Where I Watched It: Netflix
Audio Description Provided By: International Digital Center
Written By Dakota Green
Narrated By: Emily Eden
There have been war films as long as there has been film. Capturing violence on celluloid has not just been for documentarians and journalists, but also has long served as a method for aspiring filmmakers to make their stance, whether it be in a support our troops, or the horrors of war sort of way. That’s why, when people generally reference All Quiet On The Western Front, they are referencing the Best picture Oscar that is almost 90 years old, based on a war that finished over 100 years ago. it seems like World War I was a lot closer somehow, but the once referred to as just a singular, with the assumption that no one would ever want this type of horror again, has actually been that long ago. Now, we see war on an almost daily basis, either on the news, in our narrative media, or our video games. War is business.
But, Edward Burger’s adaptation of All Quiet on The Western Front isn’t your typical war film. There’s no happy ending. Private Ryan isn’t saved. instead, Burger explores the in your face brutality of what World War I soldiers endured and we now seemingly take for granted. Bodies are frequently strewn about, not just in the battlefields, but in mass graveyards, and even in rooms where they thought they would be safe. Men are blown apart, literally, set on fire, run over by tanks, and hit so hard in an explosion they are blown to the top of a tree.
There is no winner here. Burger might use the novel, once required reading for many, as a starting point for his work, but his undeniable mission to make you hate war, to despise it, and to stop using it as entertainment is in every single frame. Even the non-violent sequences (of which there are few), we are treated to the back and forth negotiations of an Armistice and the realization that the people doing the negotiating don’t even care that they are playing with real lives. As time winds down, every minute of every hour, a battle outside this meeting of the minds continues to take its toll on soldiers on both sides.
Here, our core group of recruits slowly get picked off one by one, as we learn more about them, their hopes and dreams, where they came from, all just information to humanize what will soon be dead. burger’s work is bleak, and provides the audience no promise of a happy ending aside from an eventual roll of the credits. interestingly directed and produced this year as Germany’s International feature entry at the Oscars, this film doesn’t let the Germans off the hook. It is not directed with any sort of positive take that Germany got a raw deal, but rather focuses on those lives that countries are often far too willing to call upon when the leaders who are never in direct danger feel the need to sacrifice their lives. But for what?
The audio description here by Dakota Green is among the best I’ve ever heard. She frequently chooses adjectives that amplify the horror of a death, talking about a bullet ripping through someone’s head, and finding the words to fill the silence as we watch a soldier’s life fade from their eyes (which happens more than once). It must have been a difficult film to write a narration for, but Emily Eden handles her script well. We need awards in audio description, and this film deserves one.
Beyond Green’s written narration is a cast of voice actors doing the dubbing for the German speaking cast. This is one of the best, if not the best, sounding dubbed casts I’ve ver heard. usually, a film like this would feature at least a few people who don’t quite seem to know how to read dialogue. But, this cast is so good, you would have no idea it was dubbed.
All of this leads me to one of the trickiest parts of this review. I struggle with calling this my favorite film of the year, because All Quiet On The Western Front is the kind of film that isn’t supposed to be liked or loved. This is a tough and demanding film. however, in spite of all of that, it is my belief that this is currently (with 174 titles under my belt as of this writing), the best film of the year right now. i know, there are still some movies I need to see that are getting a lot of Oscar buzz, but I find a near impossibility that I would see enough to knock this out of my top 10. And, Burger really should be considered for Best Director.
I cannot recommend this enough. but I also understand that the unflinching and unrelenting brutality of this may be too much. But, perhaps that’s the point. It’s been a long time since the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. unlike that scene, this is stretched out over the runtime of an entire film.
Final Grade: A