Review: Asterix and the Vikings

asterix dvdThe highly successful Franco-Belgian comic book hero takes to the seas to rescue a young man, in this 14th animated feature about the proud Gauls in historical Northern France.

Most Europeans know the two characters Asterix and Obelix, the heroes of the beloved comic written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. Created in 1959, the series follows the exploits of a village of indomitable Gauls as they resist Roman occupation. 36 books have been published until now, taking the format of stand-alone graphic novels. More than a dozen movies have been made from the stories, both animated and live action. Asterix and the Vikings is the 14th movie in the franchise, depending on wether you count unreleased movies or not. Based on Asterix and the Normans from 1966, the film takes some liberties with the story and adds both events and characters, but let’s look at the movie on its own feet.

Though not a straight Viking movie, of course, Vikings are included to a large extent, with large portions of the story taking place in Norway, in the icy fjords where the Vikings have built their cabins. The reason for travelling there was to retrive the son of chief Vitalstatistix, the sensitive and artistic Justforkix, who was kidnapped by the Vikings after having raided an empty village. Howver, Justforkix has fallen in love with the Viking king’s daughter Abba.

The story is quite straight forward, and somewhat on the thin side, but in a movie like this, originality is perhaps not the most important criteria. Familiar characters, fun gags, jokes, traditional scenes like boar eating and nicely drawn images go a long way, and on those accounts this movie delivers. I’m no Asterix purist, and found the artwork to be entertaining in itself, both in terms of details, colours and similarity to the comics. The humour is quite juvenile and may not appeal to adults, especially when it become a little repetitive, but there is a fine balance between character moments, laughs and action. The film is never boring, although it is more the sum of all the parts than specific moments that keeps the movie’s head above water.

asterix characters

One major thread in the movie, which at the same time is the film’s major weakness, is the gender politics projected through the two young lovers, Abba and Justforkix. The girl hates being a girl and wants the advantages of men, while Justforkix has no interest in war and bravery. The idea seems to be to have two characters that break free from the traditional male and female mould. The only problem is; they are both big-mouthed winers who, when it comes down to living the way they talk, manage nothing. For example, one would think that Abba is going to be a nice role model for little girls who want to grow up and choose their own path, but in reality in the movie, Abba is still captured by men, put in a cage by men and later rescued by a man. She does not act her part, one could say. The same goes for Justforkix. It’s a nice idea to promote gender empowerment to child viewers, but in effect, there is nothing here that supports that idea.

This flaw is quite hard to overlook. It’s much easier to forget the fact that the Asterix stories takes place several hundred years before the first traditional Vikings came to be; the earliest recorded raids by Norse seafarers took place nearly 750 years later than the times of Asterix. Never mind that, the comic book and this movie are fantasies anyway.

Asterix and the Vikings is decent entertainment but it does feel a little uninspired, with some repeated gags and predictable jokes. Maybe that’s not a surprise when you have more than a dozen movies to live up to and respect, and maybe it will be better received by children or the fan crowd than Viking fans.

Rated 6 of 10.

Directed by Stefan Fjeldmark & Jesper Møller.

France & Denmark, 2006.

Review: A Viking Saga

avikingsaga-coverLow budget Danish Viking drama about events leading up to what was essentially the foundation of Russia.

Also known as Rise of the Viking and Son of Thor (and not to be confused with Northmen: A Viking Saga), the story of this historically based independent film reads like hundreds of other revenge films, and surely a dozen or so Viking films; in the middle of the Viking age, the young boy Helgi survives an attack on his village and must flee to his uncle, who raises him as his own son. Many years later, as an adult, Helgi seeks revenge on the Vikings that killed his family. This could even be any 70s martial arts movie! The twist here is that Helgi is also known as Oleg, the Varangian prince who basically founded Russia. The Varangians were Scandinavian Vikings that settled East of the Baltic sea, so this movie is not entirely traditional in the sense that it doesn’t always takes place in Scandinavia.

Where the film is traditional though, is in its story. Even though the link to historical events are interesting, the revenge story is as basic as they come, and there is very little left to keep you interested. One can always hope for some cool battles, nice costumes, scenic locations or bad-ass Vikings, but alas, none of this is present in the movie. The budget was so low that everything looks very cheap and home-made, and that includes everything from props to cinematography. A Viking Saga is basically an amateur hobbyist film where everything that would have cost money is left out. The Viking reenactors used in many scenes are not very convincing, and the bellydancers wear bras that are clearly made in modern times, complete with pads and all.

All this could have been forgiven if the creators had tried to overcome the budgetary shortcomings with some tongue-in-cheek sequences, some over-the-top violence, or at least tried to get the colours right. To say the films looks like it was shot on VHS is an insult to VHS. The film’s DVD sleeve claims the movie was nominated for Best Picture at seven film festivals, which can be understood, considering one of the festivals is called Bare Bones. There must be many no-budget festivals around.

The problem with A Viking Saga isn’t really the low budget; it’s the total lack of inspiration, care and innovation that is on display that is the problem. Low budgets are fine when they push creators to do something interesting that doesn’t depend on money, but when people in front of and behind camera are just unskilled, don’t expect miracles.

The most interesting part of A Viking Saga is that Danish strongman and bit actor Sven-Ole Thorsen is one of the executive producers. He must regret that now.

Rated 2 of 10.

Directed by Michael Mouyal.

Denmark, 2008.