A Trip to the Moon
Picture this; it’s the start of the 20th Century, 1902 to be precise. The first of the two world wars was over a decade away; Hitler was a mere three years old, little known football club Real Madrid had just been founded and in France, Georges Méliès had just written, directed and starred in the first science-fiction film, La Voyage Dans La Lune or A trip to the Moon.
The black and white, silent, science fiction film, follows six astronomers bravely embarking on a mission to the moon. Building a space ship in the shape of a bullet, they are launched from a giant cannon and land in the eye of the moon. On the moon, the astronomers face a battle against the climate and the native Selenites. The special effects invented and used by Méliès broke new ground for film and animation as the Parisian and former magician developed a variety of cinematographic techniques.
He began experimenting with camera trickery by accident. In the middle of shooting a scene his camera jammed and as the minutes lapsed by before he could get it running again, continuity was ruined as the surroundings changed. Upon watch back he recalled a ‘bus changed into a hearse and women changed into men. The substitution trick, called the stop-trick, had been discovered’. This specific technique is used throughout the film, most notably turning an umbrella into a mushroom.
Back to the 21st Century, and since the film’s release it has been a constant source of influence in popular culture. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) features scenes from the movie and HBO featured a documentary recreating the production process. The Smashing Pumpkins used the film as the groundwork for their award winning music video for the song ‘Tonight, Tonight’ and Queen includes clips from the original in their music video for ‘Heaven for Everyone’.
In 2002, the ending of the film, previously thought to be destroyed after commercial distribution, as was often the case at the time with prints converted into low-cost fuel for industrial plants, was found at a barn in France. At the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, 109 years after the original release, A Trip to the Moon was screened as a restored hand-coloured version of the film, along with a fresh soundtrack by French band, Air. Whilst the dynamic score is a marvellous piece in its own right and often fits the film well, it occasionally fails to set the correct tone to accompany the visual image.
The comedy of the film is excessively slap stick, and the narrative is a bit loose and incoherent, yet the picture has a mesmerising effect and ultimately is a fine, inspirational and innovative piece of art.