti-war movie. Frankly, although I knew the piece viewed armed conflict in a negative manner, I wasn't quite prepared for how strong it would be. This movie shows the conflict in a nearly-unrelentingly harsh way.

The story follows a group of classmates who are all strongly encouraged by society to join the military; it's their duty and will bring about their glory. This is most clearly demonstrated by a scene involving their teacher as he whips the boys into a nationalistic frenzy. However, they soon realize the truth of the matter as they enter a boot camp almost as mind-numbing and unpleasant as the one depicted in Full Metal Jacket. Once that ends, they head off for combat, where the nasty realities of the situation become even clearer.

Front seemed much more graphic and kinetic than I expected. When I think of films from the era, I imagine static shots of tame action, but that's not the case here. In fact, the battle scenes are easily the high points of this movie and I thought they were some of the best-executed I've ever seen. They lack the blood-and-guts impact of Saving Private Ryan but clearly depict the unrelenting terror of combat. The camera swoops along the trenches and the soldiers just don't stop as they attack and attack and attack; the segments lack melodrama and simply go straight for the throat. These parts of the film seemed vicious and brutal and really worked well.

The rest of Front provides a mixed bag. For one, the film is simply too long. It makes its points over and over and just keeps going past the point of usefulness. I also find it disconcerting that most of the actors who played the Germans were American, and really American at that. These were clean-cut, "all-American boys" and it feels odd to have them act as Germans. I believe that was part of the point, as obviously foreign actors would have allowed audiences to distance themselves from the material. With such familiar attitudes in the roles, it makes it harder for us to disconnect. However, I don't think it works especially well, as it just seems freaky to regard these kids as Germans.

In any case, even with those quibbles, All Quiet On the Western Front remains a classic war film. Forget everything you thought you knew about "old-time" moviemaking, and ignore every prejudice you feel toward that era. This movie blasts its way through those generational concerns and stays gripping and vibrant after more than 75 years.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-

All Quiet on the Western Front appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A considerable improvement over the original original 1999 release, this Front showed its age but came across reasonably well.

For the most part, sharpness appeared fairly crisp and well-defined, though it seemed inconsistent. A few shots seemed a bit soft and hazy. However, this aspect of the DVD was one of its strongest components and generally seemed satisfactory. Moiré effects and jagged edges did not present any concerns, and I also failed to notice any issues with edge enhancement.

As I expected from a 77-year-old movie, source flaws were the primary distraction. Grain could be heavy, and I saw a variety of scratches, speckles, spots and lines. These were distracting but not nearly as bad as they could have been given the flick’s age. I’d describe the defects as mild to moderate much of the time; they rarely came across as excessive, and more than a few shots were surprisingly free from problems.

Black levels varied. At times, dark tones seemed rich and deep, and shadow detail could be quite deft and appropriately light. A few shots tended to be somewhat dark, but those issues usually resulted from poor lighting techniques. Overall, this was a surprisingly solid image given its vintage.

The monaural soundtrack of All Quiet on the Western Front was also erratic but pleasing for its age. A fair amount of the dialogue seemed pretty clear and crisp, although the lines could be tinny and thin at times. Intelligibility never became an issue. Though effects lacked much range, they also usually appeared free from distortion. No, I wouldn’t call them clean and clear, but they were more than sufficient for recordings from this period.

Music appeared infrequently, as films of the era didn't have proper scores. Instead, we got a tune under the title cards, and we also found some music played as part of the action. For example, one scene featured a marching band. Like the effects, these elements failed to present much punch, but they were reasonably concise. Background noise appeared throughout the film to a moderate degree. Though occasionally distracting, these sounds were inevitable. The noise did become more problematic on a few occasions such as when the boys visit Kemmerick in the hospital. In the end, I felt that the DVD represented the audio about as well as we might expect.

How did the picture and audio of this 2007 DVD compare to those of the original 1999 version? Both offered noticeable improvements. The visuals were clearer, cleaner and better defined, while sound seemed more distinctive as well. The mix lost the shrillness and distortion that marred the prior disc. This DVD stood as a considerable step up in quality.

Only two minor extras fill out the DVD. In addition to a trailer for one of the film’s re-releases, we get an introduction from film historian Robert Osborne. In this two-minute and 40-second chat, Osborne discusses the casting of Lew Ayres and other elements of the actor’s career. He also tells us a little about the film’s success. This is a perfectly decent little clip, but it doesn’t give us much. It’s too bad the DVD doesn’t bring in a commentary or other elements to examine Front.

This DVD drops some supplements from the prior release. It loses some good production notes and biographies. Why not include these again? They certainly didn’t take up much space.

Although All Quiet On the Western Front is clearly a flawed DVD, I still have to recommend it because of the quality of the movie itself. The film provides a powerful and relatively graphic portrayal of war that might give pause to even the most gung-ho hawk. The DVD's picture and sound are both surprisingly good given their age, but the absence of substantial supplements comes as a disappointment.

Front is a memorable movie that earns my recommendation. Fans who own the 1999 DVD will also want to upgrade to this “Cinema Classics” edition. It presents big improvements in both picture and sound, so it’s definitely worth the $15 list price.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5833 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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