All Quiet on the Western Front (Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Daniel Brühl)– In 1930, the second year of the Academy Awards, All Quiet on the Western Front won the Oscar for Best Picture. For some reason, 90+ years later, the producers of this film and Netflix decided there needed to be a remake. This wasn’t the first time. A 1979 TV movie featuring Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Holm, and Donald Pleasance received nine Emmy nominations, including one win for sound editing.
Edward Berger’s 2022 version is nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best International Feature Film. It will almost certainly win the latter category (as Germany’s official entry) and perhaps some technical awards, too. It won’t win Best Picture.
All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues) is a visual spectacle, quite a feat for perhaps Netflix’s biggest production ever (about $20 million). More than that, it is a sobering, depressing glimpse into the horrors of war. Set in 1917, the third year of the “war to end all wars,” All Quiet is anything but quiet. Its booming soundtrack and unrelenting battle scenes lay bare the exhausting, frightening and brutal reality of World War I from the eyes of a German soldier, Paul (Felix Kammerer), and his soon-to-be dead friends.
They enter the war together in the midst of nationalistic fervor, optimistic that being a soldier of the Kaiser’s army will yield them respect and glory. It doesn’t last long. Once at the western front, they face the stark horror of death and destruction. They wallow in mud, slop, and guts, becoming killers in the process. One by one, they die.
Meanwhile, the armistice talks have begun. With Germany’s troops exhausted and hopelessly stalled, a peace agreement is reached although the fighting, as we see, won’t end until 11 am on 11/11 of 2018. This war will never end for those who fought it. Three million people died in the war, and the western front hardly moved at all, the definition of futility.
Ultimately, All Quiet on the Western Front is an anti-war epic with no winners. At two-and-a-half hours, the film is exhausting yet utterly compelling. It uses color sparingly, depicting the soldiers almost completely in gray to create a stark look and feel. Its soundtrack, by Volker Bertelmann, is haunting.
But before recommending it, I must ask whether we really needed yet another dreary, depressing war picture … let alone a remake of an Oscar winner adapted (now) three times from the 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque? I think not. However, I suppose that, if Netflix is going to fund it, then aficionados of the movie war genre will certainly appreciate it and be impressed by its scope and unrelenting nature. Watch it for the art because there is nothing hopeful or uplifting about it.