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The year is 50 B.C. and Gaul is entirely occupied by Romans. Well, not entirely. One small village of indomitable Gauls still 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. Operation Getafix is another Asterix "book of the film" - in this case 1989's animated picture Astérix et le Coup du menhir. So this is not an official entry in the Goscinny & Uderzo series but more of a "photo-panel" book rather than a traditional graphic novel. The film (which on a pointless note of gratuitous trivia featured no lesser figures than Bill Oddie and Bernard Bresslaw as the voices of Asterix and Obelix in the British version) was adapted by Yannik Voight and Adolph Kabatek mostly from Goscinny & Uderzo's Asterix and the Soothsayer with a splash - and I stress the word splash - of Asterix and the Big Fight also thrown in. The film was released in Britain as Asterix and the Big Fight but this film to book adaptation was titled Operation Getafix to avoid confusion with the official series. I think I'm slightly confused already despite having read all of these books. Somewhat confusingly too - considering the film was titled Asterix and the Big Fight - this doesn't actually include the famous part of the book where Chief Vitalstatistix has to fight a rival chief in the boxing ring. Under ancient Gallic custom in the world of Asterix one chief can challenge another chief to a fight with the winner becoming the chief of both villages - this tradition is thus used by the Romans to try and gain control of the indomitable village that defies their rule. So, anyway, forget all about Asterix and the Big Fight.
The only part of Asterix and the Big Fight they pilfer is Getafix the venerable druid accidentally being conked on the head by one of Obelix's menhirs and duly going bonkers. Menhirs are big Stonehenge style rocks made and sold by Obelix that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever and allowed Goscinny to riff on the absurdities of the capitalist system where people are constantly craving and purchasing things they don't really need. Now that Getafix is doolally it means he can't brew the super strength magic potion that enables the little Gaul village by the sea we know so well to resist Roman occupation. Without the magic potion Asterix and his village will be ripe for the plucking. The main story here is then plundered from Asterix and the Soothsayer - one of the best of the official Asterix books and a personal favourite of mine. It's a dark stormy night with spectacular crackles of lightning illuminating the little village with its cosy thatched huts and if the Gauls fear one thing and one thing only it's the prospect of the sky falling on their heads one day. They really don't like storms at all. An opportunistic and dubious Soothsayer named Prolix arrives in the village looking like a refugee from a 1960s open air rock concert and takes full advantage of the superstitious Gauls (who are sans druid less we forget as Getafix would see through him in a second) but he's soon kidnapped by the Romans. The Romans erroneously believe him to be a genuine Soothsayer and order him to drive the Gauls from their village so they can finally claim it for themselves. As ever it will be primarily up to the crafty Asterix to somehow make sense of this complete muddle.
So Operation Getafix is an abstraction and probably won't have a huge amount of appeal for those familiar with the bona fide series although children would probably enjoy the colourful panels I think. I haven't seen the film version of this but they seem to have made a number of changes and effectively dumbed down the books they are borrowing from. In Goscinny & Uderzo's Asterix and the Soothsayer, Prolix uses fish entrails to "read" the future but here he uses the fish as a glove puppet. It's not very funny and a good example of the sort of change they've gone for. There seem to to be pop culture references to things like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Spielberg's E.T and characters here go mad and run around like lunatics at the drop of a hat. The subtext and nuance of Goscinny is buried underneath a very broad approach. The official Asterix books have a lot of jokes and references for adults (what other comic would reference The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt or the Peasant Wedding Feast by Pieter Breugel the Elder?) but they really don't seem to have bothered with that angle for this film at all. I suppose the animated film was necessarily broader than the Goscinny & Uderzo albums and much of this was lost. Some of the cells are very pretty - especially those that include the sun or the moon - but the problem is that they lack the detail of the original books and are a trifle fuzzy and lightweight on the whole.
Some of the characters don't quite look right either. Cacofonix the bard is a bit weird here and involved in some bizarre psychedelic panels. I think the animated films amp up the slapstick element to the Asterix series to a preposterous degree if Operation Getafix is anything to go by. It's rather headache inducing in the end and somewhat reminiscent of Uderzo's last couple of solo efforts where he didn't have the late Goscinny to do the writing and just genuinely seemed to lose the plot altogether, the books becoming increasingly frantic and juvenile rather than relying on the strength of the characters they had created all those years ago. The slapstick was turned up to eleven. I don't mind a surreal element to the books but by the end of this I did feel like I was being repeatedly hit over the head by a clown in a parallel dimension. I think Asterix fans and collectors would enjoy having these on the bookshelf purely for completist purposes but you woudn't imagine they'd return to this too much - if at all. Younger readers who aren't terribly familiar with Asterix that much and have nothing to compare this too or complain about might possibly enjoy it for the whacky colour strewn approach but that's about it really. I can't say the idea of watching the film version of this is very appealing after trawling through Operation Getafix.
Although I enjoyed the technicolour madness of some of the panels this always felt like a poor substitute for the official Asterix books and - like Asterix versus Caesar - this is hardly essential and more in line with Tintin and the Lake of Sharks. A book of a non-canonical film that you could happily live without. At the time of writing curious Asterix fans can buy a used copy of Operation Getafix for a few pounds. You might want to consider one of the Asterix compilations as this features in a couple of them and they are usually available at modest prices.