×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Asterix & Obelix Vs. Caesar

Like Ancient Gaul, "Asterix" is divided into three parts: the big, the rumbustious and the not very funny. This first live-action version of the well-known cartoon books about a bunch of feisty Frenchies battling the might of Rome is a consistently tasty feast, with its detailed re-creation of the period and characters, but it's badly in need of seasoning in the script department.

With:
Asterix - Christian Clavier Obelix - Gerard Depardieu Detritus - Roberto Benigni Abraracourcix - Michel Galabru Panoramix - Claude Pieplu Prolix - Daniel Prevost Assurancetourix - Pierre Palmade Falbala - Laetitia Casta Arielle - Arielle Dombasle Agecanonix - Sim Bonemine - Marianne Sagebrecht Caesar - Gottfried John Caius Bonus - Jean-Pierre Castaldi Cetautomatix - Jean-Roger Milo Ordralfabetix - Jean-Jacques Devaux With: Hardy Krueger Jr., Michel Muller, Olivier Achard, Jacques Delaporte.

Like Ancient Gaul, “Asterix” is divided into three parts: the big, the rumbustious and the not very funny. This first live-action version of the well-known cartoon books about a bunch of feisty Frenchies battling the might of Rome is a consistently tasty feast, with its detailed re-creation of the period and characters, but it’s badly in need of seasoning in the script department. Much-hyped big-budgeter looks sure to open muscularly this week in France, where it goes out in a mighty 600 prints; but beyond continental Europe, and especially in English-speaking territories, its true market is as a dubbed video for kids.

At 274 million francs ($48 million), the pic ranks as the most expensive French-lingo pic ever, although the co-production was 33% financed by German and 16% by Italian sources. On home turf, the movie needs over 5 million admissions before distrib/co-producer AMLF-Pathe sees daylight. Film’s first offshore sales screening will be at AFM, in a subtitled version.

Though Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s comics have reputedly sold some 280 million copies worldwide since first launched in 1959, the overriding bulk of the sales have been in France and Germany. In many countries, especially the U.S., Asterix hasn’t entered the national consciousness in a way that’s necessary to launch a picture with foreign stars. Also, unlike “The Flintstones” (its closest American parallel), the strip doesn’t trade on modern jokes and deliberate anachronisms: It’s pure Gallic whimsy that gets its laughs from the energy of Uderzo’s illustrations, the linguistic tropes of Goscinny’s dialogue and the running joke of the cheeky underdog getting the better of a mightier foe.

In Claude Zidi’s uninflected, straightforward direction, the first quality is completely lost. Christian Clavier is a close enough fit for the crafty Asterix (though Zidi’s original choice, Daniel Auteuil, may have been closer), and Gerard Depardieu ditto for his big-bellied buddy Obelix, but however much the two grimace and gesticulate, they remain earthbound figures, when placed in real (or studio-real) settings, with none of the cartoon’s friskiness.

Zidi & Co. seem to have spent so much time getting the details right that they forgot about suspending auds’ disbelief. (It’s no surprise that the funniest character in the movie is Roberto Benigni’s klutzy Roman villain, Detritus, who’s the least encumbered by makeup and, being an invention for the movie, by the demands of meeting viewers’ expectations.)

The filmers also apparently forgot about the script, which is a largely sizzle-free affair — low on repartee and even lower on real jokes. Apart from Benigni’s wildly mugging perf, pic’s energy comes from its physical action rather than from the mouths of the characters, who, especially in the studio-created Gallic village sequences, act more like top-drawer thesps stranded in a lavish pantomime.

The original plot is back-of-a-coaster stuff. It’s 50 B.C., and Roman troops have cut a swath through Gaul to reach the English Channel. The only burr in Caesar’s saddle is a tiny, fortified village in Gaul that continues to resist, thanks to a magic Druid potion that turns its oddball burghers into unbeatable warriors. After dispatching some tax-collecting Romans and hijacking their treasure chest, the 50 villagers send 500 Roman troops packing.

Sensing a career opportunity, Detritus (Benigni), oily aide of Caesar (German actor Gottfried John, re-voiced), resolves to crush the Frenchmen for good by infiltrating a Druid convention in a sacred forest, capturing the head Druid, Panoramix (Claude Pieplu), and torturing him back at the Roman fort to reveal the magic potion’s formula. Asterix (Clavier) and Obelix (Depardieu) set out to rescue the old Druid, with Obelix disguised as a Roman who’s captured Asterix.

The episodic story is gussied up with a lot of character shtick that, when first introducing protags, is genuinely amusing. But like the f/x — mostly, villagers’ faces morphing after drinking the magic potion, and a shuttered effect for bodies flying through the air — repetition soon sets in: The characters simply don’t evolve in the way that a movie (rather than a comic strip) demands. Zidi and co-scripter Gerard Lauzier, the latter in charge of the dialogue, just move the protags around the board as the plot demands, with the same physical mannerisms and facial tics.

A side plot of Obelix having the hots for big-breasted blonde Falbala (Corsican-born supermodel Laetitia Casta) is the script’s only real attempt to give a character some depth. But the wrap-up to that strand — clumsily placed when the picture is almost over — further adds to the feeling that the movie is at least a reel too long.

Still, the money has all ended up on the screen. Though Caesar’s troops are augmented in some scenes by average CGI trickery, this isn’t one of those European movies where five extras pretend to be a whole Roman legion. With Jean Rabasse’s immensely detailed production design and Sylvie Gautrelet’s equally striking costumes, pic will bring tears to the eyes of adults who once grooved on Roman epics, and smiles to the faces of tykes who’ll appreciate the color and scope of the enterprise, boosted by Brit lenser Tony Pierce-Roberts’ widescreen canvases.

The movie’s visual elements come together most memorably in an arena scene in the Roman camp, where Asterix battles crocodiles, tarantulas (arachnophobes, beware) and even an elephant for the amusement of the troops.

Pic is basically Depardieu’s, as a kind of onion-shaped Fred Flintstone to Clavier’s bewhiskered Barney Rubble, though the actor has played this kind of lovable pudding before, and isn’t remotely stretched. Clavier is low-key, missing the sprightliness of the cartoon character, and is out-acted here by Benigni, whose villainous contortions lift the movie whenever he’s onscreen.

Of the rest of the cast, Michel Galabru comes off best as village chief Abraracourcix, while Jean-Pierre Castaldi as a plug-ugly centurion and John as an imposing Caesar manage to combine character with cartoon qualities. Thesps of the stature of Marianne Sagebrecht (voiced by Andrea Ferreol) and Arielle Dombasle are underemployed in nothing roles.

Dedicated to Goscinny (who died in 1977), the picture reps a major subtitling problem because, apart from the two leads, the characters go by different names in various territories: The punningly named musician Assurancetourix, for example, is known as Cacofonix in the U.K. and Malacoustix in the U.S. In dubbed versions, none of that will matter.

For the record, pic was shot in Brittany (exteriors) and studios in Bavaria (arena scenes) and Arpajon (the village).

Asterix & Obelix Vs. Caesar

French - German - Italian

Production: An AMLF Distribution release (in France) of a Claude Berri presentation of a Katharina-Renn Prods., TF1 Films Prods., AMLF-Pathe, Pathe Video (France)/Bavaria Films, Neue Constantin (Germany)/Melampo Cinematografica, Cecchi Gori Group (Italy) production. (International sales: President Films, Paris.) Produced by Claude Berri. Executive producer, Pierre Grunstein. Executive in charge of production, Patrick Bordier. Co-producers, Dieter Frank, Reinhard Klooss. Directed by Claude Zidi. Screenplay, Zidi, Gerard Lauzier, based on characters created by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo.

With: Asterix - Christian Clavier Obelix - Gerard Depardieu Detritus - Roberto Benigni Abraracourcix - Michel Galabru Panoramix - Claude Pieplu Prolix - Daniel Prevost Assurancetourix - Pierre Palmade Falbala - Laetitia Casta Arielle - Arielle Dombasle Agecanonix - Sim Bonemine - Marianne Sagebrecht Caesar - Gottfried John Caius Bonus - Jean-Pierre Castaldi Cetautomatix - Jean-Roger Milo Ordralfabetix - Jean-Jacques Devaux With: Hardy Krueger Jr., Michel Muller, Olivier Achard, Jacques Delaporte.

More Film

  • Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes' World War I Drama '1917' Set for Awards-Season Launch on Christmas 2019

    Universal Pictures has given an awards-season release date of Dec. 25, 2019, to Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1971.” Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners is producing “1917” through its DreamWorks Pictures brand. “1917” will open in limited release on Christmas Day then go wide two weeks later on Jan. 10, 2020. Mendes wrote the script [...]

  • Ventana Sur Queer Latin Film Panel

    Ventana Sur: Panel Talks Merits, Setbacks in Latin Queer Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Four venerable professionals from the cinema world joined on Monday evening for Queer Cinema In Latin America, a frank discussion on Latin America’s role within the queer filmscape for Ventana Sur’s Industry conference series held at the UCA campus in Buenos Aires. Touching on advancements in character arc and notable achievements in [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez 'Absolutely' Wants to Direct Film and Television

    Jennifer Lopez epitomizes the phrase “she’s done it all” — but there’s still more that the superstar would like to do. Lopez recently directed her first music video, “Limitless,” the track featured on her new rom-com “Second Act,” and it seems the multi-hyphenate has caught the directing bug. “Absolutely, absolutely,” Lopez responded when asked by [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    Rian Johnson's Murder Mystery 'Knives Out,' Starring Daniel Craig, Set for Thanksgiving Release

    Lionsgate has bought distribution rights to Daniel Craig’s murder mystery “Knives Out” and set a Thanksgiving release date of Nov. 27. MRC financed “Knives Out,” directed by Rian Johnson — best known for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Lionsgate will also distribute the pic worldwide. The movie came together during the Toronto International Film Festival [...]

  • The favourite Movie

    Olivia Colman to Be Honored by Palm Springs Festival for 'The Favourite'

    “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman will receive the Desert Palm Achievement Award by the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The award will be presented by her co-star Emma Stone at the festival’s awards gala on Jan. 3 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival, now in its 30th year, runs from Jan. 3 to [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Motion Pictures Academy Announces Scientific and Technical Awards

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced nine scientific and technical achievements, represented by 27 individual recipients, to be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation Feb. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. In addition, Curtis Clark will be receiving the John A. Bonner Award for his service [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content