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TINTIN CAN SUCK A DICK!
Sorry! Sorry! That was uncalled for. I apologise unreservedly. Old habits just die hard. See, when I was growing up, every public library in Ireland had a well stocked collection of both Asterix books and Tintin books (because this is the greatest damn country on Earth). And pretty much every playground was divided, Sharks and Jets style, between Tintin fans and those of us who felt that the tales of a group of superpowered Celtic warriors battling against the most powerful empire on earth might be a tad more compelling than the adventures of LITERALLY THE MOST GENERIC MAIN CHARACTER IN ALL OF FICTION…
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.
I apologise to all fans of Tintin and Hergé and his wonderfully crisp ligne claire style. Some wars are still being fought long after they say “We have peace.”
Okay. So. Asterix. When I announced two weeks ago that I’d be reviewing an Asterix movie the response was predictable mix of “Yay Asterix!” from my non-American readers and a big “who’s the blonde midget Viking?” from my American readers so now’s probably a good time to explain who and what Asterix is.
So Asterix is a Franco-Belgian comic that is still going since its first appearence in 1959 but was originally created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. The setup is this; it’s 50 BC and Rome has conquered all of Gaul (modern day France). All? Not quite. A tiny village of indomitable Gauls stills holds out against the Roman invaders thanks to a magic potion brewed by their druid, Getafix, that gives the Gauls superhuman strength. The heroes of these stories are Asterix, the blonde short-arse, and his buddy Obelix, who was dropped in a cauldron of magic potion as a baby and so is just superhumanly strong all the time (why the Gauls don’t just do this with all their babies is never explained). The main gag is not entirely dissimilar to that of the Flintstones, the past and present are pretty much exactly the same. The series draws its humour from many sources; slapstick, political satire, puns (as in, every single character’s name is some kind of play on words) and especially from affectionate riffs on European cultural stereotypes (the Goths are always punctual, the Greeks have flat noses like figures on urns etc). Despite the basic premise being “French people make fun of foreigners” the series is hugely popular, not only in its native France but everywhere in Europe from Malta to Finland.
Asterix is also huge in Latin America, India and even China. How popular is he? Goscinny and Uderzo have sold more books worldwide than any other French author. That’s right. More than Victor Hugo. More than Balzac. More than Dumas.
So why are these books so popular? Well firstly, they’re just really, really good. Seriously. The artwork is beautiful, the character designs are Disney good in terms of being expressive, appealing and versatile and they’re goddamn hilarious. Also, the Asterix series have been blessed with legendarily good translators (the series has been adapted into over 100 languages). And yet Asterix has never really found much purchase in the United States. Why is that? Culture gap, partially. A joke about how Corsicans are constantly swearing vendetta would probably prompt some head-scratching on the other side of the Atlantic.
But mostly I think it was just due to bad timing. To get a foothold in the United States comic market Asterix would have needed to become popular in the fifties, before the Silver Age began and American comics just became SUPER HEROES SUPER HEROES SUPER HEROES SUPER HEROES FROM NOW UNTIL THE END OF TIME. The distributors for European comics just weren’t there and so Asterix missed his shot unfortunately. Oh well. Fear not Americans. It may be tricky for you to track down copies of his books but you can still watch one of the many fine animated adaptations of Asterix books that have been made over the years HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAHAHAAAAAA …*collapses into a weeping pile.*
There have been nine (NINE!) animated Asterix movies and four live-action movies (all starring Gerard Depardieu as Obelix).
Now, I haven’t seen all of the animated movies. But I have seen a LOT of them. And they can be broken down into four categories;
1) The ones with terrible animation,
2) The ones with terrible voice acting,
3) The ones with terrible animation and voice acting.
4) The ones with ALL THREE.
But honestly I think that even with top-notch talent in every area it would be damn hard to make a good Asterix movie that still resembled the original in any meaningful way. The comedy just doesn’t…work when you translate it to film. The timing is always off, it just doesn’t translate well (which is ironic, since Asterix is one of the most successful examples of translating comedy in human history). Today’s movie is Asterix in Britain, an adaptation of the eighth Asterix book and one of my personal favourites, firstly because it’s just classic Asterix and also because it included this guy:
So. Will the movie be a one, a two, a three or a four? Let’s find out.
Okay, so the movie begins with a pirate ship sailing across the English channel and oh man, 4. 4. It’s a four. I should be grateful I suppose for the movie letting me know this upfront. The animation’s awful and the voice acting sounds like the actors were just plunked in front of the movie having never seen it before and told to improvise as best they could. “Oh Mouse! The French dub’s much better!” Doubtless. “Oh Mouse! The German dub will make your ears weep with its beauty!” I’m sure. “Oh Mouse! The Spanish dub and I have fallen in love and are getting married in the autumn!” I wish you my heartiest congratulations. The fact remains, this is the only dub I have, this is the one I’m reviewing, and this is the one that SUCKS. Moving on. So, the pirate captain tells his crew that they’re going to be having a great old time pillaging the Phoenicians, Greeks, Britons and so on and one newbie asks the captain if they’re going to be ransacking Gauls and at the mention of the very word all the pirates hide below decks. The captain explains that they don’t attack Gauls, ever (this is a reference to a long running joke in the comics where the pirates get attacked by Asterix and Obelix any time they set foot on a boat. The pirates’ lookout then spots Roman vessels off the starboard bow and ohhhhhhhhh crikey I picked the wrong time to put this blog on Tumblr.
Yeah. So. You get a lot of this sort of thing in Franco-Belgian comics and animation and for the record, Asterix is not even close to being the worst offender. I don’t really know why it seems to be more prevalent over there (credit where credit’s due, American animators had largely knocked this shit on the head as far back as the sixties). All I can say is, I’m glad that no Irish animation would ever be so racially insensitive.
Anyway, the lookout says that there’s Roman vessels approaching and the priates get ready to attack. Yeah, this is in the original book and it didn’t really work for me there either. If the Romans are a joke to everyone then why is it so amazing that the Gauls have managed to hold out so long against them? Well it turns out that the Roman ships are actually Caesar’s fleet on their way to invade Britain and oh my God the voice acting in this has to be heard to be believed. The lookout sounds like the Almost American Foreigners from Family Guy (“I was going to have sex with my girlfriend but then there was these Romans and she said that there was nooooo waaaaaaay…”)
So Caesar’s fleet ploughs through the pirates and leaves them clinging to driftwood in the middle of the ocean.
So the Romans launch their invasion of Britain and the Britons (who are so mincingly effete they make Kenneth Williams look like John Wayne) put up a stiff resistance (oooh I say Matron!) but are finally beaten by the Romans. Now, this comes back to my main problem with Asterix adaptations in general. The conquest of Britain in the comic takes, I think, one whole page. The Romans come, they battle the Britons. The Britons keep taking a break in the middle of battles for tea and refuse to fight on the weekends. So Caesar, master tactician that he is, only attacks on weekends and so conquers the whole island. The comedy works because it’s brisk. In the movie though, the conquest of Britain takes up the first ten minutes of this film and it’s just all drawn out and dragged out until you’re left standing in a Beckettian eternity of cartoon nothingness. Anyway, our story actually begins when one of the Britons, Anticlimax (heh) tells his chieftain that he has a cousin in Gaul whose village has never surrendered to the Romans thanks to their magic potion. So Anticlimax sets off on a mission to Gaul. Okay…I will partially retract what I said about the animation being bad. It’s uneven. Some scenes are flat out terrible. But I will admit there were some individual bits of animation that had me saying “Huh. Not bad.” One of those is Anticlimax’s moustache, which moves with a rare, panther-like grace.
We now move to Gaul where we meet our main characters Asterix and the rest of the Gauls. Now, it’s always a sticky wicket to have to find a voice for a character that usually exists on the page because everyone has they’re own idea as to how that character is supposed to sound. The Asterix adaptations that I’ve seen have had many different takes on how Asterix is supposed to sound (personally I think The Twelve Tasks of Asterix got closest) but this movie takes a rather novel approach in its English dub. All the Gauls have French accents. Okay. Well, that’s reasonable right? Perfectly sensible. It’s a comedy about French/English culture clash, of course they should have French accents. Sorry, let me clarify. They don’t have “French” accents. ZEY HAVE FRAWWWWNCH OCK-SENTS MON AMI!
Every single Gaul talks like the lovechild of Pepé le Pew and Inspector Clouseau with the odd exception of Asterix who for some reason sounds like Speedy Gonzales. I just…I have no words. I don’t know if these were English speaking actors doing terrible French accents or French speaking actors with terrible English. I don’t know because my loyal team of search engines has been unable to track them down.
Asterix is worried about his buddy Obelix, who’s very depressed. You see, all the Romans are away fighting in Britain, meaning that Obelix has no one to beat up. You see Obelix lives for violence and is only happy when he’s inflicting death and pain on whole armies…hmmmm…
He perks up though when Anticlimax arrives in the village and asks for the Gaul’s help against the Romans. Getafix sets about collecting ingredients for the magic potion and we actually learn what’s in the stuff: carrots, honey, mead and mistletoe gathered with a golden sickle. This recipe was of course passed down by generations of European druids before finally being irrevocably lost in the 1940s.
With a barrel of magic potion, Asterix, Obelix, Anticlimax and Obelix’s little dog Dogmatix (heh), begin their voyage back to Britain. On the way they meet the pirates and Obelix sinks their ship as it was in the beginning, now and ever shall be, world without end, amen. They also rescue some Phoneician traders who give them a tiny bag of herbs by way of thanks. Meanwhile, a Roman vessel carrying Centurion Stratocumulus (heh) comes across the Gauls’ tiny row boat and the captain decides to mess with them for kicks. Also, the captain is apparently some kind of were-donkey.
For some reason the animation and character design go straight to Crudville whenever these characters are on the water. It’s like the animators had a pathological fear of drowning and had to draw it through half closed eyes. Anyway the Gauls beat the Romans up and continue on their way but Stratocumulus overhears them talking about the barrel of magic potion and orders the ship turned around so they can warn the commander of Roman forces in Britain, General Motors. Heh.
The Gauls arrive in Britain and Anticlimax promises to fix them up with some good, tasty British cuisine.
So while Obelix and Asterix are being fed pork in mint sauce and warm beer and are wondering what the hell they’re even fighting for, General Motors puts out to the legions to watch out for two Gauls, a Briton, a barrel and their little dog, too. In Londinum, the Gauls hide out in a tavern run by Sameoldtrix (heh), a Gaul who lives in London and has an Italian accent.
I swear to God, the voice acting in this dub is so bad I almost think the animation is embaressed of it. There’s one bit where Obelix gives a particularly awful line reading and Dogmatic just growls and stuffs his paws in his ears. I mean, there’s absolutely no reason for him to do it in the context of the story, it’s like this animated dog just had to break character because the voicework was so terrible.
The romans raid the pub and take all the barrels while Asterix, Obelix and and Anticlimax hide in the cellar. General Motors has every barrel in the city brought to his palace and orders his men to taste each one to see which one has the magic potion. This leads to a sequence of discipline breaking down as the Romans get progressively more and more pissed. It’s quick and funny in the comic, drawn out and tedious in the movie, in case you were curious.
Asterix and Obelix manage to break into the Romans’ barracks because the sentries are all pissed and manage to steal back the barrel. But then Obelix gets drunk on wine and picks a fight with some Romans on the way back to Sameoldtrix’s tavern. Wheile they’re fighting the Romans their cart gets stolen by a cart thief named Fiddlestix (heh…yeah, it’s not funny any more) and so they’ve lost the barrel again. Dogmatix chases the cart thief through the streets while Asterix and Anticlimax drag Obelix back to the tavern to sober up. Then they then search the streets to find the missing cart. They finally see one of Sameoldtrix’s barrels for sale in a wine merchant’s but it’s not magic potion. Asterix realises that the wine merchant must have been sold the barrel by Fiddlestix and threatens the merchant until he gives him a name.
They go back to the tavern and find that it’s been ransacked and a neighbour tells them that Obelix and Sameoldtrix have been taken to the Tower of Londinium. We now get a scene that manages to retain ohhh…let’s say a fifth of the humour it had in the comic where Obelix wakes up in his cell on the top floor of the tower and casually breaks out and makes his way to the ground floor, beating up all the Romans he encounters on the way. And then Asterix arrives and goes up to the top floor, beating up all the Romans on the way and the two keep missing each other until all the Romans have presumably been reduced to a fine bolognaise sauce. Meanwhile, Dogmatix, apparently the only character in this thing who actually wants to win this war, has tracked down the barrel of magic potion to Fiddlestix’s house. While snooping around he gets attacked by Fiddlestix’s bulldog but he then drinks some magic potion and HIS EYES JUST TURN COMPLETELY BLACK LIKE HE HAS BECOME THE VERY AVATAR OF CANINE DEATH ITSELF.
Meanwhile, Fiddlestix sells the barrell of magic potion to a mysterious person who we never see. Asterix, Anticlimax and Obelix track him down and get him to reveal who he sold it to. “Who” turns out to be the Camuldunum rugby team who are playing a match that day. Asterix, Obelix and Anticlimax sneak into the stadium to find the barrel and Obelix gets caught up watching rubgy. He becomes so enamoured of the sport that he decides to bring it back to Gaul, where of course it is still being played to this day.
They grab the barrel and escape by rowboat but get waylaid by a Roman galley that blasts them with a catapult, destroying the barrel. And the boat. They swim to shore and Asterix dejectedly notes that this time, the Romans have one. But then he has an idea. They head to Anticlimax’s village where the Britons are anxiously waiting and…oh be still my heart! O’veroptimistix! There’s an actual Irish character in this movie!
You made him English.
You sons of bitches.
You made him English.
THERE WAS ONE IRISH CHARACTER IN THIS ENTIRE MOTHERFUCKING FICTIONAL UNIVERSE AND YOU MADE HIM ENGLISH! YOU CAN’T DO THAT!! YOU CAN’T JUST TRANSFORM AN IRISHMAN INTO AN ENGLISHMAN! WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, THE BBC?!?!
Alright screw this. Fuck you movie. You’re getting the patented, Unshaved Mouse terse, rushed wrap up. They get to the village and Asterix uses the herbs they got from the Phoenicians to create a fake magic potion which he hopes will give the Brtions enough confidence to beat the Romans.
They defeat the Romans in a rout and Asterix confesses to the British Chief that it wasn’t actually magic potion, but he says that he and his warriors liked it so much that they’re going to make it their national drink. Anticlimax offers a banquet in the Gaul’s honour replete with fine British cuisine.
And so Asterix and Obelix make their excuses and return home to their village. Asterix shows Getafix some of the Pheonicians herb and Getfix says that it’s called “tea” and that “it’ll never catch on.”
Believe it or not, this isn’t actually the worst Asterix animation I’ve seen (I’d put it above both Asterix the Gaul and Asterix and Cleopatra) but that’s not really saying much. If I had to recommend an Asterix cartoon I’d put probably nominate The Twelve Tasks of Asterix which is an original story and therefore doesn’t suffer as much compared to the comics, or Asterix and the Vikings which, while it has many problems, is gorgeously animated. But, at the risk of sounding like a massive snob, just skip the movies altogether and enjoy Asterix in the medium he was always meant to be experienced in.
Some nice individual moments here and there but overall jerky, unpolished and with absolutely zero sense of comic timing.
Asterix and Obelix are too appealing for the movie to completely strip them of all charm, but by Toutatis it gives it the old college try. And the voice acting on the English dub is just Vietnam for your ears.
General Motors needs a bailout.
Supporting Characters 03/20
They make a desert, and call it a supporting cast.
A completely forgettable title song by British New Wave band Cook da Books (Heh.)
FINAL SCORE: 24%
NEXT UPDATE: 05 August 2015
NEXT TIME: The Unshaved Mouse teams up with Erik Copper and Newtcave to tackle his first Marvel movie review! Join us as we take a look at the legendarily awful Fantastic Four!
Neil Sharpson aka the Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, blogger and comic book writer based in Dublin. The blog updates every second Thursday. Today’s review was made possible by the kind donation of Juha Tili. Thanks Juha! Original artwork for this blog was commissioned from the oh-so talented Julie Android who you should definitely check out.