Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra review

:. Director: Alain Chabat
:. Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Monica Bellucci
:. Running Time: 1:47
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: France


With a 50 million dollar budget, and a catastrophic predecessor, Alain Chabat's Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra was much-anticipated and became France's #1 blockbuster.

Nearly 3 years after Claude Zidi directed the first—catastrophic—adaptation of the adventures of Astérix, the small Gallic hero comes back to the big screen, this time under the direction of Alain Chabat. In 52 BC, in Cleopatra's palace in Egypt, Caesar (Alain Chabat) is sneering. "Your people are declining", he says to Cleopatra (Monica Bellucci). "They are no longer the ones who built the pyramids. Today they would be incapable of such exploits", he claims. Cleopatra is upset. She must defend her people's honor and show that the Egyptians are still capable of the greatest achievements. Thus she promises Caesar that a large palace will be built for him within three months.

Then she summons Numerobis (Jamel Debbouze), a small and somewhat failed architect and entrusts him with the project. He will have to build a giant palace in the desert within the allotted time. If he succeeds, he will be covered with gold, but if he failsâ he will be thrown to crocodiles. Numerobis heads for the construction site where nothing is ready. The task will be hard to achieve, especially since the malicious Amonbofis, a jealous architect, vowed Numerobis would fail.

But "impossible is not Gallic". Numerobis remembers a family acquaintance, the old Gallic druid Panoramix, who has magical powers. The architect goes to Gaul to ask for Panoramix (Claude Rich)'s assistance and enlists the help of famous warriors Asterix and Obelix (Christian Clavier and Gerard Depardieu). With their help, will Numerobis succeed to build the palace on time?

The film rather accurately follows Astérix et Cléopâtre, the sixth and finest installment of French comic Astérix published in 1965. The adventures of Asterix have marked the French culture since the Sixties. Born of the collaboration between Rene Goscinny (scriptwriter) and Albert Uderzo (cartoonist), this French-style humor comic strip was first published in the comic Pilot before achieving success on its own around the world. Goscinny's best strength lies in his capacity to work on several levels, so that Astérix appeals to each generation. Stories of wonderful travels and entertaining plots will make the youngest dream while adults will enjoy the cultural references and caricatures of famous people. This was the key to its phenomenal success that even overshadowed Tintin. Those who grew up with Astérix know that each reading, year after year, will reveal new comic elements that hadn't been noticed before.

Goscinny's death in 1977 marked the end of Astérix's golden age. The new adventures now written by Uderzo, are bogged down in repetition and routine. The scripts, forsaking their previous subtlety, shrank their ambitions to childish readers. However, thanks to its fame and a strong following, the new comics are also bestsellers (approximately 300 million albums have been sold so far and Astérix has been translated into nearly 80 languages and dialects)—certainly a good reason for Uderzo to continue without Goscinny.

Many animations have been made for the last thirty years but they were mostly targeting a very young audience. Astérix and Obélix vs. Caesar, the first adaptation where actors replaced drawn characters, was a failure despite its huge budget, a star-studded cast and a talented director that gave the feeling that faithful adaptation was out of range. However, Alain Chabat, for his sophomore directing effort, learned from the mistakes of Astérix and Obélix vs. Caesar and used his 50 million dollar budget (one and the half the budget for Brotherhood of the Wolves) well. His first move was to eliminate Christian Clavier's grimaces and squeaks and give the main role to Jamel Debbouze rather than to Clavier or Depardieu. But the main force of this adaptation is that it faithfully follows Goscinny's script while adding some fresh new jokes.

The great production design by At Hoang (Germinal), the brilliant score from Philippe Chany (Chabat's longtime friend) and the beautiful costumes and hairdressings show that the artistic aspect of the film was handled with attention.

Mission Cleopatra isn't flawless. Jamel's acting—like in his stand-up routine—shows his limitations while Edouard Baer punishes us with a long and painful monologue. There are also some flat moments such as Obelix's climbing of the Sphinx and Asterix's race through the desert. The movie will probably become outdated quickly because of very fashionable jokes including cell phones and a systematic kung-fu parody. The saturated colors of the cinematography are sometimes tiring (check out the pirate's horrible red beard!).

Nonetheless, Mission Cleopatra is a witty and funny movie that owes it success to Alain Chabat and his team. Knowing the strong box office receipts of the terrible Astérix and Obélix vs. Caesar on the foreign markets, this new installment should do much better.

  Laurent Ziliani

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