Bonjour class! Today weâ€™re taking a look at a French film filled with action, adventure, romance, magic, and a lot of Roman-bashing. The film, AstÃ©rix et ObÃ©lix contre CÃ©sar (or Asterix & Obelix vs. Caesar) is the first in a string of adaptations based on the classic graphic novels by RenÃ© Goscinny, and is also one of the most expensive live-action films to come out of France. As an added challenge, weâ€™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.
(Iâ€™m totally kidding about the pop quiz.)
AstÃ©rix et ObÃ©lix contre CÃ©sar
Director: Claude Zidi
Starring: Christian Clavier, GÃ©rard Depardieu,
Company: AMLF, Lions Gate
AstÃ©rix et ObÃ©lix contre CÃ©sar is a period piece of sorts, set around the time of Julius Caesarâ€™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, youâ€™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 garrisonâ€™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 (GÃ©rard 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. Iâ€™ll be honest, Iâ€™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 soothsayerâ€™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, Detritusâ€™ overthrowing of Caesar, Asterixâ€™ capture, Obelixâ€™ induction into the Roman army, and a final battle between the Romans and a literal army of Asterix and Obelix duplicates.
OK, Iâ€™m going to say something that I realize is going to cause some of you out there to say â€œWell, no duh,â€ but thereâ€™s something about this movie that makes it obvious that itâ€™s not from America. Let me explain. Beyond the obvious language difference, there is a certainâ€¦ somethingâ€¦ 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) AstÃ©rix et ObÃ©lix just plain looks European.
Speaking of the language, I found that it overall didnâ€™t hinder the story that much. Sure, Iâ€™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 AstÃ©rix et ObÃ©lix 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.
AstÃ©rix et ObÃ©lix 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 itâ€™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 charactersâ€¦ as far as I can tell. I do have one gripe about the costuming for Asterix. See, they went to the trouble of designing Depardieuâ€™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 olâ€™ nose would not have been out of place. So thereâ€™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. Thereâ€™s not really much else to say about that.
In fact, thereâ€™s not really much else to say about the film overall. In fact, it was fairly difficult for me to not just say â€œI liked itâ€ and move on. This is definitely worth a watch, whether you speak French or not, or whether youâ€™ve read the comics or not for that matter. Itâ€™s fun, itâ€™s not too deep, and hey, maybe youâ€™ll learn a little French along the way. So to end this review in the right way â€“
Je donne AstÃ©rix et ObÃ©lix contre CÃ©sar trois (3) Ã©toiles sur cinq (5).