Netflix’s reboot of the timeless story All Quiet on the Western Front will get another release Tuesday when the company releases the movie on separate DVD and Blu-ray platforms. The forthcoming standalone releases are rather intriguing presentations because unlike so many movies, they were not released at the same time as the movie’s 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack in late March. Why officials at Netflix, Capelight Pictures and Amusement Park Films opted to go this route is anyone’s guess. Keeping that in mind, it is in fact one of the negatives of the new DVD and Blu-ray releases, which will be addressed later, along with the lack of one key bonus content that only came with the movie’s 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack. As discussed in this blog’s existing review of the 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack, one of the positives of the movie is the bonus content that is featured in these standalone releases. They will be discussed shortly. The cinematography round out the movie’s most important elements and will also be addressed later. Each item noted here is its own crucial part of the presentation’s whole. All thing considered they make the new standalone DVD and Blu-ray presentations of All Quiet on the Western Front honestly somewhat a pair of mixed bags.
Netflix’s award-nominated and winning reboot of All Quiet on the Western Front is a powerful new take on the timeless anti-war allegory about a young German soldier sent to the front to fight in World War I. It is not an easy watch, but one that is worth seeing when audiences are in the proper mindset to process the new update. Part of what makes the movie so worth watching is the bonus content that is presented with the movie’s new standalone DVD and Blu-ray presentations. The new platform releases come with the same “making of” featurette and feature-length audio commentary from Director Edward Berger that are included in the movie’s 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack. To that end, audiences are not necessarily losing out any most of the bonus content in these standalone releases.
The bonus “Making Of” featurette that accompanies the movie’s new standalone releases spends ample time talking about the trench scenes. Audiences will be shocked to learn here that the crew actually had to build the trenches. Obviously heavy machinery was brought in to dig the trenches, but still the overall work that had to have gone into establishing the look in the trenches once they were dug had to have been so intense. One can’t help but wonder if it gave the crew a new appreciation for how much work the real soldiers did to create trenches during the war without all that heavy machinery to help.
Viewers learn from one of the cast members that the conditions in the trenches — the water that got the cast’s pants and feet wet for instance — actually played into the performance because it made the situation all the more real for the performances. As if this is not enough, viewers are also treated to an in-depth discussion on how the prosthetics and dummies were made for this movie. Considering the graphic nature of war, lots of time had to be spent on getting everything right on that aspect, and audiences get at least a glimpse into the amount of time and work that went into this key aspect of the movie’s look.
The costume department also gets its own attention in the “making of” featurette, making the viewing experience all the more in-depth. The amount of work that went into making the cast’s costumes look as realistic and believable as possible is just as engaging as the discussion on the prosthetics and the work that went into setting up the trench and battlefield sets.
All things considered, the “Making of” featurette that comes with All Quiet on the Western Front offers quite a bit of interest and added engagement and entertainment for viewers. Considering that this and the feature-length audio commentary are both included in the Blu-ray side of the movie’s 4K UHD/BD combo pack and the standalone DVD and BD platforms, it leaves one wondering why the platforms were not all released the same day back in March. Only the people at Netflix, capelight Pictures and Amusement Park will likely ever know. Either way, audiences who do not want to have to churn out the extra money for that 4K UHD/BD combo pack will still be getting most of the same extra content as those who are open to spend the extra money. At the same time, considering that the bonus content is featured exclusively in the combo pack’s BD side, maybe the extra money would have been worth spending so that when 4K tech becomes less cost restrictive, they can enjoy the movie in full 4K UHD and the bonus content on the BD side.
Now keeping all of this in mind, there is one bonus extra featured in the combo pack not included in the standalone releases. That extra is the companion booklet that features discussions from Berger and from historian/professor Daniel Schonpflug. The duo’s separate discussions spread across the 24-page booklet find each man sharing his respective background on the movie and the book from which it was spawned.
Berger, for instance, talks during his interview, about how he and the movie’s other creative heads developed the fight scenes online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic preventing them from meeting in person. He notes in this discussion, those involved in the movie’s creation were spread across three continents, so coming together to develop the battle scenes was not an easy feat. On the matter of developing the story for the reboot, Berger also addresses the noted heavy emotional sense that permeates the movie. He said making the story so emotionally heavy was intentional because of how the war impacted Germany and its citizens. Speaking of that impact, Berger notes the fallout of the war, including how the kaiser ended up abdicating his rule and thus left the country essentially in a state of anarchy. This is something that is rarely if ever taught in American classrooms at any level.
Berger also discusses working with actor Felix Kammerer, who played the role of Paul in this outing. He had only positive comments about Kammerer in that discussion, and justifiably so. This will be addressed a little bit more later. He also talks about keeping himself grounded and focused while making the movie. In simple terms, this is a discussion on not letting his ego get the better of himself, which clearly paid off in watching the movie. There is even a mention of fellow famed movie maker Stanley Kubrick in these discussions that is certain to engage audiences.
Schonpflug’s discussions build even more on those from Berger. Schonpflug takes on topics, such as Remarque’s own experience as a conscripted soldier in the German army as it relates to his timeless novel. That is another item that few if any American teachers bring into discussions on this novel when they introduce the book to students. The revelation that Schonpflug makes here is enlightening to say the least. On an equally interesting note, Schonpflug also notes that in Germany, All Quiet on the Western Front was actually censored – and even burned – by the government at different points because of its overarching anti-war message. Yet again here is something that is rarely if ever taught about the book in American classrooms at any level. The shock of the realization is engaging in its own right and is just as certain to get audiences to start doing their own deeper research into the book.
As if all of this is not enough, Schonpflug also addresses how much of the war Remarque left out of the book, and his praise for Berger’s take on the novel in two more separate discussions. In regards to how Remarque presented the war in his novel, Schonpflug changed a number of scenes from his early drafts at the request of his then publisher. He gives the example of the moment Paul kills a French soldier, and the impact that it has on him. Berger adds that moment into this reboot, but changes it in his own way from the novel’s presentation. Schonpflug notes other changes Berger made to his take on the story in his thoughts on how Berger handled the movie, speaking of the changes. In the end, he praises Berger, saying Berger has fully succeeded in his imagining of the story. He is definitely right in that commentary.
Considering all of the information that the men provide through their “interviews” the collective information provides so much extra to the movie’s presentation. It is sad that this extra was not included in either the standalone DVD or Blu-ray presentation. It makes the extra money shelled out for the combo pack more worth it even for those who may not yet have the noted price restrictive 4K technology yet. Simply put: yes, this is the effort of all involved to push more people toward 4K tech and away from Blu-ray and DVD technology and sadly in this case it works at least for viewers who want the full viewing experience. That is not to defend all involved for going this route. It is meant merely in an observation of a negative that robs so many viewers of that full viewing experience.
Thankfully the lack of the bonus booklet is not enough to doom the movie in its DVD and BD presentations. There is still much to appreciate from the movie itself for those who maybe are less inclined toward bonus content. That includes the movie’s cinematography and the work of the cast.
In examining the movie’s cinematography, the way the cameras move through the trenches and capture the frantic nature of the battles is so powerful in its own right. Seeing the smoke of the gas and from the shots fired as the soldiers make their way across the battlefield is just as intense and gripping. On the same note, a calmer moment, such as when Paul, Kat, Tjaden and the other soldiers are relaxing, enjoying the cooked goose is just as rich in its color and angles. Seeing the men admiring the French woman from a distance as they pass by really goes to show such a nice wide shot of the land. On a related note, Schonpflug also addresses the reality of sexual violence committed against French women by German soldiers in his interview. That is another eye-opening revelation that is never taught here in the U.S. about World War I. Even the opening scene of Paul and his friends planning to join the German Army is strong in its own right. That is because of the peacefulness and color of the buildings and streets in their hometown. It is a subtle, perhaps unintended, message, but becomes deep when one considers how such a town likely looked after the war. When audiences take into account Berger’s statements about his deliberate approach to getting every shot right, it adds even more to the appreciation for the work that went into the cinematography. Between these examples and so many others available to note, the whole of the movie’s cinematography makes for its own exceptional presentation and experience for viewers. The result is a foundation that is strengthened all the more for the presentation.
The work of the cast strengthens that foundation even more, beginning with and not limited to the work of Kammerer. To think that Kammerer’s first day in the movie industry was the first day of principal photography for the movie, he ended up presenting quite the talent throughout the movie. From a bright-eyed young recruit who lied to get into the German Army to a very quickly more seasoned soldier, hardened by combat, to eventually, a young man who realized the fallacy of what he was doing, Kammerer is to be applauded throughout the story. Case in point is Paul’s shock of having to collect dog tags from other, dead soldiers in his first experience in the trenches. One of those soldiers was one of his own friends. The tears that he shed, and having to keep going were the beginning of that change that Paul underwent. Thankfully, Kat took him under his wing and helped him to retain a certain amount of his humanity before things got even worse as the story progressed. The look of shock as he stabs the French soldier and then realizes what he had done, resulting in so much sadness and shame, is another of the most powerful moments in Paul’s change. That is because it is really at that moment he realized the fallacy of what he and the rest of the army were doing. That epiphany humanized Paul all the more, and continued to show Kammerer’s talent as an actor. Kammerer’s portrayal as Paul and another new group of soldiers is sent back to the front near the war’s end continues to show that talent, too. He portrays Paul as someone who is just fed up with it all and wants to go home like everyone else but knows he has a job to do. The way in which Kammerer carries himself in the moment makes a person feel so much for him at that very moment. What happens to Paul in the impending battle (which will not be revealed here for the sake of those who have not yet seen the movie) makes the outcome all the more hard hitting, emotionally.
Albrecht Schuch (System Crasher, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Mitten in Deutschland: NSU), who plays the part of Kat – Stanislaus Katczinsky – is also to be applauded for his own work opposite Kammerer. That is because of the way in which he manages to help keep Paul grounded. The focus that he brings out of Kat even in the intensity of battle helps to show the experience that Kat already had by the time Paul came into the war. His sensitivity as he talks about wanting to be back with his wife and the vulnerability that he brings out of Kat as he addresses his son’s death from smallpox makes him an even more endearing figure. To a point, audiences can actually argue that Schuch’s portrayal of Kat makes Kat something of, perhaps, a father figure to Paul even more than just a friend. It is that presence that helps to make Kat and Paul so enjoyable to watch together throughout the movie and just another example of the importance of the cast’s work.
On yet another note, the cast members who took on the role of the German and French officials on board the train deserve their own applause. Yes, they were largely supporting cast in the case of this movie, but the tension that they manage to create amongst themselves when they are on screen is fully believable, even though it is known that this moment was somewhat fictionalized. They include Daniel Bruhl as German diplomat Matthias Erzberger and Thibault de Montalembert as French General Ferdinand Foch. Devid Striesow (The Counterfeiters, Before The Fall, Downfall) is just as deserving of applause in his role as General Friedrichs. That is because of the contrast that he creates to the more level-headed approach of Erzberger, who was determined to bring the conflict to an end and save Germany any more suffering. Now, Friedrichs is not a real person. He was a character created for this take on the timeless anti-war protest story, but that aside, the way in which Striesow brings Friedrichs to life is so worthy of applause. That is because he shows that insistence that Germany fight on even as peace is being negotiated. Even before then, there is another scene in which Striesow leaves audiences wondering if Friedrichs is going to take his own life as he recalls the military successes of his father and grandfather. Interestingly he does not end up taking his own life, but that moment is so powerful in its simplicity and Striesow’s performance. Between his work and that of Bruhl, de Montalembert, and other supporting cast, their work proves just as important as that of the lead cast. When all of that work is collectively considered the result is a group of performances that makes for just as much engagement as the work of those behind the cameras, bringing the story to life. When all of that work is considered alongside the movie’s bonus content, the whole therein together with the overall story makes the new home physical release of All Quiet on the Western Front a must see, at least once, and a rare reboot that is actually worth watching.
Netflix/capelight Pictures/Amusement Park Film’s 2022 reboot of All Quiet on the Western Front is a surprisingly engaging presentation. That is because it proves itself a reboot that is actually worth watching. Its appeal comes in part through the bonus content that accompanies the movie’s new physical home release. The interviews with its director Edward Berger and historian/professor Daniel Schonpflug are among the most interesting of the bonus features. That is because of the background and history that the pair offer regarding the new movie, the book, and how each stacks up against the real story of Germany’s role in the first World War. The feature-length audio commentary and the standard “making of” featurette build on the foundation formed by the interviews to make for even more engagement and entertainment. The overall foundation formed therein is strengthened even more through the movie’s cinematography, which is just as engaging, what with the angles, the use of lighting and even something as simple as filters. The gritty portrayal of the battles and the contrast of the calm of the countryside make that clear. The work of the movie’s cast, both lead and supporting, builds even more on that foundation and puts the finishing touch to the presentation. That is because each actor’s work is so believable. Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the movie. All things considered they make this new physical home release of All Quiet on the Western Front one of the surprisingly best of this year’s new home releases.
All Quiet on the Western Front is scheduled for release Tuesday on separate, standalone DVD and Blu-ray platforms. The trailer for the new reboot of All Quiet on the Western Front is streaming here. More information on this and other titles from Netflix is available at:
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