Introduction | Asterix the Gaul | Asterix and Cleopatra | The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
Asterix versus Cæsar | Asterix in Britain | Asterix and the Big Fight | Asterix Conquers America | Asterix and the Vikings | Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods | Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion
Asterix Versus Cæsar, a film also known as Asterix and Cæsar and originally Astérix et la Surprise de César in French, was made in 1985, almost ten years after the successful The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. Although The Twelve Tasks of Asterix had proved how popular and financially rewarding an animated Asterix film could be, sadly that success was tainted by the death soon after of one of Asterix's creators, writer René Goscinny.
Unlike the first two Asterix films, which were adapted from one comic book adventure each, and the previous Asterix film, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, which was a wholly original story, Asterix Versus Cæsar was made by combining and adapting two Asterix comics: Asterix the Gladiator and Asterix the Legionary.
Asterix the Gladiator Plot
In the Roman fort Compendium, Prefect Odius Asparagus orders Centurion Gracchus Armisurplus to kidnap Cacofonix, the Bard. After Picanmix witnesses the kidnapping and informs Asterix and Obelix, the villagers retaliate. They assault the fort but learn that Cacofonix has been put on a galley for Rome. Asterix and Obelix travel on Ekonomikrisis' Phoenician ship to Rome, meeting the Pirates on the way, while Cacofonix is introduced to Cæsar, who gives him to gladiator trainer Caius Fatuous to either train as a gladiator or throw to the lions at the next event in the Colosseum.
Meanwhile Asterix and Obelix go to the baths where Caius Fatuous observes them and decides to recruit them as gladiators. Asterix and Obelix volunteer to join his gladiator school, following which Caius Fatuous informs Cæsar, who threatens to throw him to the lions if the circus goes wrong. Meanwhile, Asterix has trained his fellow gladiators to enjoy word games, and they locate Cacofonix, who has been singing.
The following day in the circus, Asterix and Obelix take part in the chariot race. When Cacofonix is thrown to the lions, he sings and the lions run for their lives. Cæsar sends in first the gladiators, who refuse to fight, preferring Asterix's word games, and then the troops. Asterix and Obelix defend Cacofonix against them. When the Romans fail to defeat the Gauls, Cæsar allows Asterix, Obelix and Cacofonix to leave while Caius Fatuous begins a new career as a rower aboard the Phoenician ship.
Asterix the Legionary Plot
Obelix falls in love with Panacea, a village girl who went away for two years and comes back an attractive woman. This makes him clumsy, and he accidentally knocks down trees and Cacofonix's house. Sadly Panacea does not return his affections; instead she is engaged to Tragicomix, a Gaul she met while away. Postman Postaldistrix delivers a message telling her that Tragicomix has been forcefully enlisted into the legion, in Cæsar's forces fighting against Scipio and Pompey. Obelix and Asterix swear to rescue him, and leaving Dogmatix to be looked after by Panacea, go to enlist in the legion themselves.
Also enlisting are Neveratalos, a Greek, Selectivemploymentax, a Briton, Gastronomix a Belgian, Ptenisnet an Egyptian and Hemispheric a Goth. Romans Nefarius Purpus and Dubius Status are in charge of their training, but it is soon apparent that Asterix and Obelix are the ones in charge. Learning that Tragicomix has already left for Africa, Asterix and Obelix board ship with their fellow volunteers to travel to Africa, meet some pirates on the way, then report to Julius Cæsar's camp. There they learn that Tragicomix has been captured by Scipio's men, to which Obelix states 'He must be a bit of a nitwit, though, if he gets himself captured by the Romans'.
Asterix and Obelix break out of Cæsar's camp to find Scipio's camp to free him. This makes Cæsar think that his camp has been invaded by spies from Scipio and is about to be attacked, and so he sends his army towards Scipio's camp. While Scipio's men are distracted, the Gauls rescue Tragicomix. Scipio surrenders to Cæsar and, as he owed his victory to the Gauls, Julius Cæsar allows them to go home. Tragicomix and Panacea are reunited, and leave to get married.
Plot of the Film
The film combines plot elements from both books. Obelix falls in love with Panacea, the chief's niece who has been in Lutetia. However, she loves and is engaged to Tragicomix. Panacea and Tragicomix go for a stroll outside the village, where the Romans under Decurion Incautius kidnap them both. Dogmatix witnesses the attack and tells Obelix and Asterix, and the villagers soon attack the Roman fort. Centurion Terminus confesses that the captive Gauls have already been sent to join the Foreign Legion.
Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix go to join the Foreign Legion too, along with a Spaniard, Peccadillo el Bonafidez olé, Briton Paytoomuchtax, a Belgian and a Goth. Their training is overseen by Decurion Dubius Status, but they are impatient to leave for Africa and leave Dubius Status behind when they set sail. They arrive at the Roman camp in the desert where they learn that Tragicomix has rescued Panacea from Centurion Garulus Rimpus' advances and has fled with her into the desert. Following them, Asterix and Obelix find that they have been captured by slave traders. On an impulse, Asterix decides that they must have been sold in Rome.
In Rome, Panacea and Tragicomix are presented as gifts to Julius Cæsar, who is receiving tribute from all of his provinces and is delighted to get slaves from the village of unconquerable Gauls. After Tragicomix refuses to bow to him, Cæsar declares that they will be fed to the lions in the circus. Despite being in an African desert, Asterix and Obelix soon arrive in Rome, interrogate the local slave traders and learn that Panacea and Tragicomix have been bought by Caius Flabius Obtus. They track Obtus down and find he is visiting the local baths, so they go to the baths themselves. Here they are spotted by Obtus, who decides that they would be perfect as gladiators. He arranges for Asterix to be separated from his magic potion, kidnapped and locked up in a basement cell which soon floods. Dogmatix, meanwhile, chases the magic potion while Obelix rescues Asterix.
The two heroes hear Panacea singing inside the Colosseum and decide to become gladiators to rescue her. They go to Caius Flabius Obtus' school of gladiators, volunteer, and discover that the gladiator trainer is Dubius Status. The following day is the circus day. Asterix and Obelix win the chariot race and defeat some gladiators. Then Panacea and Tragicomix are led into the arena to be fed to the lions. Fortunately Dogmatix arrives with the magic potion just in the nick of time. Asterix throws the flask of potion to Tragicomix, who drinks it and proceeds to beat up the lions while Obelix knocks the Colosseum down. Cæsar allows the four Gauls to be released, and soon they are back in their home village.
The New Characters
The role of women in Asterix Versus Cæsar is surprisingly barbarian. Asterix and Cleopatra had a very strong and independent female figure in the form of Cleopatra. The only woman in Asterix Versus Cæsar, Panacea, is not a positive role model for women. She spends the film being helpless, sighing, gasping, screaming and singing. When Panacea is forced to be a waitress, she whimpers and sighs with shock at every cup taken from her tray. How she manages to spend the whole film without spraining her ankle is an unsolved mystery. When she is in the circus about to be eaten by lions, she takes no action but relies instead on Tragicomix to save her. This is unlike the other village women when in a similar situation in the previous film, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. When gladiators in the Colosseum attack Impedimenta, Mrs Geriatrix, Bacteria and the other village women in that film, they turn the tables on them and defeat the finest fighters the Roman world had known.
Not that Panacea's big, blond, muscular fiancé is any better. He is described by Obelix as a nitwit in the comic Asterix the Legionary, and that is true. Why he decides to take his delicate fiancée for a romantic walk through Roman-infested woods is never explained – the same woods in which Getafix had been kidnapped in Asterix the Gaul. Tragicomix also looks remarkably like He-Man, a cartoon character created in 1983. He does not have the courage, loyalty or dedication of Obelix, Panacea's other interested party, so sadly the film's message is that it doesn't matter how brave, daring, loyal, skilful, cunning or strong you are, the woman will always choose the man with the good looks.
Asterix Versus Cæsar is, sadly, an example of a film that is less than the sum of its parts. In making an adaptation of two of the best Asterix comics the story sadly feels rushed, and many of the best jokes, especially in the segments based on Asterix the Legionary, are left out. These include the interplay between the volunteers from different nations and the running gag that anyone crying must be in love, when in fact they are suffering from the stress of trying to train Asterix, Obelix and their fellow volunteers.
There is also a disjointed split in the middle of the film between the 'Legionary' half and the 'Gladiator' half of the film. It is not convincingly explained why Asterix assumes that Panacea and Tragicomix must be in Rome, nor how Asterix and Obelix, or indeed Panacea and Tragicomix, get from the heart of the Sahara Desert to Rome. Nor is it explained why Decurion Dubius Status, a Roman soldier last seen in Massalia1, is suddenly a gladiator trainer in Rome despite little time actually passing. We also are not informed why Asterix is locked in a basement cell by a gang who were told to take him directly to Flabius Obtus, although the flooding scene is surprisingly scary for the film.
Compared to The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, Asterix Versus Cæsar has a much younger intended audience. Gone are the comments on bureaucracy and instead there is a greater focus on cute animals, such as wild boars, a bee, an owl and a frog, as well as Dogmatix whose role is greatly expanded. There are also several pratfalls. Many of these scenes added for comic value are at the expense of characters we know and love. Getafix shrugs and falls out a tree, and later spills a potion on his foot making it grow to extreme size. Dogmatix repeatedly falls in a stream, and Vitalstatistix at the end falls over a string of sausages.
The animation, too, is not of the same standard as the previous film. There is a return to the frequent use of limited animation. Silhouettes are often used instead of animating characters. When Panacea sings in the gaol beneath the Colosseum2 there is no actual animated movement, just camera techniques that focus on different areas of the same drawing. The Colosseum itself is not animated to the same degree of detail as in The Twelve Tasks Of Asterix and, most bizarrely of all, Panacea and Tragicomix both have see-through hair.
Despite this, there are some truly remarkable sequences of animation. Getafix brewing the magic potion is a colourful, mystical scene that truly creates the ambience of magic being made. The other outstanding part of the film is the chariot race, which is dramatic, full of humour and a pure pleasure to watch.
Although this is not one of the best Asterix films, it is far from the worst and well worth repeated viewing.
The Song 'Astérix Est Là'
Roger Allen François Jouret, known as Plastic Bertrand, is the Belgian musician who sang the song 'Astérix Est Là' that opens and closes the film. This was released as a single in 1985, with 'Le Secret du Druide' as the B-Side. It very loosely translates as:
Asterix is here!
He will cause pain, he will win the fight
Asterix is here!
Alone against the gods, against the hated Cæsar
And while in Rome... There is only one man, one Gaul
Who shouts 'Go home!' to the Romans...
And so on. It is sadly a very dated early 1980s Euro-Pop song that jars and conflicts with the 1st Century BC setting of the Asterix film.
Connections With Other Films
Asterix Versus Cæsar is the first Asterix film to feature a love interest, in the form of Panacea3. Love interests would also feature in Asterix Conquers America and Asterix and the Vikings.
This is the first film to feature Cæsar's panther, who would return in Asterix Conquers America.
In the desert, a slave trader attempts to escape on a camel, which tries to run away while Obelix holds his tail. This sequence is a re-enactment of a scene with Krukhut in Asterix and Cleopatra.
Asterix Versus Cæsar is the second film in which Dogmatix accompanies Asterix and Obelix on their adventures, after Asterix and Cleopatra. He would accompany them again in Asterix in Britain and Asterix Conquers America.
Chariot racing would also feature in the live action film, Asterix at the Olympic Games.
This is the third Asterix film in a row in which Obelix breaks something of historic importance. After breaking the sphinx's nose in Asterix and Cleopatra, and the Venus de Milo's arms in The Twelve Tasks Of Asterix, Obelix outdoes himself in this film by destroying the Colosseum.
Asterix is set in 50 BC. The Colosseum, originally known as the Ampitheatrum Flavaium, was not actually built until the reign of the Emperor Vespasian 130 years later. Therefore, Obelix couldn't have destroyed it! However, its presence in the film does greatly add to the Roman atmosphere. The people of Rome in fact destroyed the Colosseum themselves, using it as a source of building stone.
There seems to be confusion over what the Circus Maximus actually was. In Asterix Versus Cæsar it appears to be a special event held at the Colosseum. In fact, the Circus Maximus was a nearby racetrack and the chariot races were held there, rather than in the Colosseum, between the 4th Century BC and the 6th Century AD.
The depiction of gladiators in Asterix Versus Cæsar is accurate, matching those seen in mosaics and other sources. Also accurate is the equipment that Asterix and the other legionaries carry. A Roman legionary was expected to carry a long pole, bronze mess tin, bronze cooking pot, sack, cloak, cleaning kit, leather shield cover, 15 days' food rations, two wooden stakes, tool case, pickaxe and turf cutter.
The idea of Julius Cæsar condemning the two Gaulish prisoners to death as part of his triumphal celebrations also has a basis in fact. Having captured the leader of the Gauls, Julius Cæsar had Vercingetorix paraded and displayed in the streets of Rome and put to death in 46 BC to celebrate his victory.
Asterix Versus Cæsar is the second Asterix animated film to be novelised. Unlike The Twelve Tasks Of Asterix, the pictures in this book are stills from the film. The film was made in French and then dubbed into English, so signs and notices in the film are in French or have the French versions of the characters' names. In the novelisation, these have been over-written into English. For example, what in the film is labelled as 'Ordralfabetix' is labelled 'Unhygienix Fishmonger' in the book. One nice touch the novelisation has is the final picture in the book, which is a colour photograph of the Colosseum on the last page. This helps the reader identify with the story and inspires them to look into the truth behind the Roman Empire.
In the film, the character of Caius Flabius Obtus is always referred to as 'Caius Flabius' while his posters and door sign refer to him as 'Caius Obtus'. This contradiction is resolved in the novelisation, which states that his full name is Caius Flabius Obtus. The novelisation is told from two points of view – that of Asterix and that of Caius Flabius Obtus. As Caius Flabius Obtus' involvement in the film is largely limited to the second half, the book is mainly narrated from Asterix's perspective. The novelisation was book 29 in the Asterix series; however, the book ordering system in the 21st Century has since been re-organised and the four novelisations are not included in the new numbering system.