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"All Quiet on the Western Front" (1979) - Movie Review

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films.

"All Quiet on the Western Front" DVD cover.

"All Quiet on the Western Front" DVD cover.

World Wars and Film

War has always been (in my opinion) the ugliest stain on our society’s history. We major a large conflict or war almost every 20 years or so, and unsurprisingly, movies often depict various battles and wars from multiple points in history. The novel All Quiet on the Western Front has been adapted a number of times: once in the 1930’s, again in 1979, and in 2018 yet another take on the story will come to cinematic life.

As I said, many films are based on famous wars; mostly World War II, but this novel and the films based on it are one of the few forms of media that actually focus on what happens during World War I. One would assume a story adapted so many times means it’s a story worth telling over and over…yes…one would assume.

Movie Synopsis

In the 1979 film version, All Quiet on the Western Front follows the life of Paul Baumer (Richard Thomas), a young German who signs up for the military along with all of his other graduating high school classmates. They all think World War I will be a grand adventure for them, but quickly find out how torturously awful and brutal training for combat and experiencing it are far from enjoyable. Soon, Paul’s friends die one by one in battle until only Paul remains.

As I mentioned before, it is rather unusual to see a film (or any story for that matter) about World War I. It’s also unique to see the film focus on the Germans' point of view and make them feel more natural, authentic characters than the comic book supervillains most films make them out to be.

WWI turns out to be a far different experience from the grand adventure Paul Baumer and his friends thought it would be.

WWI turns out to be a far different experience from the grand adventure Paul Baumer and his friends thought it would be.

The Narrative Jumps Around

Unfortunately, there is one other unique aspect to this film but it is actually one of the primary reasons this movie caused more irritation than interest: the narrative. The structure of the story is from Paul’s point of view mostly, as such, the film constantly jumps around from time point to time point with absolutely no indication of when the flashback or jump is beginning and when it is ending.

The movie hops around erratically and shows no sign of logic or framework being utilized when doing so. It’s too busy, too jumpy, and with such a dark, depressive subject matter, it’s hard enough to deal with all the death and doom/gloom without having to figure out what memory the movie is trying to half-assedly jump back to.

Too Predictable

Many people glorify this film and for some of its cast, yeah, I can see valid points on why people like this film including the aforementioned originality in story crafting and use of different points of view. However, I find the film painfully all too predictable as the setup and execution of the plot leave it little room to go anywhere else but down, down, and down. We all know how these young men’s lives are going to turn out.

Even if you’ve never seen a single war movie in your life, you can easily tell what the chances are of this kind of movie having a happy ending. I mean, even the description and taglines spell it out perfectly: “A soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I.” I don’t get why ANYONE would want to see that, who really enjoys soul-destroying stories? Can’t say that I do.

A scene from "All Quiet on the Western Front."

A scene from "All Quiet on the Western Front."

Acting and Overall Remarks

Perhaps this is a bias of mine and maybe that’s not the best way to look at this film, but truth be told, its choppy narrative and sluggish pacing only make the inevitable grim chain of events feel all the more painful and difficult to digest. I never felt anything was done particularly well here other than the choices made in the story concept.

The acting is fine but not outstanding, the time-jumping is annoyingly bothersome and the gloomy spiral that everything sinks into just makes me feel less inclined to ever want to watch it again. If that’s your cup of tea then by all means, pour yourself another cup and pop this movie back into your DVD player. But I cannot and will not say that I was pleased or impressed with anything done here and I don’t feel the novel version or a new 2018 will ever change or improve my feelings on the story.

Movie Details

Title: All Quiet on the Western Front

Release Year: 1979

Director(s): Delbert Mann

Actors: Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgnine, a.o.