Illustration of Paul Baumer in a German army uniform with a red background

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque

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Compare the novel All Quiet on the Western Front to the movie.

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The most famous film version of All Quiet on the Western Front is the 1930 adaptation directed by Lewis Milestone. The movie is relatively faithful to the novel, even retaining its unhappy ending in an era where unhappy endings tended to be seen as less commercial, with only a few changes mostly implemented to suit the censorship of 1930s Hollywood.

For one thing, the film omits gruesome depictions of violence. Sexually charged scenes, while not omitted (before the Production Code was strictly enforced after 1934, films generally had more liberty to be slightly more frank about sexual matters), are subtle, such as when Paul is in bed with a prostitute after a liaison, and the director keeps the camera away from the bed, so the audience does not see.

Disturbing scenes, such as the corpses being strewn from their coffins in the bombed out graveyard, were also omitted so as to not disturb 1930s audiences too much.

The movie also begins with Paul as an idealistic young student coerced into going the army so he can feel more like a man and serve his country. In this way, the movie emphasizes to an even greater degree Paul's loss of innocence and eventual destruction in the war.

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As others have said before, there are at least two notable film versions of the novel, one of which was released in 1930 and the other in 1979.

In terms of the Lewis Milestone-directed 1930 version, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture, the differences between the film and the novel are not very significant. There are certainly differences, of course, particularly in the scenes that were omitted for time constraints; other scenes of violence were similarly omitted, in order to adhere to the film censor codes of the era. With the lack of an omniscient narrator (the camera always acts as the partially-omniscient narrator in the film world), more dialogue and exposition is added to the film. This can be seen in a speech on peace given in the film that was nonexistent in the novel. With this speech, the filmmakers attempt to show what Remarque shows through narration.

Using two entirely different mediums——film and literature——is bound to create many stylistic differences. Yet, what most filmmakers aim to achieve in adapting a piece of literature (other than banking on an already popular piece) is what film theorist André Bazin calls an "equivalence in meaning of the form.". In other words, a film should utilize its unique traits and characteristics to attain what the novel did through literary prose. Where the novel says something in one language, the film should say the same in another.

All Quiet on the Western Front generally achieves this by using the small differences in order to make a comparable work.

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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...

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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. 

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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.

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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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What are the differences between the book and the movie of All Quiet on the Western Front?

All Quiet on the Western Front was written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. The book has been described as one of the best wartime novels ever. It accurately relays the extreme conditions experienced by German soldiers during the war, as well as the social detachment from German civilians felt by the veterans following their service.

The novel was first published in 1928. Just two years following its release, a motion picture by the same name was created, directed by Lewis Milestone.

The novel and film follow the same plot and feature the same characters. The novel does a better job of exposing realities of war in a way which evokes a more emotional response from the audience who empathizes with the Germans. The film is much more of an anti-war and anti-Nazi film, so those macro political themes overshadow empathy with the individuals in the trenches.

In the novel, the narrative realistically shows how difficult it was to acquire food. The boots on the ground were starving and risking their lives to find food, which is more indicative of the war, but in the film the food scarcity doesn’t factor into the drama. Additionally, the novel depicts the usage of gas bombs while the film does not feature that aspect of the war.

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