Bonjour class! Today we’re taking a look at a French film filled with action, adventure, romance, magic, and a lot of Roman-bashing. The film, Astérix et Obélix contre César (or Asterix & Obelix vs. Caesar) is the first in a string of adaptations based on the classic graphic novels by René Goscinny, and is also one of the most expensive live-action films to come out of France. As an added challenge, we’re going to take a look at it in its original language, partially to broaden our outlook on foreign films, and partially because the only copy I could find was an old VHS that did not include English dubs or subtitles. Make sure you take notes, because there may be a pop quiz afterwards.

(I’m totally kidding about the pop quiz.)

Astérix et Obélix contre César
Director: Claude Zidi
Starring: Christian Clavier, Gérard Depardieu,
Roberto Benigni
Company: AMLF, Lions Gate
Year: 1999

Astérix et Obélix contre César is a period piece of sorts, set around the time of Julius Caesar’s reign. Caesar has been successful in conquering much of Europe at this point, and has become fairly full of himself as a result, going so far as to throwing himself a congratulatory party in his honor. However, his celebrating is a little pre-emptive, as one village in the country of Gaul (present day France. See, you’re learning things already!) has been holding off the whole Roman army single-handedly. Caesar sends his second-in-command, Lucius Detritus (Roberto Benigni) to find out what the problem is. After speaking with Crismus Bonus (wokka wokka), the nearby garrison’s commander, Detritus discovers that the village employs a druid that concocts a magic potion, one that can temporarily bestow amazing super-human strength to whomever drinks it. We are also introduced to our heroes, the diminutive Asterix (Christian Clavier) and his dim-witted yet good-natured friend Obelix (Gérard Depardieu), as well as the various members of the village, including the stunning Falbala and Panoramix the Druid.

What follows are three fairly distinct mini stories about Asterix, Obelix, and their adventures against the Romans. First, Crismus Bonus mounts an unsuccessful attack against the village, and it is here we first see the full power of the magic potion. Asterix and Obelix send the entire garrison flying back to their home base in an impressive display of strength. Obelix does so unaided by the potion, as he naturally has super-strength due to an event not covered by the film (Or maybe it is. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty decent at understanding French, but the actors were speaking so fast I only caught about 25% of what was said). The second segment deals with a fake fortune teller infiltrating the village in order to steal a newly-acquired treasure chest full of Roman gold pieces. Asterix sees through the soothsayer’s charade, but is drugged and duped into believing the residents of the village are Roman soldiers, all so the can have a distraction while escaping with the loot. The final section deals with the abduction of Panoramix, Detritus’ overthrowing of Caesar, Asterix’ capture, Obelix’ induction into the Roman army, and a final battle between the Romans and a literal army of Asterix and Obelix duplicates.

OK, I’m going to say something that I realize is going to cause some of you out there to say “Well, no duh,” but there’s something about this movie that makes it obvious that it’s not from America. Let me explain. Beyond the obvious language difference, there is a certain… something… that looks different. It could be the type of film its shot in, it could be the camera angles, it could be the special effects, but even without the sound (which I tried in an attempt to test whether it was solely the language getting to me) Astérix et Obélix just plain looks European.

Speaking of the language, I found that it overall didn’t hinder the story that much. Sure, I’m almost positive I missed a few of the jokes, but I was able to easily follow the story from beginning to end. And much of Astérix et Obélix is physical comedy, so most of the gags are left intact. To be honest, about two-thirds of the way through the film I forgot the film was in another language.

Astérix et Obélix does a fantastic job in portraying an animated, cartoon world with live-action actors. Everyone in the film overacts. Every. Single. Person. But it works. The limited use of CGI meshes well with the setting and tone of the movie. Stylistically, the movie matches the various Asterix comics it’s derived from as well as possible. We do lose some of the subtlety found in the books, but that was to be expected. Clavier and Depardieu do a great job as the titular characters… as far as I can tell. I do have one gripe about the costuming for Asterix. See, they went to the trouble of designing Depardieu’s costume to match the look of Obelix as closely as they could. But I feel they could have done more with Clavier to make him match his two-dimensional counterpart. In short, I think they should have given him an oversized nose. Depardieu was greatly padded to match Obelix, so a big ol’ nose would not have been out of place. So there’s my miniscule nitpick. Benigni does an excellent job portraying a cartoon character, from his gestures to his facial expressions to the inflection in his dialogue. There’s not really much else to say about that.

In fact, there’s not really much else to say about the film overall. In fact, it was fairly difficult for me to not just say “I liked it” and move on. This is definitely worth a watch, whether you speak French or not, or whether you’ve read the comics or not for that matter. It’s fun, it’s not too deep, and hey, maybe you’ll learn a little French along the way. So to end this review in the right way –

Je donne Astérix et Obélix contre César trois (3) étoiles sur cinq (5).


The Author

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham was born at a very early age, and shortly after became entangled in the world of film. His first memories are of seeing King Ralph in his local theater. He learned to talk with the help of Adam West's Batman: The Movie. He's one of the few people to still own a working RCA Videodisc player (heck, it's where he first watched Young Frankenstein!). When Sam is not perusing his extensive B- movie collection or sitting in dark theaters with a tub of popcorn, he is usually found reading comic books, fixing computers, toiling away at his day job, working some nights at a local radio station as a "soundboard guy," and going to class so that he can one day toil away at his day job fixing computers. One time, Lou Ferrigno conned him out of $20.00. But that's another story...

Previous post

Comic Casting Couch - The Way of the Iron Fist

Next post

Art Appreciation Moment of the Day: Gene Gonzales Part 7 - Saturn Girl


  1. Hermit
    October 23, 2009 at 2:58 pm — Reply

    The first live action film was a mess, this one is great. American and europeean movies are different, like in comics. The subjects, the style, the acting, are done in a different way. Your are right when you say that it feels different, that’ because it is.

    Oh, and next time you review a french movie, ask me first. After all, i am from french canada :-)

  2. Hermit
    October 23, 2009 at 3:03 pm — Reply

    I mistyped my previous message. This is the first movie, which is a mess in my opinion. The second one is trully great.

  3. Hermit
    October 23, 2009 at 3:08 pm — Reply

    Me again. If you want to see a really great asterix animated movie, you should get ‘the 12 tasks of asterix’ (les 12 travaux d’asterix). This is my favorite one of every movie thry made. The book is just an adaptation of the movie.

  4. JB
    October 23, 2009 at 4:25 pm — Reply

    I fully agree with Hermit, and being from France I know what I’m talking about : this movie (the first) is a mess. It has some funny moments, but does not do justice to Goscinny’s writing and comes across as pretty bland.

    The second one, Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre, is truly a thing of beauty, much more balanced and coherent, with great comedy that captures the spirit of the original comic. The only problem is…I don’t think a non-French viewer (even if he understands French) would get the cultural references or appreciate the humour, which is very language-based.

    Anyway, it’s good to see a French movie reviewed here, and very nicely if I might add. Keep up the great work !

  5. hermit
    October 23, 2009 at 5:09 pm — Reply

    i agree on the cultural references in the second one. heck, just the names are for french speaking people.

  6. xrayguy
    October 24, 2009 at 6:18 pm — Reply

    Obelisk fell into a vat of the magic potion when he was a child, and so is infused with the stuff. Even tho he begs for a drop of it, Panoramix wont give it to him.

You know you have something to say, say it in the comment section