copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front has been hallmarked as one of the best and most important movies of the 20th century. However, despite this being an influential culturally important film, there are a number of problems with it that have to be addressed without influence from the film's popularity.


The story has a well-paced traditional progression of the teenagers happily enlisting for war, then experiencing it and changing through it. It is interesting, even if you already know more or less what is going to happen, considering the subject matter. The movie proclaims at the beginning that it is not meant to show an adventure because war is no adventure, but it does have a very adventuresque and epic feel to it.


Unfortunately, the writing and the way this film is directed make it feel very unnatural at times. There are times when the characters do not talk like real people would and their acting is very artificial, like "I am acting now". Actors either overact or underact. Some scenes last shorter than it feels they should.


There is a short scene where a guy looks sad, the other guy says "Oh come on" and the first guy smiles. Of course, that is how humans work. There was a moment when during a battle someone exclaimed out loud "This is terrible" and it was hard not to laugh at a line like this.


It is entirely possible that this is a style of dialogue that was chosen purposefully, but that does not make it any better. As a result of the lack of believability it is hard to get engrossed in the film.


Yet again there are also a good deal of well-acted, heart-felt performances, especially towards the 2nd half of the film. Louis Wolheim and Lew Ayres play the two most prominent roles and are good charming actors. Lew, has a lot of subtle but deep expression in his face.


However, the overall problem with the characters is that they are hardly introduced. We know almost nothing about them. The story centers the characters played by Lew and Louis and therefore, simply as a result of them being a lot on screen, you get to know their characters and recognize their faces, but everyone else is just the same. When these other people inevitably start dying you hardly notice. The movie tries to make a big deal out of one of the deaths but I could not even remember the guy's name.


It is an impressive looking film, with good night scenes and explosions. It must have, at least for a while, have been the record holder for the most explosions in a movie. It is grim and good at delivering tension when it wants to. There are some really effective scenes that convey the tragically ironic nature of trench warfare.


However, in the visual department there are also some problems. You know how in the older days there were not many special effects for people getting shot. Well that is fine, but when soldiers are pretending to throw grenades and there is clearly nothing being thrown, you must admit that is weird. You are telling me you could afford all those giant explosions but not some cheap props to use as grenades?


At another time, an actor plays dead but you can see him breath. The director could have ordered the camera further back; could have only shown the face; could have made the actor stop breathing and make only short takes. Why keep a shot with a clear mistake in it?


It can only be presumed, that just as with the unnatural dialogue, the makers see the message as the important thing and do not care about the details, but that is poor choice because the details do get noticed and they do detract from the realism and therefore from the belief.


The film has good sound effects for explosions and gunfire. Interesting choice is that there is no music, apart from what you hear during the credits, but then perhaps music would be antagonistic to the message of the film. The silence and special effects are used to a good effect and do not need music for more dramatisation.


All quiet on the western front is a valiant effort, and definitely memorable, but has quite a few flaws. It is well shot and has many cool looking moments, but some of its effects are surprisingly poor. It has good actors but a lack of realism in the acting makes it feel sanitised.

All Quiet on the Western Front