Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Not Quiet On The Western Front

Sometimes, you can see a disaster in the making, connect the dots so far in advance that you wonder why the people involved can’t see it too. Are they blind, or perverse, or do they have a death-wish?

Those of us with historical knowledge (I don’t know how many of those there are) will know that the First World War, for instance (the war that formed the modern world more than anything that went before or since, in my opinion) was utterly inevitable as soon as the European powers of the time set up their webs of alliances; they were just looking for an excuse to fight. The path to the trenches of the Western Front was laid years before the first shot was even fired.

I’m talking about the Western Front, specifically, because one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, All Quiet On The Western Front, is set there. I’d probably assume that most of you have read it, or have at least heard enough of it to be aware of the plot[1], so I won’t repeat it here, except to say that that little novel by a soldier of the Kaiser’s army stands, to this day, as one of the greatest novels ever written. The Nazis even burned it; what greater accolade can you have?

Now, this book’s been turned into a movie twice: in 1930, a black and white version[2] which won the Academy Awards, and a 1979 version for TV which was quite unnecessarily Americanised to a considerable extent in character styling but which was still quite faithful to the original. Now, apparently, they’re going to remake it, with Daniel Radcliffe (that one, the ex-Hairy Crackpotter Daniel Radcliffe, the one who also turned up nude with a horse) in the character of Paul Baumer, the novel’s narrator and protagonist.

When I heard this, I was fairly excited (and was prepared to ignore Harry Potter playing Baumer). I wanted to see how the film would be; in 3D, perhaps, with the trenches brought to life by the miracle of modern special effects, a movie that would remind people of why nations should not go to war. I was excited, right up until I read this:

(The makers)

“...want to use the novel as a jumping off point. Paterson says "By creating new storylines ourselves, we believe this modern rendition will encompass greater depth and historical context, but still remain congruent with the spirit of Erich Maria Remarque's work." [3]

What the hell? Greater depth and historical context than was achieved by the guy who was there, lived through it, and wrote a book that has more than passed the test of time?

You can see the disaster in the making as clearly as I can, can’t you? By the time these people are through, you’ll find the original anti-war message (and its warnings against cheerleading from those who stayed at home) subverted into some kind of Hollywood brothers-in-arms trash. John Wayne or Rambo; Support our Troops, and all the rest of that shit. It’s obscene, and I tell you, I’m out-effin-raged.

If I were Remarque’s ghost, I’d be picking up a hand grenade about now.



  1. No argument here.

    I hadn't heard of a remake - but I'm not surprised. By the time it's done, it'll be a chick-flick (picking Hairy Pothead to play the lead is enough for me to reach that conclusion).

    It's probably worth remembering that Hollywood, for all of the talk that it's full of 'liberals' is actually painfully conservative - all one has to do is consider the projects which have languished in production-hell, were 'greenlighted and then killed off, or never saw the light of day:

    1. The Prisoner: Patrick McGoohan wrote a screenplay based on his cult-favorite miniseries from the '60's; it was set in a future world-governed society 120 years hence; As before, "The Village" was a metaphor for the destruction of freedom and government control of people's lives, only this time on a grand scale.

    Sentence: Death by ignorance.

    2. Ender's Game: The award-winning sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card about a child sent to fight a man's war through the 'miracle' of electronic gaming was greenlighted in 2000.

    Sentence: Killed; 'too controversial'

    3. Lucifer's Hammer: Another award-winning sci-fi book by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, about the aftermath of a comet-strike; it deals less with the dramatics of the actual comet hitting the earth as it does with the depths to which people sink by way of their response to the destruction of civilization.

    Sentence: Never made it to pre-production; literally killed before it was 'born'.

    There are a hundred of these - all excellent books or screenplays; cutting-edge ideas and thought-provoking plots - but Hollywood won't do anything that requires the audience to think.

    Instead, we get remakes of "Red Dawn". We get zombies and vampires.

    We get Harry Potter, playing the lead in the second remake of "All Quiet"....

  2. I remember reading Ender's Game, and I failed to see how a conscientious film industry could find it controversial. Then I thought, "Oh, wait..."

  3. Strangely.. my comment disappeared!
    But, I havent read the book, but I have ordered from flipkart after reading this, Thank you for that.

  4. I read this book as a teenager and it had a big impact on me especially the love story developing and then dying in the background and the calvados if I remember well..The poetic language and the feelings expressed by the main character as well as the existentialist debate about what is the sense of it all?
    If the movie is not a remake of the First World War history, then yes the book could be a starting point for something fileterd or enriched by our most recent experiences, a violent movie or an attractive apology for conducting wars..

  5. I can't think of a worse fate for my favorite books than having Hollywood grab hold of them.

    Just recently, Jose Saramago's "Blindness" was a fantastic book that I read as a metaphor for the precarious position the third world finds itself in. The movie was awful.

    Even david Brin's fairly decent "The Postman" was turned into an utter joke by Kevin Costner.

    What works in print and what works on the big screen are very different. For the sake of my favorite books, I hope they stay safe from adaptations... I keep hearing about a potential adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" and hope it enver happens.

  6. Dana, are you sure you aren't mistaking All Quiet for Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms? There's no love story in All Quiet.

  7. Could be, it's been a long time since high school, I should revisit, don't have the book anymore though. I believe it was the Arch of Triumph by Remarque as the action takes place in Paris. Sorry for posting a misleading comment. Will be more careful next time.
    Thank you. Dana


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