Sunday, 19 January 2014

Voyage Dans la Lune (1902)

Also known as: A Trip To The Moon
Country: France
Director: Georges Méliès
Length: 17 minutes


A team of astronomers fly to the moon where they survey the land, narrowly evade capture by a tribe of hostile natives, and return to earth with a captive moon man.

Significance/Notable Achievements:
Georges Méliès was a professional magician prior to his career as a filmmaker. Because of his innovative special effects and fantastical style, he is considered a founding (if accidental) father of the fantasy, sci-fi and horror film genres. The landing of the space shuttle in the Moon’s eye is one of cinema’s most popular images. Made on a budget of 10,000 francs, it took three months to make, and though best known in black and white, hand-coloured versions were shown and sold at the time. 

Voyage dans la lune was also one of the first notable victim's of film piracy and illegal distribution, which cost Méliès a fair share of the movie's profits. On the other hand, the film borrowed stupendously from an immensely popular 1901 New York fair attraction called A Trip to the Moon, the Offenbach operetta Le Voyage dans la Lune, Jules Verne’s From The Earth To The Moon and almost certainly H. G. Wells’ The First Men On The Moon - all at a time when copyright laws were (lucky for Méliès) a little freer than they are today. One might say, in the words of Justin Timberlake, that what goes around comes around.  

The massive impact Voyage dans la lune has had over the years on audiences, artists, and cinema as a whole is undeniable. (Over a century later, that shot of the astronauts' ship in the moon's eye is still firing up imaginations and helped turn eight-year old me into a certifiable sci-fi dork.) As far as early cinema goes, Méliès satirical and imaginative ideas of what space travel and lunar conditions might be like offers a cool contrast to the everyday realism of the Lumière brothers. I can forgive the director for his dated, arguably racist colonial view of “those savage aliens". He was, after all, a product of his times. I was mostly just excited that he put people on the moon at all, especially ones that provide a glimpse into how shrimp might dance if they stood on two legs. (Think District 9, The Musical.)

Following a largely solid three-act structure and with wild set pieces clearly designed to dazzle audiences used to stage performances, Voyage is never boring. The film's constant flights of fancy and religious devotion to melodrama make it nearly impossible to engage with the characters emotionally. Méliès also struggles a bit with knowing when to bring things to a close. But that's the twenty-first century talking. If we'd been sitting in a theatre at the time, this thing would sent us over the...well, you know.  

Side note: One of my favourite bands, the French group Air, made an album in 2012 with the same name, which served as the score for a recently restored version of the film.

This was fun to watch once I wrapped my head around the fact that it was made in 1902. It’s all very staged and the editing errors were out of this world. (See what I did there.) Things I learned from this film: That the moon really is made of cheese, that mushrooms grow there and look great in black & white, and that you can kill a Martian by flogging his feet with an umbrella.

No comments:

Post a Comment