Michael Schumacher racing a Roman chariot, Zinedine Zidane in unlikely Egyptian garb kicking a ball — "Asterix at the Olympic Games," France's biggest-budget movie ever, was designed with a bit of magic Gallic potion to please any audience.
Whether the slapstick comic-book routine will work this time is a million-dollar question.
Produced at a record cost of USD 114 million, its star cast and massive release on 5,000 screens in 40 European countries this week and next, is timed to benefit from the 2008 Olympic spirit, and its financial spin-off.
In terms of budget, it beats Luc Besson's two blockbusters "The Fifth Element" and "Arthur And The Minimoys" (1997 and 2006), but to get a payback on investment, the film will need to beat the two first Asterix films at the box office.
The 1998 movie starring the pint-sized hero's crusade against the Roman Empire, "Asterix and Obelix against Caesar," sold 25 million tickets, of which 15 million were overseas. Four years later, "Mission Cleopatra" did almost as well with 24.5 million, but only 10 million foreign sales.
"We thought, produced, cast and shot the film so it would export well," said Emmanuel Montamat of La Petite Reine, co-producers with Pathe.
In France the film is being released in 950 cinemas, followed by around 800 in Russia. It premiered in Poland and is being released in Germany, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Turkey and Scandinavia.
Loosely based on a 1968 comic book of the same name, the 12th in the series about the tiny Rome-bashing Gaul and his portly sidekick Obelix, the made-to-measure movie makes no bones about exploiting the Olympic factor.