June 15th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Anthony Albanese: NSW left factional warlord takes charge

EDITORIAL Religious freedom: the political and legislative challenges

CANBERRA OBSERVED Will Bill Shorten emerge from the shadows again?

FEDERAL ELECTION Queensland voted for jobs, life and country

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Keating's 'nutters': Don't blame the messenger

ECONOMICS AND SOCIETY Health policy is not immune from neoliberal infection

HUMAN RIGHTS Canada accepts Asia Bibi and family as refugees

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Families keeping the faith: the Benedict and other options

IDEOLOGY Feminist claims for equality, Part 1: The context

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 3: More on science and ancient cultures

LIFE ISSUES Families, youth boost crowd at WA Rally for Life

MUSIC Muse of delight: The laugh ascending

CINEMA Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

BOOK REVIEW Pioneering aviator's flights and fancies

BOOK REVIEW Catholic resistance in a forgotten war

BOOK REVIEW AFA patron's long life of public service


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal, June 5-6, 2019: An account from the live streaming

Books promotion page

Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, June 15, 2019

“The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. well, not entirely … One small village of indomitable Gauls holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…”

So would begin every adventure of Asterix and Obelix, the magnificent, satiric and farcical comic book characters created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. First published in 1959, the stories cover the many and varied adventures of the pint-sized and shrewd Asterix, “the first warrior of the village”, his best friend, the simpleminded and gentle but super-strong Obelix, and Obelix’s little dog, Dogmatix, as they protect their village from the schemes of Caesar’s Rome.

Mixing physical humour, terrible puns, and sharp send-ups of contemporary events, fads, and celebrities, the beloved series challenges Hergé’s Tintin as the greatest and most popular French-language comic in the world.

Adapting such a significant work for the big screen, capturing its spirit, while still making it cinematic, would be a daunting prospect for anyone. But it is doable, as shown by the delightful and whimsical computer-animated Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion. Written and directed by Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy, the film hits upon the perfect formula for adaptation and reimagination. Rather than attempting to cram together multiple stories, or upping the stakes beyond the stories, or modernising the plots or themes, or assuming the audience’s unfamiliarity and overdoing the exposition, The Secret of the Magic Potion sticks with the elegance and economy of the originals, making it a joyous entertainment. And, while the computer animation seems an odd fit for such artfully hand-drawn stories, it works beautifully, allowing the animators to play with different visual styles within the film.

The druid Getafix (John Innes) falls out of a tree while collecting mistletoe. Made suddenly aware of his own mortality, he decides he can no longer be the only one to know the secret of the magic potion that gives the villagers superhuman strength and is the reason they have been able to hold out against the Romans.

Much to the shock of the rambunctious Gauls, he decides to find a successor and so heads out on a quest to review the druids of Gaul accompanied by Asterix (Ken Kramer), Obelix (C. Ernst Harth), Dogmatix, and the stowaway Pectin (Fleur Delahunty), a clever girl keen on inventing. Along the way they meet with the grand council of druids and come face to face with Getafix’s old rival Demonix (Michael Shepherd), who wants the secret for himself.

Meanwhile, Caesar (Mark Oliver), learning the druid is gone, orders his legions to attack the village until its supply of magic potion runs out.

While The Adventures of Tintin are deftly crafted pulp thrillers with comic elements, Asterix and Obelix’s adventures are light-hearted comedies with the occasional edge. Their genius comes from the universality of their characters and the effortless way they parody contemporary society by setting it in an ancient context.

They are fun, multilayered entertainments enjoyed by young and old. They do not aim for the heartstrings as much as the likes of Pixar, but they do aim for the head – much like the classic Loony Tunes. And like Loony Tunes, they are not out, so much, to make a serious point as to repeat a simple one. Sure, the comics emphasise Gallic pride and resistance to the Imperium – but here the Imperium is not some totalitarian dystopia but a tolerably functional multinational economic and cultural powerhouse.

Asterix points to the darker side of Roman power, with its gladiatorial games and all-conquering mindset, just as it points to the reality of Roman strategy, with its taste for elaborate sieges and supremely civilised fortified camps.

But these are just the trappings of the tale. The tales themselves are almost all about the disruption of the tranquility of the village and its restoration. They’re about home and the chaos and peace found there. The indomitable Gauls are known as much for fighting among themselves as they are for fighting against the Romans, but every adventure ends with a feast they all enjoy. The stories show the chaos that’s part of life, and the fellowship that’s the point of it.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm