Asterix and the Vikings
My copy of the recently released R2 French release of Asterix and the Vikings arrived this morning from Amazon.fr. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the French release is unusual in that it caters to English speakers by including not only English audio but also subtitles. Like Asterix Conquers America, the film was animated to an English dialogue track. As is usually the case with the Asterix films in English, all the roles were once again recast, with a selection of A- and B-list actors providing the voices. Asterix is played by Paul Giamatti, Obelix by Brad Garrett, Justforkix by Sean Astin, Abba by Evan Rachel Wood, and Timandahaf by John Di Maggio.
Of these, only Garrett and Di Maggio have had any particular experience providing voice-overs for animation, and to be honest it shows. As I said in my review of Corpse Bride yesterday, live action stars generally do not make good voice actors, because providing voice-overs requires a completely different set of abilities (since, naturally, they have to rely on their vocal performance alone instead of also drawing on things like body language and appearance). The voices are generally competent, but none of them really feel like they’re coming organically from the characters, and a number of the actors are guilty of overacting. This is especially true of the individuals playing Vitalstatistix and his brother Doublehelix (the guilty parties aren’t listed on IMDB, and the DVD includes only the French credits, so I’m not sure who’s responsible). It’s bizarre, but the French track, which is dubbed, feels a lot more natural than its English counterpart.
As far as the Asterix films go, this is one of the better ones. This is a series that really hasn’t had a particularly rosy history in the cinematic form, mainly because the mood and humour of the comics is so precise that it must be very difficult to convey it adequately in animation (and the less said about the two live action adaptations the better). As such, Asterix and the Vikings may not be perfect, but it’s certainly not a travesty by any means - and it’s definitely better than Asterix Conquers America, which, produced in 1994, was the most recent animated effort before this one. In terms of animation and technical prowess, this is definitely the most attractive of the bunch, although the garish colour palette is a little overdone. Plot-wise, it varies between being extremely faithful to the source material (so close, in fact, that entire pages are literally lifted from the book Asterix and the Normans with only minimal changes), and coming up with completely unique material, including a bunch of new characters and situations. Unfortunately, like Asterix and the Big Fight, the jokes are fairly infrequent, and those that are included aren’t hugely funny. It’s nice to see Asterix back on the screen in an animated form, however, and it blows the live action iterations out of the water.
Transfer-wise, this release is a bit of a disappointment. The digitally sourced transfer certainly looks vibrant (too vibrant, in fact, although this is most likely the result of the colour palette itself rather than any additional goosing for the DVD release), but the image has a very harsh look. Noticeably filtered and edge enhanced, lines are rough and jagged rather than smooth, with massive amounts of stair-stepping on display. This gives the image an oddly low resolution appearance, looking a little too much like a poor scaling job for comfort. At least the compression is reasonably competent, though, and the banded gradients that show up so often in digital animation are thankfully kept to a minimum.
Update, December 19, 2006 06:15 PM: Fixed dead link.