Review: Astérix et Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre (2002 movie)

At the start of the second live-action Astérix and Obélix film (I reviewed the first one here), Caesar annoys Cleopatra (gorgeous Monica Bellucci) by telling her that Egyptian greatness is all in the past, so to prove him wrong she vows to build him a magnificent palace in just three months. This impossible job she assigns to a young architect named Numérobis (“Edifis” in the English translation), who’s currently months behind on just building someone a house (like every homebuilder in the world). But if he doesn’t finish the palace on schedule, Cleo warns him, he’ll be crocodile food.

The desperate Numérobis tells his friend, an engineer named Otis (who’s working on an invention to carry people to the top of a pyramid), that his only hope is to seek magical aid from a droid in Gaul who had known his father. Otis suggests the word he’s looking for is probably Druid. (The same joke works in both French and English.)

The Druid in question is of course our old friend Panoramix. When Numérobis finally meets him he says, “Je suis, mon cher ami, très heureux de te voir.” (I am, my dear friend, very happy to see you.) To which Panoramix replies, “C’est un alexandrin.” (That’s an Alexandrian.) An Alexandrian is a term in French poetry for a line of 12 syllables, which is what Numérobis, who’s from Alexandria himself, has just uttered. I wish I could tell you that I got this joke unaided, but in fact there’s no way I would have. (I read it in a review, and it’s also pointed out in a clip below.) I’m told a lot of the comedy in the original requires a pretty deep grasp of French language and culture, and I’ve read reviews from French-speakers suggesting the film may be untranslatable. (At least one joke even requires a knowledge of ancient Egyptian: IMDb quotes a hieroglyphic inscription as, “If you can read this you must be an Egyptologist.”)

I saw the film in a version dubbed into English (a Miramax release available from Amazon on a burn-on-demand basis) because I couldn’t find it in French with English subtitles, not even in a Korean edition. The dubbing is competent and even introduces some original jokes, as when Otis says that one of his life’s ambitions is to move his lips in French and have the words come out in English.

Alas, the dubbed version is also about 15 minutes shorter than the original. I may just have to break down and learn French.

Despite these frustrations, I enjoyed this film nearly as much as I did the first. Again it’s a very broad farce, which not everyone will like as much as I did. If you watch it, do make sure to read the end titles, which are full of gags. After listing the main cast in order of appearance, for example, a few additional names are given, this time in descending order of their length. Among those thanked by the producers is Imhotep.

There are more films in the series and I hope to see them eventually, but the first two have the best reviews. As for the books, Uderzo (now in his 80s) took over the writing duties after the death of his friend Goscinny, and they continue to appear, the most recent published less than a year ago.

Here’s the original French trailer (with English subtitles) followed by an excerpt from the film with English subtitles added by a fan of the film.

Update: At the moment Pathé, the film’s producer, has foolishly blocked the second fan-made clip on alleged copyright grounds. I say “foolishly” because (a) it’s a clear instance of fair use and (b) it amounts to a free advertisement for the film. I hope Pathé realizes its mistake and restores access to the video in question.



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