Asterix at the Olympic Games header image

“Asterix at the Olympic Games” Movie Review

Asterix on the Silver Screen

This is the first Asterix movie I’ve watched.  Honestly, I have no interest in the animated films from the 60s that were closer adaptations of some of the earlier comics. I’m more interested in the recent live action and animated movies.

Yes, this means I have to go back in order of the books to review “Asterix and Obelix: Mission: Cleopatra.”  The bigger problem there is that it’s just not available…

Asterix at the Olympic Games movie poster

“Asterix at the Olympic Games” is available on-line for rental or purchase through both Amazon and Apple’s iTunes.  They’re high def in surround sound, with English subtitles.  I don’t mind reading my way through a good foreign film, so I bought a copy from Apple.

If you know too much, it might sound weird at times to hear Asterix refer to “Ideefix” while the subtitle says “Dogmatix,” but that’s OK.  It’s an unexpected bonus and pleasure that I could translate a few lines of dialogue here and there without the help of the subtitles.

You can read my review of the “Asterix at the Olympics” book here.

 

Expectations and Realizations

The Village, as seen near the beginning of "Asterix at the Olympic Games"

I’ve heard mixed reactions to all of the movies.  Reviews tend to wildly differ, from those who love the movies to those who think they’re painful examples of French comedies that should burn before anyone else suffers through them. The movie did win the French equivalent of a “Razzies,” after all.

When the reviews are that varied, I don’t know what to expect.  I figure I’ll land on one extreme or the other.

Here’s where I landed:

In the middle. Of course.

I liked the movie.  There are times when it looks slightly cheap and childish, but it’s Asterix.  That’s right in its audience’s wheelhouse.  There’s only so much you can do with special effects.  They went full on “cartoon live action” in some parts of this movie, such as when Asterix and Obelix run through the forest, or any time Obelix punches someone up into the sky.

 

Borrowing From the Original

The story, itself, owes less than you might think to the plot of the original comic.  They take isolated scenes directly from the comic, but most of it is movie-specific.  The biggest one is that they’ve added a new romance between a Gaul and the Greek princess.  That almost feels borrowed from “Asterix the Gladiator,” but not quite.

The big villain of the piece is not from the comic of the same name, either.  It’s Caesar’s son, Brutus, who is a bigger star in this movie than Asterix.  Benoit Poelvoorder, a fine Belgian thespian, steals the movie with his performance of the trecherous, loathesome, and power mad Brutus.

We also get a weird detour into “Asterix and the Goths” for four minutes for the sake of the Romans getting a hold of the Magic Potion.  Perhaps I missed it since I watched the movie over two nights, but was there a single reference to the Druid Convention up until the point where it became convenient for the plot to bring it up out of left field?

The Druid Convention in "Asterix at the Olympic Games"

Whereas the comic version of “Olympic Games” used very few games, the movie expands things out to include more track and field games for the sake of using more gags. That’s something I noted that Goscinny and Uderzo had shown a lot of restraint in not doing. Now I see why.  The other games come up for cute one-off gags and not much else.

You also get more competition in the movie. We get to see the Egyptians, Spaniards, Normans, and Goths all taking part in the games, which is fun.

The big centerpiece of the movie is the big chariot race at the end, which is completely not part of the original book. But it’s a big visual thing to end a movie on, so I can see why they did did it.  It works well, I think.  And let me guess: that guy in Germany’s pit stop is an actual auto racing legend, isn’t he?  I love the visual nod to “Gladiator” in it, too.

 

How Do They Look?

Asterix and Obelix standing next to each other shows how similar in size they are.

The reality is just that you’re never going to be able to mimic Albert Uderzo’s character designs with real human beings.

Gerard Depardieu’s Obelix is as close as it’s ever probably going to get in live action without some bizarre CG upgrade.

And, honestly, it works so long as you only see his top half. It’s when you see his full body that you realize the proportions just don’t look right somehow. His legs are too long, and his stomach too much like a balloon being squeezed to the sides.  His chest looks like an old man who pulls his pants up to his armpits rather than the super strong overweight muscular shape of Obelix.

The bigger problem is that Asterix is only a couple inches shorter. Asterix is a little guy, but he looks about 5’8″ here next to Obelix.  His clothes are right on, at least, though the helmet looks a little weird. But, then, I’m not sure how to pull off that helmet in live action.  Imagine Captain America on the big screen with the wings over his ears;  It just would be silly.

The actor playing Asterix feels a little off, from an acting perspective.  He feels a bit too eager to concoct a crazy plan and there’s too much wide-eyed brow-furrowing for me.  He seems a little too calculating, I guess.

Geriatrix and his wife look spot on to me.

Chief Vitalstatistix is too tall and thin. When he stands on that shield, I don’t know how he balances himself.  The comic book version, being shorter and rounder, has a lower center of gravity that makes balancing on the shield come more naturally.

And then there’s Caesar.

 

“Ave, Moi!”

Alain Delon plays Julius Caesar in "Asterix at the Olympic Games"

Let’s be honest, Alain Delon’s depiction of Julius Caesar is the highlight of the movie.  He’s perfect.

He has the perfect look for the part, with the gray hair and the piercing blue eyes.

He can pull off the third person dialogue, and act like the regal leader of the world in any wardrobe, including his bath robe.

Yet, he can also show how tired he is of dealing with his loathesome betraying son, Brutus, whose every movie is crystal clear to Caesar.

He has a natural charm and charisma that ultimately saves him at the end of the movie.

 

Overall Thoughts on the Movie

They did what they had to do to expand this movie out to fill two hours.  This movie could never have been a direct translation of the book. That would have been boring and short.  It works as a comic, but I’m not sure it would survive as a live action movie, particularly one expected to be a blockbuster, I’m sure.

 

They added the romance angle in because this was a summer family movie blockbuster.  You need a romance at the heart of that, because that’ll help you bring in all four quadrants of movie-goers.  (“Titanic” didn’t become the biggest movie of all time because people love icebergs OR steam ships.)  The romance is a little forced,  though. You have to accept that it exists from the start, because how it began is never explained, nor does it make sense.  But if you just go with it, you’ll enjoy seeing two ridiculously good-looking young people fight for the love of each other.

The whole movie feels like it’s expanded for the sake of drawing in specific niches of movie-goers.  The stuff that they add to the movie isn’t the stuff rooted in history, but mostly in the out-of-time jokes and gags that modern audiences might even like.  Take, for example, this Roman soldier poking around a sorcerer’s lair:

Asterix and the Olympics even includes a light saber

They get the sound effects right and everything.

I’m sure there’s a whole cultural reference guide I need to read to understand this movie more.  It likely would explain some of the areas I found lacking because I just wasn’t in on the reference.  In that way, it’s a very faithful adaptation of the Asterix comics…

 

Directorial Prowess

Princess Irina is both well framed and well lit
Princess Irina has some great lighting in this frame, which is also well-composed.

I like the direction on the movie.  The directors, Frédéric Forestier and Thomas Langmann, know how to stage a scene and frame the shot.  Every shot in this movie feels well chosen, and not just run-and-gun with the camera.  You see this with certain movies that get storyboarded well, often by comic book artists.  “The Matrix” is the best example I can give.  Every frame of that movie is a specific choice, and they choose the rule of thirds and the angles of the camera and all the rest carefully.  That’s how this movie feels to me.

It’s an interesting mix of realism and cartoony special effects in this movie.  They go to great lengths — and the budget gave them plenty of room for that — to make realistic-looking sets and decent costumes.  It gets tripped up with the special effects when things get crazy cartoony, or when someone like Obelix walks by, who looks more like his comic counterpart than a real human being.  Depardieu holds the part well, not acting buffoonish, but coming off as oddly sweet and gentle given his size and powers.

Sometimes, though, you might need to think of this as a filmed stage play.  Particularly with the matte paintings added in for backgrounds, there are moments when it doesn’t feel real enough.  You can gloss over that a bit, though, because the overall feel of the movie isn’t completely rooted in everything being detail-specific in its reality.

 

Extended Denouement

The ending stretches out beyond what the movie needs.  After the Olympics are over, all you need is a minute at the wedding to have a banquet and an adequate denouement.

Unfortunately, they milk it for a few minutes by bringing in sports stars, I’m guessing.  A basketball player and a soccer player both show up to show off for a minute each in ways that have nothing to do with the main plot of the movie and aren’t very clever.

But, hey, it’s a big highly-anticipated movie and their agents really wanted to get them in, I guess.

Oh, hey, I just looked it up.  The basketball player is Tony Parker, who won multiple championships in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs. I’m not an NBA watcher, but even I know who that is!

Edifis and French NBA player Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs

Random Fun Facts

It was the most expensive French film ever made at the time, clocking in at $100,000,000.  In what has to be one of the greatest cinematic moments of “Hold My Beer” ever, Luc Besson blew that record away a few years later with another comic book movie, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” at $180,000,000.

The final series of events in the movie are centered around Asterix’s good friend, Edifis, who you might remember from “Asterix and Cleopatra.” I’ll just assume for now he was in the movie adaptation of that one.  That’s him standing next to Tony Parker in the previous screen grab.

There’s one moment where Obelix pulls off the old “Cyrano de Bergerac” trick of feeding lines to the young lover from the bushes.  And, as much of an American as I am, even I know that Gerard Depardieu played that role in the French movie based on the play.  (Steve Martin adapted it in America for the wonderful 80s romp, “Roxanne.”)

 

Recommended?

Asterix and Obelix take a seat after their work is done, and gaze out over the sea

It’s a mostly mindless family movie with some extra layers the kids might not get. I could honestly imagine watching this with my daughter, but I don’t think she’d have the patience to read the subtitles.

As an Asterix fan, it gets off to a promising start, is filled with some good characters and good casting, but then drags out a bit in the middle and then definitely at the end. It brings in elements from an unrelated book in a very awkward way.  It twists the ending a bit from the source material, but remains faithful enough.

 

The Movie Trailer (with English Subtitles)

 

 

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

13 Comments

  1. We (the Taylor family, well Dad and daughter 8 and son 6) love these live action movies – though yes when watching with the kids we use the dubbed version which can be a little distracting. They are so daft and just great for kids. A nice mix of silliness and pop culture, or sport culture often in this case, references.

    They aren’t going to win any awards and are nowhere near as good as the comics but damnit the kids love them and there is something thrilling about seeing romans whacked up into the air in complete cartoon style. Haven’t watched this one for a wee while as recent(ish) cartoon Mansion of the Gods is the current Taylor household favourite but every so often the kids when asked what movie they want to watch, after much scwobbling can sometime be heard to scream “One of Dad’s asterix movies” and my heart fair soars with pride.

    Oh and yes the chariot racer seen is probably the greatest Forumla 1 driver of all time, the now sadly very poorly Michael Schumacher. And there are lots of famous European sports stars in final scene including Zinedine Zindane, which really should have been a sequence in the credits, but don’t think that was so in fashion at the time.

  2. I’m torn about these live-action movies, they have tried to modernize the humour, which is understandable, with mixed results, but for me these comics characters are not suited to live-action. Just like the Gaston Lagaffe and Spirou films they just released, and Boule & Bill the years before. Some made money but still, I like the animated ones better.

    1. Maybe I haven’t read enough Gaston books yet, but I just don’t see how he would work as a movie. MAYBE a TV series with two 12-15 minute shorts per episode or something. I can imagine Spirou working as a movie, if they pick the right story, as always. Did they adapt one for the movie, or create a new one?

  3. I’ve had a morbid curiosity about the live action Asterix films since they came out, but I’ve never quite managed to bring myself to watch them. If they were filmed in English, that might have made the difference, but neither subtitles or dubbing is at all ideal.

    That said, the Mansions of the Gods animated film film is on Amazon Prime – and that has British dubbing (I’m fine with dubbing for cartoons) which is an added bonus for me, so I’ve added that to my watchlist.

    1. @Dan I picked up the Mansion of the Gods Blu-ray with that dub, so I’ll definitely be reviewing that in a few weeks. (I think it’s volume 16, but don’t quote me on that.) I’m very much looking forward to watching that one. I think animation is likely best for Asterix, just to keep more of those character designs.

      After those two movies, though, it gets a little harder to find the movies legally. Even illegally, the YouTube rips are usually in French with no subtitles or, worse, French with only YouTube’s automated subtitles. I’d love to see “Mission: Cleopatra” (c’mon, Monica Belucci!) and “The Vikings,” which got a pretty nice art book, if nothing else.

      1. Vikings is okay but not a patch on Mansion of the Gods in my opinion. Mission Cleopatra is still available on Amazon.co.uk and I’m happy to get one and post it to you if you have a multi-region DVD?

        1. Appreciate the offer, but I don’t have anything region-free or multi-region. =( The All Region Blu-Ray is available on Amazon, but it’s a bit of a hefty price. Looks like there’s an appropriate region disc I’ll just have to buy used to get there….

          (Wait, sorry, that’s all for the Vikings movie. The Cleopatra movie is a much rarer case. There’s not even one available on-line for my region, period. Yikes.)

          (Wait, Edit #2: I think I just found one on Amazon for Cleopatra that’s only $20. Might need the pull the trigger on that tonight, even if it’s dubbed instead of subtitled. Beggars can’t be choosers…)

          1. Good news — it looks like Mission: Cleopatra is available on Hulu with subtitles! I might have to take them up on their free month offer to watch that one. Yay!

    2. Mansion of the Gods is seriously fun and I really enjoy it and the kids love it. The cast has some folks who I really don’t like – I mean Jack Whitehall as Asterix was almost enough to put me off all together – to be fair though he’s pretty good… well once I forget its Jack Whitehall! On the flip side you have some real gems I personally think Mike Berry is one of the worlds great voice actors. His turn as a cosmic dolphin in the Spongue Bob film (you can tell I have young kids) is sublime. Here he doesn’t get enough screen time but he’s a delight.

      Anyway watch it, its an absolute delight!

      1. I actually really like Jack Whitehall – but I t can’t imagine him voicing Asterix for a second. I could see him more as the architect character.

      2. That’s where I have the advantage of not being British and having no idea who Jack Whitehall is. I can come to this clean. 😉

  4. Personally, I hated that movie with a passion. The amount of ‘cabotinage’ going on was painful – basically, the Who’s Who of French cinema and sports being given screen time to rehash past glories (the whole Cyrano thing…) or strut their stuff (Zidane, Schumacher…).

    It was like we suddenly heard about this neat little idea – cameos – but got the timing completely wrong, and instead of 5-10 seconds of Stan Lee having a fun, one-line quip, we gave a whole bunch of Stan Lees 1 or 2 minutes each to show off or ham it up.

    All the more annoying that “Cleopatra” had been reasonably good…

    One special mention to Delon’s Caesar, though. Like you said, he’s perfect.
    Then again, he’s regularly lampooned by French comedians, portrayed as an arrogant ’emperor’ of French cinema who speaks of himself in the third person. So … he wasn’t really acting much. :p

    (As for the Gaston movie, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to go and see it. Franquin’s daughter called it a ‘disaster’ and shot it down in flames…)

    1. Yeah, even I could spot the “Cameo Guest Star Appearance” for people I didn’t recognize. It’s like when a comic book relies on pop culture name drops for its humor. They never last long. Those jokes get old (and dated) too quickly.

      That’s too funny about Delon’s Caesar. Thanks for the explanation. Makes it even funnier.

      See, if they made Asterix in America, they’d need William Shatner for the role….

      And, OK, I’ll gleefully skip the Gaston movie. I need to read more of the comics first, anyway!