Synopsis: To put a stop to the indomitable Gauls, Julius Caesar adopts new strategy: assimilate these “barbarians” by building a huge and luxurious residential complex, designed for citizens of Rome, on the outskirts of their village. Soon, in the nearby forest, “The Land of the Gods” is taking shape, thanks to the work of slaves supervised by the architect Anglaigus and the centurion Oursenplus. At first suspicious at the arrival of these new residents, the Gauls gradually become charmed by them, seeing good business opportunities. Still skeptical , Panoramix and Asterix concoct a plan to turn the tide.
eyelights: the humour. the animation.
eyesores: the kiddie-geared material.
Astérix has had a long history on the silver screen: although the live action films are a more recent phenomenon, animated ones have been produced ever since ‘Astérix le Gaulois‘ in 1967. Sadly, most of the subsequent entries have failed to live up to the box office success of the original, with the exception of ‘Les 12 Travaux d’Astérix‘, which came pretty close.
That is, until the release, in 2014, of ‘Astérix: Le Domaine des dieux’ – which completely blew it out of the water.
Interestingly enough, I had never even heard of it. I only found out about its existence while I was shopping for a birthday gift for a close friend’s daughter at the last CD/DVD chain standing. And there it was, this brand spanking new Astérix movie, on blu-ray no less! I can tell you that I grabbed right quick and offered myself my own birthday gift!
‘Astérix: Le Domaine des dieux’ is based on the 1971 book by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the 17th that they produced together. It tells the story of César’s plan to assimilate the Gauls by building a Roman city around them and of the ensuing chaos -and hilarity- that unfolds as Astérix, Obélix and Panoramix railroad their efforts in various ways.
Adapting an Astérix comic is a bit of tricky matter: like many French/Belgian titles, they tend to be approximately 45 pages long. While this is fine for a 45 to 60-minute film, it’s usually not enough for a feature-length motion picture; this is why they frequently combine two books into one (as was the case with ‘Le Coup du menhir’ and ‘La Surprise de César’).
In this case, ‘Le Domaine des dieux’ doesn’t actually sources two different books, but it does take some significant liberties with the material: By the 2nd act, it introduces a young boy by the name of Applejus; during some gladiator games, his family won a raffle to go live at the Domaine and are having trouble moving in because their paperwork is wonky.
So the Gauls let them stay in their village until it’s sorted.
Naturally, the boy will befriend Obélix, he (and Panoramix and Idéfix) will get kidnapped by the Romans, and he’ll help save the day by finding a way to send the Gauls word of their captivity. Clearly, the film was designed to draw younger audiences to the cinema, by giving them a relatable character who also gets the chance to be somewhat heroic.
Oh, well, there are worse ways to pad a picture.
The best was in the socio-political commentary: After the Gauls replant the trees they’re tearing down, Roman architect Anglaigus decides to take the trees back to camp. But the slaves are getting antsy: carrying the trees wasn’t part of the original terms. They start to become concerned with worker’s rights and the conditions under which they’re working.
Later, Anglaigus is so obsessed with successfully completing his task that he says he’ll work the slaves to death. Concerned, Astérix and Panoramix give the slaves a gourd full of magic potion so that they can escape. Instead, they use their newly-minted strength to negotiate better work conditions for themselves – including emancipation once the job is done.
It’s all hilarious stuff that leads to the Roman legions basically unionizing in order to get equal if not better conditions than the slaves, and the slaves being convinced into returning to work after being freed in order to pay for their lodgings. Some of this came from Goscinny’s original texts, but much was of it was expanded in the most inspired and hilarious way.
On the animation front, the CGI is actually pretty good. I’ve seen better motion, but the characters look good and textures like grass and hair are pretty decent (although admittedly, they take shortcuts on hair: they don’t do each strand; they clump it together). It’s not the best I’ve seen, but coming from a medium-sized production, it looks and sounds great.
All told, I was quite pleased with ‘Le Domaine des dieux’. I even went and re-read the original book afterwards, to compare, and felt that, given its feature-length runtime, it’s a respectful adaptation; it mostly hits its target. It’s yet another win in the animated Astérix series, which has seen only one truly lackluster entry. If only the live action films could say the same.
I look forward to the next one.
Date of viewing: January 13, 2016