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Asterix at the Olympic Games is a live action French film in the successful Asterix series, based on the comics by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo1. Released in France as Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques in 2007, before the Beijing Olympics, Asterix at the Olympic Games is sadly the weakest Asterix film made so far. Despite this, it is still a very enjoyable, entertaining film.
Gaulish villager Lovesix wishes to marry Princess Irina, having wooed her with poems written by Obelix. King Obnoxious, Irina's father, wants her to marry Julius Cæsar's son Brutus instead, and in an attempt to escape this fate, Irina declares that she will marry the winner of the Olympic Games. Brutus, knowing that only Greeks and Romans can enter the Games, agrees.
Asterix argues that as Gaul is a Roman province and technically part of the Roman Empire, they are Roman and can enter the Games. Lovesix therefore travels to compete in the Games, accompanied by Asterix, Obelix, Druid Getafix and bard Cacofonix. Also taking part in the Games, representing Rome, is Brutus. Brutus is not only determined to win the Games by any possible means, especially cheating, but also plots to assassinate his father Julius Cæsar, who is attending the Games as a spectator. The Magic Potion is not allowed to be used in the Games so the Gauls have to use their wits to win.
Olympic Events Seen in the Film
The following sports also appear briefly in the film, although they were invented after the Ancient Olympic Games finished:
Differences from the Book
The plot of the film in general follows the comic, written in 1968, fairly closely. In common with most other Asterix films, the original source material is not long enough to base a whole film on, and so other characters and sub-plots are introduced. On the whole these work well and are a positive addition to the plot. The characters introduced for the film are Brutus, Princess Irina, her father King Obnoxious, Lovesix, Brutus' henchmen Silenceus, Tenacius and Humungus, mad inventors Doctorjekyllus and Covadinpus, Greek judges Alpha, Beta and Omega, and bard Hairix Bardix. Julius Cæsar also appears in the film throughout; in the comic, only his voice is heard at the very end. Conversely the character of Centurion Gaius Veriambitius does not appear, his role largely replaced by Brutus. Asterix comic regulars the pirates also are not seen.
Two sub-plots are added to the film. The first is Princess Irina and Lovesix wishing to marry, despite her father King Obnoxious wanting her to marry Brutus. The second is Brutus trying to assassinate his father Julius Cæsar so he can rule in his stead.
Other minor differences include the Roman forts outside the Gaulish village being renamed, such as Bubblegum, rather than Aquarium, Totorum, Laudanum and Compendium. In the book all male villagers travel to Olympia (as women were not allowed to watch the Olympics), however in the film only Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, Cacofonix, Dogmatix and Lovesix travel to the games, although Geriatrix and his wife arrive at the end for the wedding. Gluteus Maximus is a less sympathetic character than in the book. Getafix is not kidnapped and does not attend a Druid conference in the book. Representatives from Rome, Sparta and Rhodes take part in the Games in the book, whereas in the film athletes represent Egypt, Gaul, Germania, Greece, Iberia and Rome. The Beetelyzer drug test did not exist. The climax is also slightly different in the film; in the book the last race is a footrace, not a chariot race.
The following table lists the characters in the Asterix films. The names are generally puns or wordplays on the character of the individuals concerned. The English names, where they differ from the French ones, are the names popularised by the English translations of the comic books by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge and used in both the English subtitles and dub of the film.
|Character||Known in France as||Actor||Description|
|Obelix||Obélix||Gérard Depardieu||Asterix's closest friend. He makes and delivers menhirs2. He fell into a cauldron of magic potion as a baby and is phenomenally strong as a result. He also has a voracious appetite; wild boars are his favourite meal, which he enjoys catching himself in the forest outside the village. Talented Oscar-nominated actor Gérard Depardieu also appeared in both Asterix & Obelix Take On Cæsar and Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra as Obelix, the only actor to play the same role in all three Asterix films.|
|Asterix||Astérix||Clovis Cornillac||The titular adventure-loving hero. Though short, he is cunning and uses his wits to triumph as often as Getafix's magic potion. This was Clovis Cornillac's first appearance as Asterix, replacing Christian Clavier who had played him in the two previous Asterix live action films.|
|Brutus||Brutus||Benoît Poelvoorde||Son of Julius Cæsar, Brutus is both ruthless and ambitious and longs to replace Cæsar as head of the Roman Empire.|
|Julius Cæsar||Jules César||Alain Delon||Julius Cæsar is the Roman dictator who rules the known world except Asterix's home village in Gaul. Alain Delon was the third actor to portray Julius Caesar in a live action Asterix film, after Gottfried John in Asterix & Obelix Take On Cæsar and Alain Chabat in Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra.|
|Getafix||Panoramix||Jean-Pierre Cassel3||Getafix is a wise, old druid who knows, among other things, the secret of brewing the magic potion which gives the villagers superhuman strength. Jean-Pierre Cassel was the third actor to play Getafix after Claude Piéplu in Asterix & Obelix Take On Cæsar and Claude Rich in Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra. Getafix has a greatly reduced role in Asterix at the Olympic Games due to Jean-Pierre Cassel's battle with cancer. Sadly, he died in early 2007.|
|Princess Irina||Princesse Irina||Vanessa Hessler||This Greek Princess is in love with Lovesix, but her father, King Obnoxious wishes her to marry Brutus. She vows to marry only the winner of the Olympic Games, cheering Lovesix on.|
|Lovesix||Alafolix||Stéphane Rousseau||Lovesix is a wimpy Gaulish villager who is in love with Princess Irina. He has a pet pigeon called Telegraphix.|
|Dogmatix||Idéfix||Obelix's loyal pet dog.|
|Mrs Geriatrix||Mme Agecanonix||Adriana Karembeu||Young, attractive Mrs Geriatrix is married to Geriatrix. She is a quarter of his age but twice his height.|
|Geriatrix||Agecanonix||Sim4||Geriatrix is almost 100 years old, by far the oldest Gaul. He does not consider himself to be so old, and will frequently get involved in fighting the Romans, or even his fellow villagers. Sim had also played Geriatrix in Asterix & Obelix Take On Cæsar.|
|Gluteus Maximus||Claudius Cornedurus||Jérôme Le Banner||Roman Athlete.|
|Vitalstatistix||Abraracourcix||Elric Thomas||Chief Vitalstatistix is the leader of the Gauls. As chief he is usually found being carried on his shield by two shield bearers, unless he is falling off. He is married to Impedimenta.|
|Impedimenta||Bonemine||Dorothée Jemma||Impedimenta is married to Vitalstatistix. Although he is the chief, she would prefer to enjoy the busy life of Lutetia, modern Paris, than the village. Her pet name for Vitalstatistix is 'Piggywiggy'.|
|Cacofonix||Assurancetourix||Franck Dubosc||Cacofonix is the village bard who loves singing and playing his lyre. Sadly, despite his enthusiasm, he has no talent and the merest hint of a note will cause Fulliautomatix to hit him with a mallet. He is often found tied up to the treehouse in which he lives.|
|Fulliautomatix||Cétautomatix||Eduardo Gomez||Fulliautomatix is the village blacksmith. He is tall and strong, but a bit touchy. He frequently criticises Cacofonix's singing.|
|Edifis||Numérobis||Jamel Debbouze||An incompetent Egyptian architect seen in Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra has a cameo appearance, where he tries to impress Mrs Geriatrix.5|
Sadly, Asterix at the Olympic Games is the weakest Asterix film to date. Asterix himself has little impact on the plot and is effectively reduced to the role of a spectator, although the character of Brutus is a welcome addition that saves the film. This is reflected in the poster used to advertise the film and also the DVD and Novelisation covers, where Brutus has centre stage, with Asterix and Obelix to his right and Princess Irina and Julius Cæsar to Brutus' left.
The main failing is the plot. This is disjointed in places, especially with regards to Getafix, who is seen at the Olympic Games one minute, and the next is at a Druid conference with no explanation of how or why this has happened. This should be forgiven; the health of actor Jean-Pierre Cassel and his battle with cancer prevented the filming of as many scenes with Getafix as had been intended.
At heart Asterix at the Olympic Games attempts to be a love story, but it is a love story without any heart. We know that at the start of the film Lovesix travels to Greece and becomes a servant to be with Irina, which is when they actually meet. Before that, Irina had fallen in love with Lovesix because of the poetry he sent her, however it was Obelix who wrote the poems. So how did Lovesix fall in love with Irina, a Princess on the other side of the known world, and was Irina so desperate not to marry Brutus that she would marry anyone? Instead of declaring that she would marry Lovesix if he won the Olympic Games she stated that she would marry the winner of the Games, which implies that she is not that fussed about marrying Lovesix, only wishing to escape becoming Brutus' bride.
The film also suffers from a very lengthy epilogue that drags unforgivably. The character of Edifis appears for no apparent reason, and then proceeds to try to impress Mrs Geriatrix by showing off his sporting prowess with a newly-invented ball, despite not having any. Various French sportsmen and women cameo, playing a variety of games with the ball, including tennis, football and basketball, while Edifis tries to get his ball back.
There are good moments to the film, especially any scenes involving Brutus or Julius Cæsar. The film opens pleasantly enough, in a similar fashion to the comic books, focussing on the Gaulish village. The vistas of Rome, Athens and Olympia, as well as the Gaulish village, are all very impressive and the sporting events are exciting, with humorous moments such as pit-stops in the chariot race. The film is full of comic and cartoon touches which show that it was made with care and attention to detail. For example, in the logo used for the film, the 'I' of 'Asterix' is the shape of the Olympic torch. These small details will reward viewers who enjoy the film in repeat viewing. However, although the film gets all the little things right, it does struggle with the overall plot.
For a comic adaptation, Asterix at the Olympic Games is fairly accurate historically, with a few minor inaccuracies that in no way hamper the enjoyment of watching. The film is after all designed to be entertainment rather than a historical recreation.
In the film the Olympics take place over a short period, just as in ancient times the events took place over four days.
In reality athletes were only allowed to compete if they had been in training for ten months and supervised for a month before the games; in the film Lovesix, Asterix and Obelix merely turn up and announce they are competitors.
Athletes competed in the Ancient Olympic Games naked. Understandably for a family film, clothes are worn by all actors throughout.
In the Greek and Roman world women were forbidden to watch the Olympic Games, largely as a consequence of the athletes' nudity. Princess Irina's attendance would not have been permitted8.
Most of the events shown in the film are ones that formed part of the Ancient Olympic Games, including running, wrestling, discus and javelin throwing and even chariot racing. Pole Vaulting, however, was not an original Olympic sport. Relay races did not take place at the Olympics, however a relay race did take place in Athens, called lampadedromia, in which runners passed lit torches to each other. This is the inspiration for the torch relay procession.
In the film Brutus is portrayed as being the son of Julius Cæsar. In real life Marcus Junius Brutus was not Cæsar's son. He was the descendant of Lucius Junius Brutus, the man who founded the Roman Republic by killing Rome's last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.
One of the film's frequent themes is Brutus attempting to kill Cæsar so that he can become Emperor. In reality Brutus was the most famous of Julius Cæsar's assassins, killing him on the Ides of March, 44BC.
The character of Brutus is declared the winner even in events he obviously did not win. Similarly in real life, the Emperor Nero competed in the Olympic Games in 67AD and was declared the winner of the chariot race, despite falling out of his chariot. He also won all other events he entered.
Julius Cæsar was Imperator (General of the army) and dictator for life. He was not a hereditary Emperor, in the manner later founded by Augustus Cæsar. On his death, Brutus would not have automatically inherited the leadership of the Roman Empire, which at this time was still a republic ruled by a senate.
It was common in ancient times for bards and artists to attend the Games in order to find patronage, just as Cacofonix and Hairix Bardix do.
Just as in the film, only Greeks and Roman citizens were allowed to participate. Although Gaul was part of the Roman Empire, Asterix was not a born Roman citizen.
The Roman soldiers engage in drill in Brutus' dream, forming formations including the tortoise. The Roman army frequently used this formation when besieging their enemy and were renowned for their military drill and discipline, both on and off the battlefield.
Other Asterix Films
There have to date been eight animated films and three live action films based on the Asterix adventures by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. The first Asterix film, the animated Asterix the Gaul, was released in 1967. The full list of animated films is:
- 1967 - Asterix the Gaul
- 1968 - Asterix and Cleopatra
- 1976 - The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
- 1985 - Asterix Versus Cæsar
- 1986 - Asterix in Britain
- 1989 - Asterix and the Big Fight
- 1994 - Asterix Conquers America
- 2006 - Asterix and the Vikings
Three live action Asterix films have been made to date:
- 1999 - Asterix & Obelix Take On Cæsar
- 2002 - Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra
- 2007 - Asterix at the Olympic Games
Asterix & Obelix Take On Cæsar comes across as a greatest hits Asterix album, with scenes and characters taken from various Asterix books assembled into a storyline which gives a real flavour of Asterix. Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra is a more coherent and stronger film, the best live-action Asterix film to date. Another Asterix live action film, Asterix & Obelix: On Her Majesty's Service, is in production, expected out by the end of 2012.
These are among the most expensive European films ever made, and have been tremendously successful, especially in France. They star Gérard Depardieu as Obelix, who has a greater prominence than in the comics and cartoon films. In the live action films, major characters are played by different actors in each film. Three different actors have played Getafix and Julius Cæsar, while two have played Asterix.
Connections with Other Asterix Films
There are several themes present in Asterix at the Olympic Games that also appeared in previous Asterix films:
Brutus appeared briefly in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix and in Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra.
Julius Cæsar has a pet cheetah. In Asterix Versus Cæsar and Asterix Conquers America he had a pet panther. Cleopatra had a pet lion in Asterix In Cleopatra.
An athlete named Gluteus Maximus enters the Olympic Games. In the English-dubbed version of the previous live action film Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Gluteus Maximus is a Roman General, although he is named Tividinnus in the subtitled version of the film.
In The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, the character of Asbestos is a Greek Olympic champion. His introduction implies that he is the current Olympic champion, and Asterix seems impressed. However, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix was written after Asterix at the Olympic Games, in which Asbestos does not appear.
Chariot racing also featured in Asterix versus Cæsar.
Brutus' henchman Silencius has a swan-shaped bath. A similar one is seen occupied by General Caous in Asterix and the Big Fight and outside the Place that Sends You Mad in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. A swan-shaped bath appeared in the comic, where it was occupied by Centurion Gaius Veriambitius.
The Romans form a tortoise-shaped formation. The Romans form various random formations in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, Asterix in Britain and Asterix Conquers America.
Telegraphix is not the only homing pigeon in an Asterix film. The preceding Asterix animated action film, Asterix and the Vikings, featured a homing pigeon called Self Message Servisix.
Doctorjekyllus has a lightsabre in his laboratory. This is the second film in a row with Star Wars references; Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra has several, especially in the dubbed version where Getafix the druid is referred to as a 'droid', the Roman General has a Darth Vader-shaped helmet, he strangles his underlings who have failed him for the last time and states that if you attack the Roman Empire 'the Empire Strikes Back' whilst John Williams' 'Imperial March' theme plays in the background.
Asterix throws a discus and knocks off one arm of a statue of Venus9 and shortly afterwards Obelix destroys the other arm with a shot put. Statues similar to the Venus de Milo are broken in both The Twelve Tasks of Asterix and Asterix in Britain.
Getafix is kidnapped again. Getafix was also kidnapped in Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix Conquers America, Asterix & Obelix Take On Cæsar, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra as well as an attempted kidnapping in Asterix and the Big Fight.
A computer game entitled Asterix at the Olympic Games was released for various consoles as well as for the PC.
A novelisation was written, entitled Asterix at the Olympic Games: The Book of the Film to avoid confusion with the Asterix at the Olympic Games original comic. The book is full of lavish stills from the film. On every double-page spread there are text and pictures on the left page, with pictures taking up all the right. This novel follows the plot of the film quite closely, however there are some differences with the film. The Roman forts are again called Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium in line with the Asterix comics, not Bubblegum as in the film. The novelisation also omits entirely the lengthy prologue sequence featuring Edifis. The book usefully has frequent footnotes containing snippets of fascinating facts about the Roman world and the Olympic Games.
One of the other bonuses of the novelisation is the full-colour 'How This Film Was Made' section at the back. Despite lacking real detail about how the film was made, it contains lavish drawings of the sets, costumes and scenes used in the film.