A group of astronomers take a trip to the moon and meet its inhabitants.
Directed by – Georges Melies
Written by – Georges Melies, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells
Starring – Victor Andre, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet, Jeanne d’Alcy, Henri Delannoy, Depierre, Farjaut, Kelm, Georges Melies
After reviewing 700 films, I started thinking about the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Here I was at 700 and it seemed like 1001 could actually be a journey you could complete. While I won’t be attempting it because that would mean for the next three years of my life I could watch nothing but films on that list, I figured I could at least start looking into some of the older films listed. You can’t get much older than A Trip To The Moon. Made in 1902, this film is certainly an incredible example of filmmaking technique although the story is so cut and paste that you would think it was the first summer blockbuster ever.
Director Georges Melies had listed the film as having 30 separate scenes, although the version that I watched was missing the final 5. The film is less of a story and more of scenes placed in chronological order. It’s like the world’s first musical montage with everything occuring faster to accomodate for time. Basically a group of astronomers assemble and plan a mission to the moon. Their rocket is constructed, which is just a giant hollow bullet, and they’re shot out of a giant cannon. When they land on the moon, or in the moon’s eye actually, they take a nap until it starts snowing. They retreat to the inside of a crater where they are attacked by moon men and are captured. They manage to escape and defeat the king of the moon men. They race to their rocket where they push it off the edge of the moon and plummet back to the Earth. The scene that was missing was the astronomers being hailed as heroes by the people where they have erected a statue of the men.
I’m actually less interested in the film itself and more about the kind of impact it would have had in its time. Without a great understanding of early film, it’s hard to really appreciate the techniques and trickery used in the film. Melies was inspired by the Lumiere Brothers films but goes one step further with A Trip To The Moon. While the Lumiere Brothers films were grounded in reality, Melies film was the complete opposite. Reality is usually the last thing on someone’s mind as they enter a theatre now but one can only imagine the kind of fascination a film like this would have stirred in 1902.
Imagine watching every film like you were still a child. Each image just another piece of magic that you can’t figure out. Surely some of Melies techniques would have been familiar. He uses painted backdrops and costumes for some scenes and this would have been something people were used to from the theatre stage. At the same time Melies creates a world that nobody had ever seen before. He also plays with some of the earliest ideas of film trickery as well. To dispatch the moon men, the astronomers bash them with their umbrellas where they disappear into a cloud of smoke. Primitive looking now but can you imagine someone witnessing this for the first time and trying to figure it out?
I also wonder what other kinds of firsts this film produced. Melies had already created what could be the earliest vampire film in 1897 and this is probably the earliest science fiction film. It was also pirated in the States. I guess Melies also created the first film that was stolen and shown for profit, including prints by Thomas Edison. Seems that pirating films has been around a lot longer than most people think. The film is only really impressive in its historical context. Hopefully one would watch it with the understanding that it was created over 100 years ago and not try to hold it to some lofty standards that it can’t possibly meet. Had it not been for films like A Trip To The Moon we may never have gotten our sci-fi films now. I’m sure you could be both happy and angry about that, especially if you’ve had to sit through some sci-fi that you wish had never been created.
If you’re interested in checking this one out then look no further. This version is the exact one I watched last night.
Under the marquee – Will