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Countries: France, Germany, Italy
Starring: Christian Clavier, Gerard Depardieu, Laetitia Casta, Roberto Benigni
Director: Claude Zidi
Run time: 109 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
When I was a kid, I loved Asterix and Obelix. I would go to the library and borrow every single one of those giant, hardcover, oversized comic books. In fact, most of the reason I still have the ability to speak and understand French today is thanks to Asterix et Obelix, Gaston La Gaffe, Lucky Luke, and a host of other French-language comic books aimed directly at very young children. In 1999, this comic book, beloved in France, was turned into a massive live action movie starring some of the biggest names in French films, including Gerard Depardieu as Obelix. Asterix et Obelix Contre Cesar comes to DVD in in a box set with Jeux Olympiques and Mission Cleopatre from Alliance Films. It has no English subtitles, and no English dubbing, so unless you speak French, steer clear.
For those of you (and I’m sure there are a few) who are unfamiliar with the story of Asterix and Obelix, they are Gauls, who live in a little village in the heart of the Roman Empire. The Romans have managed to conquer the rest of the known world, but for some reason this little village continues to resist their rule. It’s all thanks to the “magic potion” brewed by the village’s resident druid, Panoramix. This potion gives anyone who drinks it superhuman strength, and the village has been using it to fend off the Romans for years. Asterix is the leader of the Gaul warriors, a clever and cunning fellow, and Obelix is his big fat best friend. Asterix et Obelix Contre Cesar remains true to the comics. Very true.
In fact, much too true. That’s the biggest problem with this film. Obelix has a crush on the girl, so he moons over her – just like in the comic book. Obelix eats a lot – just like in the comic book. He keeps trying to drink the magic potion, even though he doesn’t need it – just like in the comic book. All of this made for some very entertaining comics, but not so much entertaining film. This is a kids’ movie though, and the kids will like it when the romans get punched out of their armour. The best thing here is that the French is very simple, and the films are also so wild and cartoonish that you really don’t need the dialogue to explain everything. My kids enjoyed both Asterix and Obelix movies that came out today, even though their command of the language is suspect at best. The film is not great. It’s only sort-of good. But it’s simple, the kids will like it, it will help them with their French, and Laetitia Casta is hot. So it’s worth your while in some way.
Countries: France, Germany
Starring: Christian Clavier, Gerard Depardieu, Monica Bellucci, Jamel Debbouze
Director: Alain Chabat
Run time: 105 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
These Asterix et Obelix movies are impressive films. A massive cast, some of the most well-known actors in the world, and a seemingly limitless budget for what are, in many ways, modest movies. Asterix et Obelix: Mission Cleopatre is no exception. In fact, this movie is the most expensive movie ever made in France. Gerard Depardieu and Christian Clavier return as the titular heroes, and Monica Bellucci shows up as the titular heroine. I think I can safely make this proclamation right now. Never, in the history of children’s movies, has there been a sexier, hotter, more ridiculously smoldering character. France is a little different than North America, you see.
North America would never have made this movie. In France, however, they make movies like this one. Monica Bellucci, possibly the most magnificent, gorgeous specimen of womanhood on movie screens the world over, is Cleopatra. She wears different, opulent, clothes in every scene. Sometimes those clothes are see-through. Other times, they manage to reveal everything but nipple. And still other times, there are gratuitous (but welcome) shots of the top of her ass crack. How often do you get to see something so glorious in a kids’ movie? In my memory, never. In fact, not only is Monica Bellucci the hottest women ever to appear in a kids’ movie, she is also the hottest Cleopatra of all time. Elizabeth Taylor was awfully close in 1963, but in 1963 she wasn’t wearing anything like this.
Once again, with this film, there are no English subtitles or English dubbing, which means that unless you speak French there will be a significant language barrier. However, the actions and plot are so cartoonish that you may be able to figure it out anyway. At the end, one question was answered for me. I wondered why, in the first movie, Caesar was played by Gottfried John, and in this film he’s played by the director, Alain Chabat. Well, he gets to seriously make out with Monica Bellucci. I think I may have cast myself as Caesar were I the director in this case as well. It turns out that this is the plum role in the film. Just like Asterix et Obelix Contre Cesar, the kids will like this movie, it will help them with their French, and there is eye candy for the dads.
Countries: France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany
Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alain Delon, Zinedine Zidane
Directors: Thomas Langmann, Frederic Forestier
Run time: 117 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
This DVD is a little different than the earlier Asterix DVDs, in that it is available with English subtitles and, should you want it, English dubbing. The first two Asterix et Obelix DVDs were in French only, but this one gets the English additions for the Canadian market. Also new is the guy playing Asterix himself. Gone is Christian Clavier, who played the character in the first two films, replaced by Clovis Cornillac. Perhaps they already had the dressing room for Asterix outfitted with monogrammed towels, and they needed to find someone with the same initials to save some money. Because frankly, Cornillac is not the Asterix I have come to expect. Clavier was expressive, with a twitchy moustache and wide-eyed excitement. Cornillac is more of a preener, striking poses and looking bemused at his would-be opponents, like a French version of Cary Elwes. Not the same. Not cool.
Gerard Depardieu, however, returns in the role of Obelix, the beachball-shaped strongman who usually plays second-fiddle to Asterix. Although in this film, Asterix is given very little to actually do, and Obelix gets more face time. The real star of the film, however, is Stephane Rousseau as Alafolix, a Gaul who is in love with Princess Irina. She is portrayed, as is often the case in these movies, by a supermodel. This time the supermodel is the mouthwatering Vanessa Hessler, who has little to do except look extremely hot. And she does that very well. Once again, there is a new actor playing the druid Panoramix – this time it is Jean-Pierre Cassel, in his final film role. For the third time there is a new Julius Caesar, this time played by Alain Delon.
The basic plot of the film is that Princess Irina has decided she will marry the Winner Of The Olympics. How one guy can win the Olympics, and by extension the hand of Vanessa Hessler, is never clearly explained. Asterix and Obelix, with their super-strength and magic potion, are clearly winning all the events, which would lead me to believe that were the princess to honour her commitment, she would have to enter into a three-way relationship with the small mustachioed guy in the Viking helmet and the big fat hungry guy with Pippi Longstocking braids. I think I saw that in an adult film once, but how it would work here is unclear. It seems that everyone involved here has accepted the fact that if the Gauls win, Alafolix by extension wins, and he gets to marry the hot chick. However, if the Romans win, she will be forced to marry the unpleasant, devious and idiotic Brutus, son of Julius Caesar.
There are, as usual, some strange subplots. One involves Brutus constantly trying to knock off his old man, Caesar, which is a series of plots that meet with a Wile-E-Coyote level success rate. Another involves the Romans’ star athlete, a guy named (I think) Gluteus Maximus. Near the beginning of the movie, there is a rather unsettling scene where this big, muscular, athletic guy is sprinting through the forest and runs past Asterix and Obelix. Curious, the Gauls chase after him to find out why he is running so fast. They never really find out why, but still end up crushing him with a tree and then they beat the hell out of him. He wasn’t hurting anyone – this poor guy’s just out training. For the Olympics! They could have left him alone, you would think. I mean, sure, he bumped into Obelix a little bit as he sprinted by, but isn’t this reaction a little extreme? This makes Asterix and Obelix look like those muscle-guys in the bar who are looking for a fight every time someone jostles their elbow. Not cool, guys.
Also a little unsettling is the use of the magic strength potion to win the Olympics. After all, what kind of message does this send to kids? This movie is clearly created for children, then suggests that steroids are not such a bad idea? They call attention to this, administering a breathalyser test to the athletes and disqualifying Asterix and Obelix. But they are the heroes of the piece, and they laugh at the idea that the Romans have to cheat by banning them. But – they are using the potion! They are the cheaters! They should be banned! The Olympics appear to be held in Greece, which is historically accurate. Greece appears to be a part of the Roman Empire. Which is not historically accurate. They are clearly making a reference to the rock band Rolling Stones, but they say “Les Pierres Qui Roulent”. A lot of this doesn’t make sense.
Like the other two films in this series, Asterix at the Olympic Games features numerous references to other movies. Star Wars, Ben-Hur, and so forth. Most of these are distracting and pointless, but one stands out. There is a moment where Gerard Depardieu, as Obelix, whispers love poems to the love-struck Alafolix as he stands under Princess Irina’s window. It’s an obvious reference to Cyrano De Bergerac, a movie in which Depardieu plays the icon of unrequited love who whispers love poems from the bushes. Then he does the same for his dog Idefix, who falls in love with the princess’ dog. And that gets pretty stupid.
I like the way these movies are shot. I like the fact that they are colourful, the costumes are terrific, and yet you never forget you are watching a cartoon brought to live-action on the screen. But I think the biggest problem with the movies is the fact that (for France) they are big-budget. And when a film has a budget this big, film makers seem to think that the only way to truly justify that is to throw in as much stuff as they can, using up their resources and money. Which leads to subplots about dogs in love, inventions to kill Caesar, and a half-hour of unnecessary crap between the announcement of the climactic chariot race and the beginning of that race itself. Asterix At The Olympic Games is almost two hours long, but it should be about 80 minutes. That’s all the real content there is. We get it. Obelix is strong, Princess Irina is hot, the Roman guy is evil and stupid, now get on with the movie.
The best thing about the movie (other than the hotness of Vanessa Hessler) is actually the English dubbing and the English subtitles. How the English could be so strange and badly done here, I have no idea. But it’s hilarious! The hero of the story, Alafolix, gets his name changed to “Lovesix”. The king of Greece is named Samagas. In the English dubbing, this translates to something that sounds like “Boogerpus”. And the English subtitles to the scene call him “Obnoxious”. As though that is his name. Wouldn’t the single easiest thing to translate in a movie be the names of the characters? Even changing their names to things like “Jim”, or “Ted” would make SOME sense, if you wanted English audiences to see names they recognized. But why change a Latin name to something more incomprehensible? It’s pretty strange. And pretty funny.
There are some things that make Asterix At The Olympic Games worthwhile. The always-amusing Depardieu, the colourful, vibrant filming and set design, the gorgeous Vanessa Hessler. And of course the hilarious subtitles and some fun cartoon violence. But there are an equal number of things that make this film sag. The useless subplots, the overly long interludes between the action, and the questionable messages for children – steroid use, bar-brawl bullying, and attempted patricide. I’ll leave it up to you and split the difference in my review. With one extra star for the fact that it’s a great way to help your kids learn French.