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” 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.
Expectations and Realizations
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?
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?
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.
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:
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…
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.
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!
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.”)
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)