Popular animated hero Asterix and his faithful sidekick Obelix travel to ancient Egypt to help Cleopatra build a new summer home. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar have made a bet, with Caesar ... See full summary »
The diminutive Asterix and his rather larger companion Obelix, warriors of the last village in Gaul still free after the Roman invasion, set out on a mission to deliver a barrel of their ... See full summary »
Pino Van Lamsweerde
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Caesar has had enough when another legion is hacked to pieces by the damned single indomitable village in Gaul because of the druid's magic potion, so he decides to tackle the problem at ... See full summary »
In the year 50 BC Gaul is occupied by the romans - nearly. But the small village of Asterix and his friends still resists the Roman legions with the aid of their druid's magic potion, which gives superhuman strength. Learning of this potion, a Roman centurion kidnaps the druid to get the secret formula out of him.Written by
A promising start ... but the Magic Potion lacked some spice ...
Watching "Asterix the Gaul" reinforced my conviction that its success in French theaters was mostly due to the popularity of the comic-book adventures, at its peak in 1967. At that time, the little Gaul was a national phenomenon whose iconic status expanded into the neighboring European countries. So, before reviewing the film, let's explore the secret of Asterix' appeal, the magic potion's recipe, to use a fitting metaphor.
First, there's the tough little guy who personifies the French touch. The seminal setting is a small tribe resisting the Roman invasion, representative of France under De Gaulle's leadership, a small country defying the American imperialism in the name of cultural exception. Yet beyond the political undertones, there was a comical genius named Goscinny heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon humor made of slapstick, parodies and adult innuendo. And because there's no content without a form, there's Uderzo's drawing style, one of the most admired in the French-Belgian school, along with other talents like Franquin and Gotlib, renowned for the extraordinary fluidity and dynamism when it came to draw movements. The shot of a roman soldier vertically ejected through one single uppercut is one of Asterix' defining trademarks, making the cover of the first adventure: "Asterix the Gaul".
A punchy drawing for a punchy humor: nothing could have stopped the success story to reach the silver screen, only 8 years after the first publication in the magazine Pilote, a European combination of Mad and Marvel. The result is an objective disappointment and undermines any pretension to compete with American animation. Numbers never lie, in 1967, the film was viewed by 2,4 millions spectator against 14,7 for "The Jungle Book". Granted the film couldn't rival with Disney, but still, they could have made a better effort: the design of the Roman legionaries created an overabundance of gray and red, half the images were recycled, not to mention the horizontal movements worthy of the worst Hanna Barbera cartoons. To make it worse, the characters, who were all human, had four fingers, which is technical blasphemy, even by Disney standards.
At the end, the most graphically interesting part was the opening with the five major Gauls' drawing (notice that the English names are different probably because the film was made before the comic-book adaptation, to tell you how old the film is). The rest is just pure cheap animation, typical of the worst TV programs, colors are bland, Obelix is inexpressive, with two dots for eyes and a mouth mechanically moving when he speaks, Jules Caesar looks nothing like the imposing Emperor who already had his distinctive traits in the books. What saves the film is the quality of the dubbing and a catchy theme with a child-like quality that seems like imploring you not to be so harsh on the animation department. All right, I'll temper my criticism now that I have the music in mind. Besides, to say that the film's only weakness is the animation would make too much honor to the screenwriters.
The biggest problem is with the story, the first animated opus of Asterix' adventure could have got away with the rudimentary animation, but, why; of all the adventures, they picked up the least interesting story? Obelix plays no part during the whole third act, the starring duo was Asterix and the druid, the Romans were constantly ridiculed and the antagonist, Caius Bonus is so naive it's sometimes disconcerting. The gags are there, but the format of the story, perfect for a comic book or a TV episode, was stretched for almost one hour. And for the first time, the chauvinism seemed almost unintentional, the repetitive 'Hails to the Chief' whenever he spoke, made me cringe, even as a kid, especially since the character is supposed to be comical. And that's what the film clearly betrays, it feels as if it was not written by the authors.
And guess what? I found out that no René Goscinny or Albert Uderzo were ever consulted for the making of the film, and they learned about the project a few months later and didn't like it. I knew there had to be a reason for the script' laziness but at least, the authors' honor was left intact, and their disappointment urged to make another film, with better quality. "Asterix and Cleopatra" is everything "The Gaul" is not, it has terrific music, animation, escapism and at least, it respects the spirit of the album with some hilarious fourth-wall breaking gags that show that the author's ambitions were aimed toward the big screen. In "Cleopatra" they apologize in advance for the problems of dubbing, which is humor-wise light-years ahead of "The Gaul"'s inoffensive cuteness.
In conclusion, "The Gaul" isn't certainly as bad as my review implies, but heavily suffers from the comparison with its glorious successors. Its merit is to have put Asterix on screen, to have provided its eternal voice, to have grabbed the viewer's interest, but the authors knew it could have been a disaster for Asterix' future in cinema not to come with a new film, with higher quality, the flaws made the following films' strength. But it was a close one.
Although it doesn't do justice to the comic-book, it's still an Asterix movie and worth viewing, but unlike the others, it won't give you the urge to watch it again. Even Asterix' reactions after drinking the magic potion didn't have that electrifying pep we used to enjoy, the potion indeed lacked some spicy flavor.
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