When Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson get together for something, you can be sure a large noise will follow. And oh, what a racket has been made around their comic-to-cinema project, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. To be fair, it does look rather spectacular. Set in glorious motion-capture by Jackson's Weta Digital and starring Jamie Bell in the title role, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock and the comedy-duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thomson and Thompson, the film adaptation of Hergé's classic comic is set to dominate the box office when it's released this December.
But before we all go giddy crazy over the nosy reporter and his inquisitive, fluffy dog Snowy, let's ask one rather important question: why Tintin? Why pour so much money into bringing to screen a rather annoying, silly-quiffed, do-gooding, multilingual Belgian with some questionable colonialist attitudes (see Tintin in the Congo for shocking proof), when there's a much more worthy Gallic character just around the corner?
As any right-thinking comic reader should know, a few hundred kilometres (and a couple of thousand years) from Tintin's native Brussels sits a far superior figure, one with a large nose, impressive moustache and fondness for a bit of a punch-up. I am, of course, talking about Asterix, the indomitable and diminutive Gaulish warrior.
René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's much-adored creation, along with Asterix's hysterically obese friend Obelix and countless other equally loveable and ridiculously named characters are the Naked Gun to Tintin's CSI. Whereas Tintin searched for treasure in shark-shaped submarines, went on the hunt for Chicago-based gangsters and escaped a secret volcano lair, Asterix embarked on a series of silly adventures across Roman-era Europe that almost always resulted in massive brawls with legionnaires, followed by an enormous feast back at his village laden with roasted wild game (usually caught - and consumed - by Obelix). Asterix was stubborn, small and fighty. Tintin was just a bit too good, like the guy who came top in class but also headed the school band, ran for the cross-country team and edited the magazine.
But, in a world riddled with injustice, it's the Belgian who's getting the motion-capture, big bucks, superstar director adaptation. For the past few decades, Asterix fans have had to make do with a series of mediocre animations and some truly abysmal live-action affairs. When people remember Obelix, possibly the most adored character due to his dim-wittedness and sensitivity regarding his size, it's probably not going to be an image of Gerard Depardieu in a fat suit.
The latest effort, 2008's Asterix at the Olympic Games - the most expensive French film ever made - was so bad it took home the Gérard du cinema, France's equivalent of the Razzies, for worst film. The bizarre cameos from the likes of Michael Schumacher, Zinedine Zidane and Tony Parker seemingly weren't enough to win over critics. Goscinny, who passed away in 1977, is probably still spinning in his grave.
Asterix is a character absolutely screaming out for motion-capture adaptation. Hergé drew his cheery Belgians to look quite human, making them ideal for live action (whack Tilda Swinton in a light blue jumper and you've got your Tintin already). Uderzo, however, created caricatures with huge noses and comically oversized waistlines. There's only so much prosthetics can do before it starts to look ridiculous.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look likely to change anytime soon. Next year sees the arrival of Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia, another expensive live actioner with Depardieu again shoving pillows down his trousers, this time to help save Asterix's second-cousin Anticlimax from the Romans. If the producers think that by throwing in 3D and Catherine Deneuve this time around they'll have a success on their hands, they're somewhat misguided.
In the end, however, the numbers could be on the Gaul's side. Should Spielberg and Jackson's first Tintin be a success (which only a collision with the sun will prevent), more will surely follow. Jackson has already said he wants to direct the second. But with the script for Secret of the Unicorn having plundered stories from three adventures (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure), there are only 21 titles left to choose from. Asterix, however, has 34. Most importantly (particularly for a Hollywood not averse to flogging a dead horse), Hergé - who died in 1983 - requested that no more adventures be made after his death.
Uderzo, still going at 84, had a similar view, but then backtracked and, along with Goscinny's daughter, sold his stake to a publishing company in 2008, giving it permission to continue Asterix. Give us a quality motion-capture Gaul and you've got yourself a cash-cow for centuries.
Surely, it's only a matter of time before somebody sends Spielberg an Asterix comic and he sees what a mistake he's made.