Although often fascinating, "Asterix & Obelix Take on Caesar" doesn't have enough charm, excitement or humor to work outside of the territories involved in its production.
When released in France, this live-action version of the much-loved comic books was a massive success, attracting an audience of more than 9 million and topping the boxoffice figures of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" in the process.
Aimed straight at youngsters (the French version was for older audiences, with the jokes somewhat cruder) the dubbed "Asterix & Obelix" is likely to meet with only limited success among boys who have read and loved the comic books.
Dubbing of this English-language version was overseen by former Monty Python cast member and experienced writer-
director Terry Jones, who also takes on the voice of Gerard Depardieu's Obelix.
The casting is certainly top-drawer. Alongside Depardieu is Christian Clavier
's wily Asterix, while Oscar winner Roberto Benigni
is at his manic best as the scheming Roman Detritus. Director Claude Zidi
's film is one of the most expensive in French history and is staged impressively. The effects and costumes are fabulous, plus Zidi recruited 1,500 extras for the scenes of Roman soldiers battling Asterix, Obelix and their buddies.
The film is set in 50 B.C., when Gaul (France) is occupied by Julius Caesar's Roman armies. One tiny village in Brittany refuses to surrender; this is where Asterix and Obelix live. Their ability to resist the Romans stems from a magic potion brewed by the druid Getafix that gives them incredible strength. (Obelix, played with muscular charm by Depardieu, fell into a cauldron of the potion as a baby and is so powerful, he doesn't know his own strength.)
Detritus plans to overthrow Caesar and sets about capturing Getafix. Asterix and Obelix attempt to rescue Getafix and eventually enter the Roman camp with Obelix disguised as a Roman and Asterix pretending to be a prisoner.
The scene is then set for an impressively mounted sequence of Asterix fighting off snakes, lions, crocodiles and spiders while trying to cross an arena in a test staged by Detritus. The Gaulish team escapes with ease, of course, teams with Caesar and sees off Detritus and his army.
Zidi does a marvelous job handling the large-scale scenes and hundreds of extras, and the digital effects are well-integrated, giving the fight scenes a sense of the comic book versions. Clavier and Depardieu are excellent as the little-and-large team of Asterix and Obelix, but as in any film in which voices have been dubbed, you miss out on certain facets of their performances.
Benigni typically goes over the top, though in a way that suits the film, and nice performances from Fassbinder veteran Gottfried John
as an imperious Caesar and Claude Pieplu as Getafix (who looks identical to his comic book original) help.
ASTERIX & OBELIX TAKE ON CAESAR
Katherina-Renn Prods./TF1 Films Prods./
Bavaria Film/Bavaria Entertainment/
Producer: Claude Berri
Director: Claude Zidi
Executive producer: Pierre Grunstein
Screenwriters: Claude Zidi
, Gerard Lauzier
English adaptation by: Terry Jones
Director of photography: Tony Pierce-Roberts
Production designer: Jean Rabasse
Editors: Nicole Saunier
, Herve de Luze
Costume designer: Sylvie Gautrelet
Music: Jean-Jacques Goldman, Roland Romanelli
Asterix: Christian Clavier
Obelix: Gerard Depardieu
Detritus: Roberto Benigni
Vitalstatistix: Michel Galabru
Getafix: Claude Pieplu
Panacea: Laetitia Casta
Caesar: Gottfried John
Crismus Bonus: Jean-Pierre Castaldi
Benamenture: Marianne Sagebrecht
Running time -- 110 minutes
No MPAA rating