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Erich Maria Remarque's novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) and the 1979 TV movie of the same name have a great deal in common, but certain differences emerge from a comparison of the two. While both the movie and the novel clearly express the anti-war theme at the heart of Remarque's narrative, the novel engages the views on the First World War of the various characters involved to a much greater degree than the movie does.
In the movie, however, the attention focuses primarily on Paul and his internal struggles and his disillusionment at the realities of the war. For this reason, the movie takes on the appearance of a character drama to a much greater degree than the novel does.
While the character of Paul takes center stage in the movie, the futility and senselessness of war, though experienced by Paul in the novel, take on the dominant role in Remarque's work. Remarque acknowledges that the larger concerns of soldiers transcend the experiences of a single person. Paul Baumer's experience in the First World War is indicative of the experience of other soldiers, particularly those who become disillusioned with the war and recognize its senselessness.
Much of the reasoning behind this difference stems from the expectations of movie audiences. Audiences tend to want to see a work that concentrates on the characters, their development, and the conflicts they must face in order to succeed. It is much more difficult to sell a film that concentrates on the anti-war message that pervades the novel.
Movies typically diverge from novels in several ways. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, movies must condense the story to a significant degree. There is just no way that a two-hour (or even three-hour) movie can include everything that happens in a book—even a relatively short book like All Quiet on the Western Front. That could only be accomplished in a television mini-series that played out over the course of a number of weeks.
Secondly, film is a visual medium. It would be possible to make a movie with nothing but visuals—no language whatsoever, although I doubt anyone would fund it. If movies rely too much on dialogue at the expense of visual expression, audiences become bored.
Finally, movie audiences typically have very different expectations than readers do. They usually want a lot more action (which lends itself to film’s visual qualities) and a lot less explanation. Readers expect less action and more exposition and description.
With all of this in mind, the 1979 movie version of All Quiet on the Western Front is very true to the spirit of the novel. Many, many scenes had to be cut of course, but all of the scenes that are included are accurate portrayals of the book’s themes. There is no gratuitous sex or violence included just to satisfy the movie audience.
This might be the case because the 1979 movie was a television movie, not a cinematic movie. Television audiences are accustomed to more restrained and PG-rated stories than many movie audiences.
In order to answer this question I would have to know which movie version you are talking about. There are several and I am only familiar in depth with one. There was a black and white version in 1930 and another more modern one in 1979. I think there is even a newer one. Please post the question again with which version.
I am only familiar with the 1930 version which remains fairly true to the plot line of the book as it ends with Paul Baumer dead in the field and a butterfly flittering around his hand. Also, the relationships between the boys in the classroom and their lives together in the war are well done in the 1930 version.
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