A TRIP TO THE MOON, 1902
Cast: Victor André, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet, Jeanne d'Alcy, Henri Delannoy
This early silent film by master artist and film pioneer Georges Melies is considered a classic by many film buffs. Although it runs for only 14 minutes this whimsical fantasy really focuses on an astronomers dream.
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Though it wasn't until July 20, 1969 that we first walked on the moon in reality, the dream was around way before that. Artists of all types imagined man on the moon from writers to painters and then finally to filmmakers. It was innovative filmmaker George (Georges, if you’re French) Melies that transferred his imagination to the motion picture screen, creating one of, if not the, most famous moon landing film in history. Melies’ fantasy masterpiece Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) is often credited with being the first science fiction film and showed everyone what motion pictures were actually capable of. Using cutting edge film techniques, Melies created a film that has been inspiring filmmakers ever since.
Made in 1902, A Trip to the Moon begins with a room of scientists and astronomers (you can tell by their tall wizard hats) discussing plans to fly to the moon. This disturbs some people and a fight amongst the smart men breaks out. When all is said and done, six astronomers agree to participate in this exciting experiment. They build a rocket ship and after a fine sendoff from friendly showgirls, jam their rocket into a cannon that blasts them toward the moon.
They hit the moon with a crash landing (in the famous shot of the rocket sticking out of the moon’s eye) and crawl out. Exhausted from the long journey, they are reawakened with a little snow shower, compliments of the Goddess of the Moon. To their amazement, the moon is full of lush vegetation, such as giant mushrooms, and has a beautiful scenic view of Earth. However their excitement is short lived, as they cross the path of some not so welcoming moon inhabitants, the Selenites. After fighting off the feisty Selenites, the astronomers race back to the rocket ship and leap inside, just as a pursuing Selenite hangs on for dear life. The ship crashes back to Earth, falling into the ocean and the men are welcomed back to their home planet.
There are various forms of this black and white short film floating around out there. The original was shown at 16 frames per minute, thus making the film about 14 minutes long, while others say that the original was 30 minutes long. It has also been displayed at 25 frames per minute, making the running time come in at about 8 minutes. Also a new ending scene that was previously believed to be lost forever was found and restored just within the past ten years. Because it is now in public domain, many people have put their own twists on it, including various kinds of musical accompaniment and voiceover narration. But, because it is public domain, it’s also very easy to find this movie online for your viewing pleasure.
Besides creating a new genre, film historians also regard this film as one of the first to use a narrative film structure. Early primitive films simply showed moving images without a story to connect the images. A Trip to the Moon composed a comprehensive story to connect its images and therefore created a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Some critics disagree, claiming that it wasn’t until Edwin Porter that modern narrative was invented with the use of editing to construct a story.
Either way, it’s evident that Melies used innovative and extremely thoughtful technique, such as animation (for the man in the moon), and even simply showing bigger and bigger images of the moon to show that the rocket was getting closer. After all, cameras didn’t have the zoom yet. According to author Carlos Clarens in An Illustrated History of Horror and Sci-Fi Films, Melies also was one of the first to use fades, dissolves, stop motion, sped up action, and slow motion, all in camera tricks still employed by directors today like Michel Gondry.
Many believe he was the first to build a film studio, to play out his bag of tricks while still having complete control. It goes without saying that Melies inspired in one or another, not only science fiction directors, but every kind of filmmaker after him. Even the Smashing Pumpkins used the concept and technique of A Trip to the Moon in their music video for ‘Tonight, Tonight.’ So even though the actual moon landing wasn’t perhaps as exciting as Melies envisioned (I don’t believe any giant mushrooms or disgruntled inhabitants were discovered), he certainly planted the seed of imagining the bigger and better.
A TRIP TO THE MOON