Updated: Apr 15
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Austrian Felix Kammerer was cast as the lead character, the idealistic German teen Paul Bäumer, in his first-ever role in front of a camera. Bäumer soon learns the horror of what was labeled the “Great War.”
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT”
4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 2022; R for strong bloody war violence and grisly images; streaming Netflix
Best extra: “Making of” featurette, mostly in German
STRANGELY, the anti-war German novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” based on novelist Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I experience in the Imperial German Army, had never been adapted for the cinema from a German perspective.
Two English adaptations have been made. First, Universal Picture’s 1930 epic with director Lewis Milestone (“Walk in the Sun,” “Of Mice and Men”) at the helm. It won Best Picture and Best Director at the 3rd Academy Awards. It also featured Oscar-nominated cinematography from Arthur Edeson (“Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon”) with his landmark tracking shots. The black-and-white production was shot over 20 acres in Southern California in a perfect replica of the battlefield, with barbed wire, mud, trenches, explosions, and over a thousand men – many who were veterans of The Great War. For decades it’s been considered one of the greatest war pictures ever made.
Then came the 1979 British/American Hallmark Hall of Fame TV mini-series, aired on CBS with Richard Thomas (“The Waltons”) as young German soldier Paul Bäumer. It received seven Emmy nominations, winning for Film Editing, plus winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture for Television.
Peace and War
But in early 2020, German-born writer/director/producer Edward Berger got a call from producer friend Malte Grunert about the film rights to the Remarque novel. During an interview with Deadline.com, Berger tells how he first went home to talk it over with his family, where it just happened his teenage daughter had read the book in school, an emotional experience. Berger’s adaptation relied heavily on the classic novel and an existing British script, putting viewers in the mud and terror of the trenches. Still, he felt a certain sense of “Guilt and shame – mostly because of what Germany brought into the world. We wanted to put that feeling into the movie,” he told Variety Magazine.
The harrowing Netflix production was filmed in the Czech Republic during the middle of COVID-19. It ultimately received high praise from critics and audiences worldwide, becoming the most-awarded Netflix film and receiving nine Academy Award nominations, winning four golden statues for Best Foreign Language Film, Production Design, Cinematography, and Score. It also swept the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) taking seven awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Film not in English, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Score, and Cinematography.
We're not sure if Berger and Capelight Pictures, based in Berlin, demanded it or Netflix is softening on releasing films onto a physical disc, but this 4K/Blu-ray combo of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” could end up being in the top 4K Ultra HD discs of the year. The video and audio are both that good – reference-level from start to finish. The only other Netflix feature films to make the jump to 4K or Blu-ray are Alfonso Cuarón’s personal film “Roma,” Bong Joon Ho’s fantasy tale “Okja,” Martin Scorsese’s gangster drama “The Irishman,” and Jane Campion’s Best Director Oscar winner “The Power of the Dog,” all released by The Criterion Collection. Several original Netflix TV series are available on disc including “House of Cards,” “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.”
Like the original 1930 film, amazing cinematography dominates the story, captured on 6.5K ARRI Alexa digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio), winning James Friend an Oscar for his first theatrical film. He got his start working on a dozen or so British TV series including the gorgeous PBS Masterpiece “Victoria.” “Netflix gave us the ability to tell this story with justice and resources to tell a very big and personal story,” he says.
Contrasting with the war imagery are brilliant scenes of nature à la Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line.” Every frame was mastered in TRUE 4K, with the jump in resolution over the 1080p disc quite noticeable – especially with distant objects.
The HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading produces excellent peak brightness levels, as seen during a nighttime flare shot several hundred feet over the battlefield. Contrast levels are more dynamic on the 4K with a full range of mid-tones and deep, dark shadows without losing detail inside a German bunker as the soldiers try to survive a bombardment. Also, the mostly cool color palette is more saturated. Video bitrate varies from the high 50 megabits per second to the 90-plus Mbps, all encoded onto a 100-gigabit disc.
Trying to Survive
The eight-channel German Dolby Atmos soundtrack is extremely powerful and active using every single speaker from the front, sides, rears, and heights, while the subwoofer gets plenty of deep bass response during explosions. The menacing Oscar-winning Original Score from Volker Bertelmann, alias Hauschka, is nicely balanced from slow-shifting strings to electronic tones. He considers the score, “Very archaic because it has minimalistic elements which go straight into your ear.” He used his great-grandmother’s turn-of-the-century harmonium, a pump organ that uses reeds instead of pipes for the chilling three-note avant-garde opening movement.
English subtitles are provided and with my 2.05:1 screen, I moved the subtitles via my Panasonic 4K player from the black bar area to just inside the picture frame to keep my eyes front and centered and reduced the brightness. I only wish you could reduce the point size of the subtitles since the majority of the time on my supersize screen the type is too large.
Berger provides his first-ever commentary, spoken in English, providing plenty of production details, and an exclusive interview featured within the 24-page digibook packaging. He says, “As Germans, our view of war is marked by grief and shame, sorrow and death, destruction and guilt. There is nothing positive or heroic.” He also clearly remembers his first reading of the novel, yet when he read it again, “I was overcome by the modern language…It comes across as current and new in its language choices, the violence, physicality, and wit, so easily written by an author of this generation.”
The most interesting bonus is the ‘Making of’ featurette that includes over a dozen interviews with Berger, the producers, the cast, and the crew, mostly in German with subtitles. Actor Daniel Brühl (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Captain America: Civil War”), who plays writer/politician Mattias Erzberger, a signatory of the Armistice, sums up the importance of the book, “Simply world literature, the anti-war novel par excellence, which the whole world knows, and the most widely read German book.”
Production designer Christian Goldbeck highlights his Oscar-winning sets, a series of shattered houses and a courtyard he repurposed into a war-torn French village. The battlefield was constructed at a military training facility 45 minutes north of Prague, which became a huge mud field the size of 10 football fields, where cinematographer James Friend got stuck in the mud up to his waist. “This was an insane process that took an incredible amount of time,” Berger says. Construction of the interweaving trenches started in the dead of winter.
Two months prior, scenes were designed and orchestrated first in the computer to map out the 800-plus feet of trenches, slightly wider than the actual ones to accommodate Friend’s fluid camera movements. Half of the 148-minute runtime was captured in the seven-foot-deep trenches made to look infested with rats, bugs, and the horror of death.
The End of the War?
Like most war films, the cast spent several weeks in a military boot camp learning how to handle their weapons, gas masks, running, falling, and hand-to-hand combat. “It’s really complicated to send over 200 people through the mud and have tanks driving over the trenches,” Berge says. For those scenes, the trench was fortified to handle the tonnage from the tanks. Actor Albrecht Schuch, who plays Stanislaus Katcrzinsky, says, “It took two days until my heart didn’t completely drop in my pants.” Also, a team created dozens of prosthetic fake bodies made with polyurethane foam and hard shells to replicate the most violent onscreen moments. One body was placed 60 feet up onto a pine tree limb to show the power of an explosion.
Austrian Felix Kammerer was cast as the lead character, the idealistic German teen Paul Bäumer, in his first-ever role in front of a camera. More than 20 uniforms were made for his performance during the three stages of the film – as a student and in two phases of the war. “Many times, his performance brought me to tears,” Friend recalls. “Suddenly, you’re given so much trust in your work. And that trust and confidence just make you fabricate things that you could never have dreamed of,” Kammerer says. The interior of the Armistice train was actually filmed on a soundstage with digital panels replicating the imagery of the Compiègne Forest in France.
“For me, I can say that I have tried to make a movie that brings my attitude to this topic to the screen, in the hope that it is interesting for viewers – including those from other countries – to witness this story from a German perspective.” — Writer/director/producer Edward Berger
The numbers are staggering for what was labeled “The War to End All Wars.” An estimated 9 million soldiers were killed; 21 million more were wounded. Civilian casualties numbered close to 10 million.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer