HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: An Extended Stay In Europe

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we continue our four week “vacation” overseas with the most notable comic film franchises Europe has to offer.

This month, not counting serials, Batman will be getting his ninth full length feature film.

Piker.

Next year, Superman will be getting his seventh full length feature film.

Slacker.

The French comic book character Asterix has had 11 feature films to his name, both live action and animated. But before we get to the Gallic warrior, let’s talk about one of last year’s most talked about imported comic book films.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn was one of the most visually stunning films of last year, as any film written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson would be.

As flashy as it was, the performance capture film (where computers animated their digital characters over the real actors wearing computer sensors) did not do well in the United States, although its almost $373 million overseas take pretty much guarantees that the two planned sequels will get made. However, this mix of computer animation and live action was not the first animated or live-action Tintin film to hit the big screen.

Tintin was created by Belgian artist, Hergé (aka Georges Remi), in 1929 and he remained the sole writer and artist on the strip up until his death in 1983. The character is a Belgian reporter whose quest for stories takes him around the world and involves him in a number of hair-raising adventures, aided by his dog Snowy and his friend, Captain Haddock.

The character made his first appearance on film in 1947’s stop-motion animation Belgian offering, The Crab with the Golden Claws, adapted from the ninth book of the 24-book graphic novel series.  Other animated films would follow—1969’s Tintin and the Temple of the Sun and 1972’s Tintin and the Lake of Sharks. Tintin would also receive two live action adaptations as well—1961’s French film, Tintin and the Golden Fleece and 1964’s French/Spanish production Tintin and the Blue Oranges.

The Smurfs were another Belgian import to arrive in American theaters last year with the help of CGI. Only this time, just the Smurfs themselves were computer animated, voiced by such celebrities as Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry and Alan Cumming, as they shared the screen with human actors such as Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays. The 3D film opened to horrible reviews (it’s currently only 23% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) but that wasn’t enough to keep it from being a hit. The$110 million  film made over $563 million worldwide. That was enough so that not one but two sequels were greenlighted. The Smurfs 2 is scheduled for a July 31, 2013 release and The Smurfs 3 is planned for July 24, 2015. The main cast is set to return for both sequels.

But this wasn’t the first time Peyo’s (nee Pierre Culliford) 1958 creations have hit the big screen. The blue creatures have also graced the screen in 1965’s Belgian compilation, The Adventures of the Smurfs and in The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, a film made and released in Belgium in 1976, yet not released in the U.S. until 1983.

Asterix has not had any Americanized adaptations—yet —but its 11 films mean that it’s enormously popular in Europe. Created for Pilote magazine in 1959 by writer René Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo, the character’s 34 volumes of graphic novels have been translated into over 107 languages, selling more than 325 million copies worldwide.

The story takes place in a small coastal village called Armorica of Gaul (present day France) circa 50 BC. The village is able to stave off being engulfed by the Roman Empire due to a magic potion brewed by a local druid that gives them temporary superhuman strength. Asterix is the leader of the village, and his sidekick is a manchild named Obelix, whose super strength is permanent due to his falling into a cauldron of the potion as a youngster.

Of the 11 Asterix films, eight have been animated and 3 have been live action. The animated films are Asterix the Gaul (1967), Asterix and Cleopatra (1968), The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (1976), Asterix Versus Caesar (1985), Asterix in Britain (1986), Asterix and the Big Fight (1989), Asterix Conquers America (1994) and Asterix and the Vikings (2006).  The live action films include Asterix & Obelix Take On Caesar (1999), Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (2002) and Asterix at the Olympic Games (2006). Oscar-nominated actor Gérard Depardieu has appeared as Obelix in all three live action films. Other guest stars include Oscar winner Roberto Benigni and Monica Bellucci.

Next, we take a look at the live action franchises from Japan, then tackle some heroes on the half-shell.

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About William Gatevackes 1934 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.

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