VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE, LE (Georges Méliès, 1902, France, 14m, BW)
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Original Title: Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Director/Star: Georges Méliès
Cast: Jeanne d'Alcy, Georges Méliès, Victor André, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet Null, Henri Delannoy, Depierre Null, Farjaut Null, Kelm Null
Director: Georges Méliès
Writer: Georges Méliès
Running Time: 14 min.
Synopsis: Astronomers go on an expedition to the moon.
If you’ve never experienced one of Méliès’s masterful early-20th-century fantasies, you couldn’t do better than to start with this interpretation of countryman Jules Verne. Images from it (especially the bullet-like rocket implanted in the eye of the man in the moon) are iconic images of early film, and are sometimes unfairly used to suggest the scientific ignorance of people from the period. Watching the film makes it very clear that it was never intended to be serious. Much of the movie is taken up with the astronauts fighting moon men who burst like balloons at the slightest touch. At fourteen minutes, it’s an easy view for modern tastes, even those not comfortable with silent film.
A Trip to the Moon (French: Le Voyage dans la Lune) is a 1902 French silent film directed by Georges Méliès. Inspired by a wide variety of sources, including Jules Verne's novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, the film follows a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule, explore the Moon's surface, escape from an underground group of Selenites (lunar inhabitants), and return to Earth with a captive Selenite. It features an ensemble cast of French theatrical performers, led by Méliès himself in the main role of Professor Barbenfouillis, and is filmed in the overtly theatrical style for which Méliès became famous.
The film was an internationally popular success on its release, and was extensively pirated by other studios, especially in the United States. Its unusual length, lavish production values, innovative special effects, and emphasis on storytelling were markedly influential on other film-makers and ultimately on the development of narrative film as a whole. Scholars have commented upon the film's extensive use of pataphysical and anti-imperialist satire, as well as on its wide influence on later film-makers and its artistic significance within the French theatrical féerie tradition. Though the film disappeared into obscurity after Méliès's retirement from the film industry, it was rediscovered around 1930, when Méliès's importance to the history of cinema was beginning to be recognized by film devotees. An original hand-colored print was discovered in 1993 and restored in 2011.
A Trip to the Moon was named one of the 100 greatest films of the 20th century by The Village Voice, ranked 84th. The film remains the best-known of the hundreds of films made by Méliès, and the moment in which the capsule lands in the Moon's eye remains one of the most iconic and frequently referenced images in the history of cinema. It is widely regarded as the earliest example of the science fiction film genre and, more generally, as one of the most influential films in cinema history.
At a meeting of the Astronomic Club, its president, Professor Barbenfouillis, proposes an expedition to the Moon. After addressing some dissent, five other brave astronomers—Nostradamus, Alcofrisbas, Omega, Micromegas, and Parafaragaramus—agree to the plan. They build a space capsule in the shape of a bullet, and a huge cannon to shoot it into space. The astronomers embark and their capsule is fired from the cannon with the help of "marines", most of whom are played by a bevy of young women in sailors' outfits. The Man in the Moon watches the capsule as it approaches, and it hits him in the eye.
Landing safely on the Moon, the astronomers get out of the capsule (without the need of space suits) and watch the Earth rise in the distance. Exhausted by their journey, they unroll their blankets and sleep. As they sleep, a comet passes, the Big Dipper appears with human faces peering out of each star, old Saturn leans out of a window in his ringed planet, and Phoebe, goddess of the Moon, appears seated in a crescent-moon swing. Phoebe causes a snowfall that awakens the astronomers, and they seek shelter in a cavern where they discover giant mushrooms. One astronomer opens his umbrella; it promptly takes root and turns into a giant mushroom itself.
At this point, a Selenite (an insectoid alien inhabitant of the Moon, named after one of the Greek moon goddesses, Selene) appears, but it is killed easily by an astronomer, as the creatures explode if they are hit with force. More Selenites appear and it becomes increasingly difficult for the astronomers to destroy them as they are surrounded. The Selenites capture the astronomers and take them to the palace of their king. An astronomer lifts the Selenite King off his throne and throws him to the ground, causing him to explode.
The astronomers run back to their capsule while continuing to hit the pursuing Selenites, and five get inside. The sixth astronomer, Barbenfouillis himself, uses a rope to tip the capsule over a ledge on the Moon and into space. A Selenite tries to seize the capsule at the last minute. Astronomer, capsule, and Selenite fall through space and land in an ocean on Earth, where they are rescued by a ship and towed ashore. The final sequence (missing from some prints of the film) depicts a celebratory parade in honor of the travelers' return, including a display of the captive Selenite and the unveiling of a commemorative statue bearing the motto "Labor omnia vincit".
When A Trip to the Moon was made, film actors performed anonymously and no credits were given; the practice of supplying opening and closing credits in films was a later innovation. Nonetheless, the following cast details can be reconstructed from available evidence:
Georges Méliès as Professor Barbenfouillis. Méliès, a pioneering French film-maker and magician now generally regarded as the first person to recognize the potential of narrative film, had already achieved considerable success with his film versions of Cinderella (1899) and Joan of Arc (1900). His extensive involvement in all of his films as director, producer, writer, designer, technician, publicist, editor, and often actor makes him one of the first cinematic auteurs. Speaking about his work late in life, Méliès commented: "The greatest difficulty in realising my own ideas forced me to sometimes play the leading role in my films ... I was a star without knowing I was one, since the term did not yet exist." All told, Méliès took an acting role in at least 300 of his 520 films.
Bleuette Bernon as Phoebe (the woman on the crescent moon). Méliès discovered Bernon in the 1890s, when she was performing as a singer at the cabaret L'Enfer. She also appeared in his 1899 adaption of Cinderella.
François Lallement as the officer of the marines. Lallement was one of the salaried camera operators for the Star Film Company.
Henri Delannoy as the captain of the rocket.
Jules-Eugène Legris as the parade leader. Legris was a magician who performed at Méliès's theater of stage illusions, the Théâtre Robert-Houdin in Paris.
Victor André, Delpierre, Farjaux, Kelm, and Brunnet as the astronomers. André worked at the Théâtre de Cluny; the others were singers in French music halls.
Ballet of the Théâtre du Châtelet as stars and as cannon attendants
Acrobats of the Folies Bergère as Selenites
Stereoscope card showing a scene from Jacques Offenbach's Le voyage dans la lune
When asked in 1930 what inspired him for A Trip to the Moon, Méliès credited Jules Verne's novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon. Cinema historians, the mid-20th-century French writer Georges Sadoul first among them, have frequently suggested H. G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon, a French translation of which was published a few months before Méliès made the film, as another likely influence. Sadoul argued that the first half of the film (up to the shooting of the projectile) is derived from Verne and that the second half (the travelers' adventures on and in the moon) is derived from Wells.
In addition to these literary sources, various film scholars have suggested that Méliès was heavily influenced by other works, especially Jacques Offenbach's operetta Le voyage dans la lune (an unauthorized parody of Verne's novels) and the A Trip to the Moon attraction at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The French film historian Thierry Lefebvre hypothesizes that Méliès drew upon both of these works, but in different ways: he appears to have taken the structure of the film—"a trip to the moon, a moon landing, an encounter with extraterrestrials with a deformity, an underground trek, an interview with the Man in the Moon, and a brutal return to reality back on earth"—directly from the 1901 attraction, but also incorporated many plot elements (including the presence of six astronomers with pseudo-scientific names, telescopes that transform into stools, a moonshot cannon mounted above ground, a scene in which the moon appears to approach the viewer, a lunar snowstorm, an earthrise scene, and umbrella-wielding travelers), not to mention the parodic tone of the film, from the Offenbach operetta.
Méliès (at left) in the studio where A Trip to the Moon was filmed
As the science writer Ron Miller notes, A Trip to the Moon was one of the most complex films that Méliès had made, and employed "every trick he had learned or invented". It was his longest film at the time; both the budget and filming duration were unusually lavish, costing ₣10,000 to make and taking three months to complete. The camera operators were Théophile Michault and Lucien Tainguy, who worked on a daily basis with Méliès as salaried employees for the Star Film Company. In addition to their work as cameramen, Méliès's operators also did odd jobs for the company such as developing film and helping to set up scenery, and another salaried operator, François Lallement, appeared onscreen as the marine officer. By contrast, Méliès hired his actors on a film-by-film basis, drawing from talented individuals in the Parisian theatrical world, with which he had many connections. They were paid one Louis d'or per day, a considerably higher salary than that offered by competitors, and had a full free meal at noon with Méliès.
Méliès's film studio, which he had built in Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis in 1897, was a greenhouse-like building with glass walls and a glass ceiling to let in as much sunlight as possible, a concept used by most still photography studios from the 1860s onward; it was built with the same dimensions as Méliès's own Théâtre Robert-Houdin (13.5×6.6m). Throughout his film career, Méliès worked on a strict schedule of planning films in the morning, filming scenes during the brightest hours of the day, tending to the film laboratory and the Théâtre Robert-Houdin in the late afternoon, and attending performances at Parisian theaters in the evening.
The workshop set includes a glass roof, evoking the actual studio
According to Méliès's recollections, much of the unusual cost of A Trip to the Moon was due to the mechanically operated scenery and the Selenite costumes in particular, which were made for the film using cardboard and canvas. Méliès himself sculpted prototypes for the heads, feet, and kneecap pieces in terra cotta, and then created plaster molds for them. A specialist in mask-making used these molds to produce cardboard versions for the actors to wear. One of the backdrops for the film, showing the inside of the glass-roofed workshop in which the space capsule is built, was painted to look like the actual glass-roofed studio in which the film was made.
Many of the special effects in A Trip to the Moon, as in numerous other Méliès films, were created using the substitution splice technique, in which the camera operator stopped filming long enough for something onscreen to be altered, added, or taken away. Méliès carefully spliced the resulting shots together to create apparently magical effects, such as the transformation of the astronomers' telescopes into stools or the disappearance of the exploding Selenites in puffs of smoke. Other effects were created using theatrical means, such as stage machinery and pyrotechnics. The film also features transitional dissolves.
The pseudo-tracking shot in which the camera appears to approach the Man in the Moon was accomplished using an effect Méliès had invented the previous year for the film The Man with the Rubber Head. Rather than attempting to move his weighty camera toward an actor, he set a pulley-operated chair upon a rail-fitted ramp, placed the actor (covered up to the neck in black velvet) on the chair, and pulled him toward the camera. In addition to its technical practicality, this technique also allowed Méliès to control the placement of the face within the frame to a much greater degree of specificity than moving his camera allowed. A substitution splice allowed a model capsule to suddenly appear in the eye of the actor playing the Moon, completing the shot. Another notable sequence in the film, the plunge of the capsule into real ocean waves filmed on location, was created through multiple exposure, with a shot of the capsule falling in front of a black background superimposed upon the footage of the ocean. The shot is followed by an underwater glimpse of the capsule floating back to the surface, created by combining a moving cardboard cutout of the capsule with an aquarium containing tadpoles and air jets. The descent of the rocket from the Moon was covered in four shots, taking up about twenty seconds of film time.
As with at least 4% of Méliès's output (including major films such as The Kingdom of the Fairies, The Impossible Voyage, and The Barber of Seville), some prints of A Trip to the Moon were individually hand-colored by Elisabeth Thuillier's coloring lab in Paris. Thuillier, a former colorist of glass and celluloid products, directed a studio of two hundred people painting directly on film stock with brushes, in the colors she chose and specified. Each worker was assigned a different color in assembly line style, with more than twenty separate colors often used for a single film. On average, Thuillier's lab produced about sixty hand-colored copies of a film.
Though Méliès's films were of course silent, they were not intended to be seen silently; exhibitors often used a bonimenteur, or narrator, to explain the story as it unfolded on the screen, accompanied by sound effects and live music. Méliès himself took considerable interest in musical accompaniment for his films, and prepared special film scores for several of them, including The Kingdom of the Fairies and The Barber of Seville. However, Méliès never required a specific musical score to be used with any film, allowing exhibitors freedom to choose whatever accompaniment they felt most suitable. When the film was screened at the Olympia music hall in Paris in 1902, an original film score was reportedly written for it.
In 1903, the English composer Ezra Read published a piano piece called A Trip to the Moon: Comic Descriptive Fantasia, which follows Méliès's film scene by scene and may have been used as a score for the film; it may have been commissioned by Méliès himself, who had likely met Read on one of his trips to England. More recent composers who have recorded scores for A Trip to the Moon include Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel.
Uncropped production still from the film, showing edges of the backdrop and the floor of the studio
The scene as it appears in the hand-colored print of the film
The film's style, like that of most of Méliès's other films, is deliberately theatrical. The mise en scéne is highly stylized, recalling the traditions of the 19th-century stage, and is filmed by a stationary camera, placed to evoke the perspective of an audience member sitting in a theatre. This stylistic choice was one of Méliès's first and biggest innovations. Although he had initially followed the popular trend of the time by making mainly actuality films (short "slice of life" documentary films capturing actual scenes and events for the camera), in his first few years of filming Méliès gradually moved into the far less common genre of fictional narrative films, which he called his scènes composées or "artificially arranged scenes." The new genre was extensively influenced by Méliès's experience in theatre and magic, especially his familiarity with the popular French féerie stage tradition. In an advertisement he proudly described the difference between his innovative films and the actualities still being made by his contemporaries: "these fantastic and artistic films reproduce stage scenes and create a new genre entirely different from the ordinary cinematographic views of real people and real streets."
Because A Trip to the Moon preceded the development of narrative film editing by filmmakers such as Edwin S. Porter and D. W. Griffith, it does not use the cinematic vocabulary to which American and European audiences later became accustomed, a vocabulary built on the purposeful use of techniques such as varied camera angles, intercutting, juxtapositions of shots, and other filmic ideas. Rather, each camera setup in Méliès's film is designed as a distinct dramatic scene uninterrupted by visible editing, an approach fitting the theatrical style in which the film was designed. Similarly, film scholars have noted that the most famous moment in A Trip to the Moon plays with temporal continuity by showing an event twice: first the capsule is shown suddenly appearing in the eye of an anthropomorphic moon; then, in a much closer shot, the landing occurs very differently, and much more realistically, with the capsule actually plummeting into believable lunar terrain. This kind of nonlinear storytelling—in which time and space are treated as repeatable and flexible rather than linear and causal—is highly unconventional by the standards of Griffith and his followers; before the development of continuity editing, however, other filmmakers performed similar experiments with time. (Porter, for instance, used temporal discontinuity and repetition extensively in his 1903 film Life of an American Fireman.) Later in the twentieth century, with sports television's development of the instant replay, temporal repetition again became a familiar device to screen audiences.
Because Méliès does not use a modern cinematic vocabulary, some film scholars have created other frameworks of thought with which to assess his films. For example, some recent academicians, while not necessarily denying Méliès's influence on film, have argued that his works are better understood as spectacular theatrical creations rooted in the 19th-century stage tradition of the féerie. Similarly, Tom Gunning has argued that to fault Méliès for not inventing a more intimate and cinematic storytelling style is to misunderstand the purpose of his films; in Gunning's view, the first decade of film history may be considered a "cinema of attractions," in which filmmakers experimented with a presentational style based on spectacle and direct address rather than on intricate editing. Though the attraction style of filmmaking declined in popularity in favor of a more integrated "story film" approach, it remains an important component of certain types of cinema, including science fiction films, musicals, and avant-garde films.
Initially Méliès used stop-motion photography (the camera and action are stopped while something is added to or removed from the scene; then filming and action are continued) to make one-shot “trick” films in which objects disappeared and reappeared or transformed themselves into other objects entirely. These films were widely imitated by producers in England and the United States. Soon, however, Méliès began to experiment with brief multiscene films, such as L'Affaire Dreyfus (The Dreyfus Affair, 1899), his first, which followed the logic of linear temporality to establish causal sequences and tell simple stories. By 1902 he had produced the influential 30-scene narrative Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon). Adapted from a novel by Jules Verne, it was nearly one reel in length (about 825 feet [251 metres], or 14 minutes).
The first film to achieve international distribution (mainly through piracy), Le Voyage dans la lune was an enormous popular success. It helped to make Star Film one of the world's largest producers (an American branch was opened in 1903) and to establish the fiction film as the cinema's mainstream product. In both respects Méliès dethroned the Lumières' cinema of actuality. Despite his innovations, Méliès's productions remained essentially filmed stage plays. He conceived them quite literally as successions of living pictures or, as he termed them, “artificially arranged scenes.” From his earliest trick films through his last successful fantasy, La Conquête du pole (“The Conquest of the Pole,” 1912), Méliès treated the frame of the film as the proscenium arch of a theatre stage, never once moving his camera or changing its position within a scene. He ultimately lost his audience in the late 1910s to filmmakers with more sophisticated narrative techniques.
The origination of many such techniques is closely associated with the work of Edwin S. Porter, a freelance projectionist and engineer who joined the Edison Company in 1900 as production head of its new skylight studio on East 21st Street in New York City. For the next few years, he served as director-cameraman for much of Edison's output, starting with simple one-shot films (Kansas Saloon Smashers, 1901) and progressing rapidly to trick films (The Finish of Bridget McKeen, 1901) and short multiscene narratives based on political cartoons and contemporary events (Sampson-Schley Controversy, 1901; Execution of Czolgosz, with Panorama of Auburn Prison, 1901). Porter also filmed the extraordinary Pan-American Exposition by Night (1901), which used time-lapse photography to produce a circular panorama of the exposition's electrical illumination, and the 10-scene Jack and the Beanstalk (1902), a narrative that simulates the sequencing of lantern slides to achieve a logical, if elliptical, spatial continuity.
It was probably Porter's experience as a projectionist at the Eden Musée theatre in 1898 that ultimately led him in the early 1900s to the practice of continuity editing. The process of selecting one-shot films and arranging them into a 15-minute program for screen presentation was very much like that of constructing a single film out of a series of separate shots. Porter, by his own admission, was also influenced by other filmmakers—especially Méliès, whose Le Voyage dans la lune he came to know well in the process of duplicating it for illegal distribution by Edison in October 1902. Years later Porter claimed that the Méliès film had given him the notion of “telling a story in continuity form,” which resulted in The Life of an American Fireman (about 400 feet [122 metres], or six minutes, produced in late 1902 and released in January 1903).
This film, which was also influenced by James Williamson's Fire!, combined archival footage with staged scenes to create a nine-shot narrative of a dramatic rescue from a burning building. It was for years the subject of controversy because in a later version the last two scenes were intercut, or crosscut, into a 14-shot parallel sequence. It is now generally believed that in the earliest version of the film these scenes, which repeat the same rescue operation from an interior and exterior point of view, were shown in their entirety, one after the other. This repetition, or overlapping continuity, which owes much to magic lantern shows, clearly defines the spatial relationships between scenes but leaves temporal relationships underdeveloped and, to modern sensibilities, confused. Contemporary audiences, however, were conditioned by lantern slide projections and even comic strips; they understood a sequence of motion-picture shots to be a series of individual moving photographs, each of which was self-contained within its frame. Spatial relationships were clear in such earlier narrative forms because their only medium was space.
The statue of Barbenfouillis (here seen in a frame from the hand-colored print) is likely intended to satirize colonialism
With its pioneering use of themes of scientific ambition and discovery, A Trip to the Moon is sometimes described as the first science fiction film. A Short History of Film argues that it codified "many of the basic generic situations that are still used in science fiction films today". However, several other genre designations are possible; Méliès himself advertised the film as a pièce à grand spectacle, a term referring to a type of spectacular Parisian stage extravaganza popularized by Jules Verne and Adolphe d'Ennery in the second half of the nineteenth century. Richard Abel describes the film as belonging to the féerie genre, as does Frank Kessler. It can also be described simply as a trick film, a catch-all term for the popular early film genre of innovative, special-effects-filled shorts—a genre Méliès himself had codified and popularized in his earlier works.
A Trip to the Moon is highly satirical in tone, poking fun at nineteenth-century science by exaggerating it in the format of an adventure story. The film makes no pretense whatsoever to be scientifically plausible; the real waves in the splashdown scene are the only concession to realism. The film scholar Alison McMahan calls A Trip to the Moon one of the earliest examples of pataphysical film, saying it "aims to show the illogicality of logical thinking" with its satirically portrayed inept scientists, anthropomorphic moon face, and impossible transgressions of laws of physics. The film historian Richard Abel believes Méliès aimed in the film to "invert the hierarchal values of modern French society and hold them up to ridicule in a riot of the carnivalesque". Similarly, the literary and film scholar Edward Wagenknecht described the film as a work "satirizing the pretensions of professors and scientific societies while simultaneously appealing to man's sense of wonder in the face of an unexplored universe."
There is also a strong anti-imperialist vein in the film's satire. The film scholar Matthew Solomon notes that the last part of the film (the parade and commemoration sequence missing in some prints) is especially forceful in this regard. He argues that Méliès, who had previously worked as an anti-Boulangist political cartoonist, mocks imperialistic domination in the film by presenting his colonial conquerors as bumbling pedants who mercilessly attack the alien lifeforms they meet and return with a mistreated captive amid fanfares of self-congratulation. The statue of Barbenfouillis shown in the film's final shot even resembles the pompous, bullying colonialists in Méliès's political cartoons. The film scholar Elizabeth Ezra agrees that "Méliès mocks the pretensions of colonialist accounts of the conquest of one culture by another," and adds that "his film also thematizes social differentiation on the home front, as the hierarchical patterns on the moon are shown to bear a curious resemblance to those on earth."
Preliminary sketch by Méliès for a poster for the film
Méliès, who had begun A Trip to the Moon in May 1902, finished the film in August of that year and began selling prints to French distributors in the same month. From September through December 1902, a hand-colored print of A Trip to the Moon was screened at Méliès's Théâtre Robert-Houdin in Paris. The film was shown after Saturday and Thursday matinee performances by Méliès's colleague and fellow magician, Jules-Eugène Legris, who appeared as the leader of the parade in the two final scenes. Méliès sold black-and-white and color prints of the film through his Star Film Company, where the film was assigned the catalogue number 399–411 and given the descriptive subtitle Pièce à grand spectacle en 30 tableaux. In France, black-and-white prints sold for ₣560, and hand-colored prints for ₣1,000. Méliès also sold the film indirectly through Charles Urban's Warwick Trading Company in London.
Many circumstances surrounding the film—including its unusual budget, length, and production time, as well as its similarities to the 1901 New York attraction—indicate that Méliès was especially keen to release the film in the United States. Because of rampant film piracy, Méliès never received most of the profits of the popular film. One account reports that Méliès sold a print of the film to the Paris photographer Charles Gerschel for use in an Algiers theatre, under strict stipulation that the print only be shown in Algeria. Gerschel sold the print, and various other Méliès films, to the Edison Manufacturing Company employee Alfred C. Abadie, who sent them directly to Edison's laboratories to be duplicated and sold by Vitagraph. Copies of the print spread to other firms, and by 1904 Siegmund Lubin, the Selig Polyscope Company, and Edison were all redistributing it. Edison's print of the film was even offered in a hand-colored version available at a higher price, just as Méliès had done. Méliès was often uncredited altogether; for the first six months of the film's distribution, the only American exhibitor to credit Méliès in advertisements for the film was Thomas Lincoln Tally, who chose the film as the inaugural presentation of his Electric Theater.
In order to combat the problem of film piracy that became clear during the release of A Trip to the Moon, Méliès opened an American branch of the Star Film Company, directed by his brother Gaston Méliès, in New York in 1903. The office was designed to sell Méliès's films directly and to protect them by registering them under United States copyright. The introduction to the English-language edition of the Star Film Company catalog announced: "In opening a factory and office in New York we are prepared and determined energetically to pursue all counterfeiters and pirates. We will not speak twice, we will act!"
In addition to the opening of the American branch, various trade arrangements were made with other film companies, including American Mutoscope and Biograph, the Warwick Trading Company, the Charles Urban Trading Co., Robert W. Paul's studio, and Gaumont. In these negotiations, a print sale price of US$0.15 per foot was standardized across the American market, which proved useful to Méliès. However, later price standardizations by the Motion Picture Patents Company in 1908 hastened Méliès's financial ruin, as his films were impractically expensive under the new standards. In addition, in the years following 1908 his films suffered from the fashions of the time, as the fanciful magic films he made were no longer in vogue.
According to Méliès's memoirs, his initial attempts to sell A Trip to the Moon to French fairground exhibitors met with failure because of the film's unusually high price. Finally, Méliès offered to let one such exhibitor borrow a print of the film to screen for free. The applause from the very first showing was so enthusiastic that fairgoers kept the theater packed until midnight. The exhibitor bought the film immediately, and when he was reminded of his initial reluctance he even offered to add ₣200 to compensate "for [Méliès's] inconvenience." The film was a pronounced success in France, running uninterrupted at the Olympia music hall in Paris for several months.
A Trip to the Moon was met with especially large enthusiasm in the United States, where (to Méliès's chagrin) its piracy by Lubin, Selig, Edison and others gave it wide distribution. Exhibitors in New York City, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, and Kansas City reported on the film's great success in their theaters. The film also did well in other countries, including Germany, Canada, and Italy, where it was featured as a headline attraction through 1904.
A Trip to the Moon was one of the most popular films of the first few years of the twentieth century, rivaled only by a small handful of others (similarly spectacular Méliès films such as The Kingdom of the Fairies and The Impossible Voyage among them). Late in life, Méliès remarked that A Trip to the Moon was "surely not one of my best," but acknowledged that it was widely considered his masterpiece and that "it left an indelible trace because it was the first of its kind." The film which Méliès was proudest of was Humanity Through the Ages, a serious historical drama now presumed lost.
The incomplete LeRoy print of A Trip to the Moon, with the final sequence missing
After Méliès's financial difficulties and decline, most copies of his prints were lost. In 1917, his offices were occupied by the French military, who melted down many of Méliès's films to gather the traces of silver from the film stock and make boot heels from the celluloid. When the Théâtre Robert-Houdin was demolished in 1923, the prints kept there were sold by weight to a vendor of second-hand film. Finally, in that same year, Méliès had a moment of anger and burned all his remaining negatives in his garden in Montreuil. In 1925, he began selling toys and candy from a stand in the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. A Trip to the Moon was largely forgotten to history and went unseen for years.
Thanks to the efforts of film history devotées, especially René Clair, Jean-George Auriol, and Paul Gilson, Méliès and his work were rediscovered in the late 1920s. A "Gala Méliès" was held at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on 16 December 1929 in celebration of the filmmaker, and he was awarded the Legion of Honor in 1931. During this renaissance of interest in Méliès, the cinema manager Jean Mauclaire and the early film experimenter Jean Acme LeRoy both set out independently to locate a surviving print of A Trip to the Moon. Mauclaire obtained a copy from Paris in October 1929, and LeRoy one from London in 1930, though both prints were incomplete; Mauclaire's lacked the first and last scenes, and LeRoy's was missing the entire final sequence featuring the parade and commemorative statue. These prints were occasionally screened at retrospectives (including the Gala Méliès), avant-garde cinema showings, and other special occasions, sometimes in presentations by Méliès himself.
Following LeRoy's death in 1932, his film collection was bought by the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. The museum's acquisition and subsequent screenings of A Trip to the Moon, under the direction of MoMA's film curator Iris Barry, opened the film up once again to a wide audience of Americans and Canadians[ and established it definitively as a landmark in the history of cinema. LeRoy's incomplete print became the most commonly seen version of the film and the source print for most other copies, including the Cinémathèque française's print. A complete version of the film, including the entire celebration sequence, was finally reconstructed in 1997 from various sources by the Cinémathèque Méliès, a foundation set up by the Méliès family.
The restored hand-colored print
No hand-colored prints of A Trip to the Moon were known to survive until 1993, when one was given to the Filmoteca de Catalunya by an anonymous donor as part of a collection of two hundred silent films. It is unknown whether this version, a hand-colored print struck from a second-generation negative, was colored by Elisabeth Thuillier's lab, but the perforations used imply that the copy was made before 1906. The flag waved during the launching scene in this copy is colored to resemble the flag of Spain, indicating that the hand-colored copy was made for a Spanish exhibitor.
In 1999, Anton Gimenez of the Filmoteca de Catalunya mentioned the existence of this print, which he believed to be in a state of total decomposition, to Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange of the French film company Lobster Films. Bromberg and Lange offered to trade a recently rediscovered film by Segundo de Chomón for the hand-colored print, and Gimenez accepted. Bromberg and Lange consulted various specialist laboratories in an attempt to restore the film, but because the reel of film had apparently decomposed into a rigid mass, none believed restoration to be possible. Consequently, Bromberg and Lange themselves set to work separating the film frames, discovering that only the edges of the film stock had decomposed and congealed together, and thus that many of the frames themselves were still salvageable. Between 2002 and 2005, various digitization efforts allowed 13,375 fragments of images from the print to be saved. In 2010, a complete restoration of the hand-colored print was launched by Lobster Films, the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage. The digitized fragments of the hand-colored print were reassembled and restored, with missing frames recreated with the help of a black-and-white print in the possession of the Méliès family, and time-converted to run at an authentic silent-film speed, 14 frames per second. The restoration was completed in 2011 at Technicolor's laboratories in Los Angeles.
The restored version premiered on 11 May 2011, eighteen years after its discovery and 109 years after its original release, at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, with a new soundtrack by the French band Air. The restoration was released by Flicker Alley in a 2-disc Blu-Ray and DVD edition also including The Extraordinary Voyage, a feature-length documentary by Bromberg and Lange about the film's restoration, in 2012. In The New York Times, A. O. Scott called the restoration "surely a cinematic highlight of the year, maybe the century."
A TRIP TO THE MOON
(Le Voyage dans la Lune)
Plot: Professor Barbenfouillis proposes the building of a rocket to the Moon before a group of fellow astronomers. The rocket is launched from a giant cannon and impacts into the Man in the Moon’s eye. Its crew explore the lunar surface and encounter the native Selenites. After escapades among the Selenites, the group are captured and taken prisoner before the lunar leader but make an escape and return to Earth.
Georges Melies (1861-1938) was one of the foremost early silent filmmakers and is often referred to as the father of special effects and (incorrectly) as the maker of the first science-fiction film. Melies was born in Paris to a father who was a maker of quality shoes. In his teens, Melies became fascinated with stage magic. After his father retired, the twenty-seven year-old Melies sank his share of the family business into buying the Theatre Robert-Houdin, which had been established by the celebrated magician Jean Robert-Houdin (who later lent his surname to an even more famous magician Harry Houdini). The watershed event in Melies’s life was his attending a screening of the very first film, the Lumiere Brothers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895). Melies immediately became captivated with the possibilities. He tried to buy a camera from the Lumieres who refused him but obtained one from England and within a matter of months was screening his own films at the Theatre Robert-Houdin.
The earliest of Melies’s films were documentary shorts that simply filmed real life in the Lumiere Brothers style – even works that were blatantly copying the Lumieres such as The Arrival of a Train at Vincennes (1896). Soon after this, Georges Melies discovered fantasy cinema and trick effects – his creation of special effects came about by accident when his camera jammed while filming a procession and a carriage appeared to turn into a hearse. He then began to experiment with simple stop-camera substitution effects – not unlike the way a conjuror produced tricks on a stage. The first of these was The Lady Vanishes (1896) wherein Melies went with the old magician’s trick of making a lady vanish. Around the same time, he also made The Devil’s Manor (1896) (which is often attributed as being the first horror film) and went onto a great many others.
Melies built the world’s first studio in his garden in Montreuil, although electricity was so new at that point that there was no such thing as lighting so the studio was built as a glasshouse that was lit by natural sunlight, meaning that Melies could only shoot when it was a sunny day. Employing increasingly more elaborate props and sets, Melies began to produce films of considerable sophistication. He would go onto make over 500 films in a seventeen-year career between 1896 and 1913. However, he was forced into bankruptcy in 1913 after a distribution deal with Pathé that went sour, forcing him to sell his studio, a bitter experience in which he destroyed all the prints of his films (some 300 of these are lost today). Subsequent to that, Melies eked out an impoverished career as a toy salesman from a booth in the Monpratnasse train station. He was rediscovered and a celebration of his life’s work screened in 1929, before he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 1931.
Melies had ventured into a similar territory before with The Astronomer’s Dream (1898) in which an astronomer is taunted by the face of the moon that appears in his observatory and discharges dwarfs and dancing nymphs from its mouth. However, A Trip to the Moon was Melies’s most ambitious work up to that point – and is invariably the one film that he is remembered for today. The rocketship impacting into the Moon’s eye has become an iconic cinematic image. Melies raided ideas from his countryman Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon (1865) from which is taken the image of the Moon launch being conducted by a projectile being loaded into a cannon. Verne never had his explorers actually land on the Moon and for this Melies borrows from H.G. Wells’ just published The First Men in the Moon (1901) where Wells had an expedition to the Moon and explorers encountering a society of Selenites. The difference is that Melies puts everything to more comedic effect, whereas both Verne and Wells played their stories seriously.
A Trip to the Moon was not the first cinematic depiction of space travel but it is commonly believed to be the first and is certainly the most significant and influential. It is important to remember that Georges Melies comes to his idea of space travel from a background as a stage magician. His earliest films were simple expansions of stage tricks using stop-camera substitutions, double-exposures and matte-out effects. These became more sophisticated as Melies discovered narrative form and built elaborate sets and increasingly more detailed special effects. Nevertheless, at heart, Melies’s films were always simple trick effect films.
Thus in the film, the depiction of spaceflight is something that exists more as a stage performer’s trick than anything that we would recognise as a modern space mission. Rather than engineers with slide rules and lab coats, the expedition is started off by what look like alchemists or magicians in long beards, robes and pointy hats who seem to be doing so in a mediaeval setting, while the rocket is loaded by dancing girls that Melies recruited from the Theatre du Chatelet (not the Folies-Bergere as is commonly believed). Rather than any astrophysical reality, the Moon (and other planets of the Solar System) are depicted as having faces and personalities. What we have is less a work founded in the engineering speculation of contemporaries like Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Werner von Braun than it belongs among the early flights of pure Lunar fancy from people like Lucian of Samosata, Francis Godwin, Cyrano de Bergerac and Baron Munchausen.
Moreover, the problem that Melies and a number of his imitators shared, was that they had a great deal of fun envisioning the comic adventures into the solar system but spared little thought for what would happen once the travellers arrived. Thus the films end up being comic escapades and then a quick retreat back to the Earth for the explorers to be claimed heroes – there was no sense of the idea of communicating with an alien species or of being able to have adventures on other worlds as was introduced by Flash Gordon (1936) and Buck Rogers (1939). Here, for example, the explorers’ first reaction to encountering Selenites is not the idea of trying to communicate or understand them but to batter them with their umbrellas, which for some reason causes them to explode. One suspects what was happening here is that these adventures into space were being envisioned along the lines of the first plane flights, the invention of the motor car and explorer’s journeys into the Polar regions that were happening in the real world around the time. Many of Melies’s imitators focus less on building a rocket than things like vehicles such as trains and cars travelling so fast they achieve escape velocity. (Indeed, you could make the argument that almost every single science-fiction film up until 1910 was a reaction – either in terms of comic future shock or a marvelling at the possibilities – to the major technological innovations that occurred in transportation and the discovery of electricity around the turn of the 20th Century). It was not until Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon (1929) that the idea of spaceflight and landing on the Moon began to be taken seriously and with some engineering credibility.
A Trip to the Moon is a classic, although I think that Georges Melies’s subsequent follow-up An Impossible Voyage (1904) is far more sophisticated film in terms of narrative and the elaborateness of effects in telling a very similar story (where travellers land on The Sun instead of The Moon). The narrative is certainly very condensed compared to what we expect today (the film is only fourteen minutes long) – there is no depiction of the journey to the Moon, the rocket launches and seconds later impacts in the Moon’s eye; there are slapstick hijinks hitting the Selenites who turn into puffs of smoke but the audience with the Selenite leader is over and done with in a matter of seconds. Each scene exists as a static piece unto itself because Melies and his contemporaries had not yet discovered the idea of cutting a scene up and moving the camera within it, meaning that each set-piece was akin to something that took place on the stage with the camera in the place where a live audience would be.
A Trip to the Moon was a substantial hit, although Melies saw not much of the international profit after Thomas Edison had prints of the film stolen and copied, distributing them in the US himself. The film had a huge influence. There were a great many copies from other filmmakers of the day, such as Walter R. Booth’s The ? Motorist (1906) and The Automatic Motorist (1911), Segundo de Chomon’s A Voyage to Jupiter (1907) and his blatant ripoff of A Trip to the Moon with Excursion to the Moon (1908), and Thomas Edison’s A Trip to Mars (1910). The film has been homaged and recreated everywhere from Maurizio Nichetti’s Tomorrow We Dance (1982), which set the characters from A Trip to the Moon loose on modern society as aliens that cause people to start compulsively dancing; the Smashing Pumpkins music video Tonight Tonight (1996); to the Le Voyage dans la Lune episode of the tv series From the Earth to the Moon (1998) about the real-life Apollo mission; in the BBC tv version of H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (2010); and Martin Scorsese’s Georges Melies biopic Hugo (2011), as well as being spoofed in episodes of The Simpsons (1989– ) and Futurama (1999-2003). The making of the film and the modern 2011 restoration of a hand-coloured print is also discussed in the Melies documentary The Extraordinary Voyage (2011).
"Cinema's first science fiction story."
Renowned French director and master magician Georges Melies (1861-1938) creates cinema's first science fiction story. It was based on the Jules Verne story. It's a primitive and daffy undertaking, but still a very funny satire on scientists. The popular and acclaimed silent short caused Melies considerable pleasure as well as grief, as it was pirated and the illegal copies provided no royalties. As a result he sent his brother Gaston to NYC to avoid future conflicts over copyrights.
A scientist (Georges Melies) from the Incoherent Astronomy Society decides to visit the moon with several of his colleagues by having a shell shot from a giant cannon, as scantily dressed assistants (from the Châtelet ballet) help in the lift off. The scientists land on the moon after hitting it in its eye. This image of the lunar capsule landing in the eye of the moon has become a famous one in cinematic history. Once on the moon the scientists have some comical adventures with the native moon-dwellers, called Selenites, who are armed with spears and dressed in skeleton costumes to appear maybe like African warriors. After escaping from their captors, they return to Earth and are honored with a parade.
Melies raided the local music halls for actors and to the Folies-Bergere for skilled acrobats to play the rowdy moon-dwellers. One of the actresses, the petite Jeanne d'Alcy, became Melies' second wife in 1926. The film took four months to make and for its time cost a whopping 10,000 francs.
Voyage dans la Lune, Le/A Trip to the Moon (France, 1902), the screen's first science fiction story, was a 14 minute masterpiece (nearly one reel in length (about 825 feet)), created by imaginative French director and master magician Georges Melies (1861-1938) in his version of the Jules Verne story. The silent film's plot, a light-hearted satire criticizing the conservative scientific community of its time, was inspired by Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and H. G. Wells' First Men in the Moon (1901).
This film, Melies' 400th and most notable film, was made on an astronomical budget for the time of 10,000 Francs - risky, but worthwhile since it was hugely successful. Its popularity also led to it being illegally copied, released under others' names, and pirated (including one stolen by Edison's film technicians and distributed throughout the US). [For example, an illegal duplicate of the film was available in the USA from Siegmund Lubin under the title A Trip to Mars.]
Melies wrote the whimsical script, acted in the film in the lead role, designed the sets and costumes, directed, photographed, and produced the film! He hired acrobats from the Folies Bergere to play the lunar inhabitants named Selenites, and the scantily dressed assistants (or pages) who launched the cannon were dancers from the Châtelet ballet. The image of the lunar capsule landing in the eye of the moon is a memorable sight and widely-recognized in cinematic history.
As a film pioneer and producer of over 500 short films, Melies made up and invented the film medium as he directed. He developed the art of special effects in earlier films, including double exposure, actors performing with themselves over split screens, and use of the dissolve and fade. He also pioneered the art of film editing. The sets or scenery backdrops in the film are simple, painted flats. It has all the elements that characterize the science-fiction genre: adventurous scientists, a futuristic space voyage, special effects such as superimpositions, and strange aliens in a far-off place.
[Episode 12 of host/narrator Tom Hanks' and HBO's 12-part docudrama mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (1998) focused on the making of the iconic film La Voyage Dans la Lune (in Italian with English subtitles), with Tchéky Karyo playing Melies and Hanks playing Melies' fictional assistant and camera operator Jean-Luc Despont, with an older Despont (also Hanks) being "interviewed" about the events. The Melies story of man's first moon landing was interwoven with the final Apollo 17 moon mission.]
The primitive, nostalgia-inducing film was composed of approximately thirty scenes (or skits), without dialogue or closeups, as listed in Melies' Star Films catalogue:
The Scientific Congress at the Astronomic Club.
Planning the Trip. Appointing the Explorers and Servants. Farewell.
The Workshops Constructing the Projectile.
The Foundries. The Chimney-stack. The Casting of the Monster Gun/Cannon.
The Astronomers-Scientists Enter the Shell.
Loading the Gun.
The Monster Gun. March Past the Gunners. Fire!!! Saluting the Flag.
The Flight Through Space. Approaching the Moon.
Landing Right in the Moon's Eye!!!
Flight of the Rocket Shell into the Moon. Appearance of the Earth From the Moon.
The Plain of Craters. Volcanic Eruption.
The Dream of 'Stars' (the Bolies, the Great Bear, Phoebus, the Twin Stars, Saturn).
40 Degrees Below Zero. Descent Into a Lunar Crater.
In the Interior of the Moon. The Giant Mushroom Grotto.
Encounter and Fight with the Selenites.
The Kingdom of the Moon. The Selenite Army.
The Flight or Escape.
The Astronomers Find the Shell Again. Departure from the Moon in the Rocket.
The Rocket's Vertical Drop into Space.
Splashing into the Open Sea.
Submerged At the Bottom of the Ocean.
The Rescue. Return to Port and Land.
Great Fetes and Celebrations.
Crowning and Decorating the Heroes of the Trip.
Procession of Marines and Fire Brigade. Triumphal March Past.
Erection of the Commemorative Statue by the Mayor and Council.
The film opens in a scientific meeting/congress of a French astronomical society - the Astronomic Club. The president and various other astronomers enter into a large hall embellished with instruments and are given their telescopes by six female assistants/manservants. A white-bearded, academic professor with a pointed hat named Professor Barbenfouillis (Georges Melies himself), the president of the society, enters while everyone sits, and explains to the members of his plan for an exploratory trip to the moon. On a blackboard behind him with a basketball-looking Earth and a small moon in the upper right hand corner, he illustrates how a rocket will be fired from Earth from a great space gun toward the lunar surface.
His scheme is approved by many, but one member violently objects. When order is finally restored after the president throws his papers and books at the dissenter's head, the trip proposed by the president is voted upon. Five learned men/explorers make up their minds to go with him. The female assistants/manservants bring traveling suits for them to change into.
The five men (according to the narration, they are named Nostadamus, Alcofrisbas, Omega, Micromegas and Parafaragamus) who accompany the president arrive at the interior of a workshop (signaled by a dissolve) where smiths, mechanics, weighers, carpenters, upholsterers and inventors construct the projectile rocket ship for the mission. One of the clumsy astronomers, Micromegas, falls backwards into a tub of nitric acid. The group is told that if they ascend to the roof where the foundry will cast the space-gun, they will witness "a splendid spectacle" - the casting of the cannon. They climb onto the roof from a ladder, where against the horizon they see chimneys belching forth volumes of smoke. Suddenly, a flag is hoisted, and at the signal, the mass of molten steel is directed from the furnace into the mold for the cannon. The molding process produces flames and vapors, causing the enthusiastic astronomers to rejoice.
On the tops of the roofs of the town, pompous preparations have been made. At the launch site, the rocket shell is in position, ready to receive the travelers. The travelers arrive - they respond and reply to the acclamations of the crowd and then enter the steel-riveted shell (their space vehicle). A scantily-clad female assistant closes the door behind them. Many more female assistants/gunners push the shell up an incline into the mouth of the cannon - and it is closed. Everyone anxiously awaits the signal to start the shell on its voyage to the moon - viewed in the far distance. An officer gives the signal for a man on a ladder to ignite the gun. The rocket shell is fired out of a monstrous iron cannon pointed into space.
As the hollow, bullet-shaped shell moves through space, the moon approaches [in a sophisticated, multi-plane process shot] and is magnified. As in a fairy tale, it turns out to be a huge smiling face of "colossal dimensions" - it is one of the most recognizable images in film history and often used as the iconic symbol for early pioneering efforts in cinema.
The rocket ship shell moves closer and closer to the moon, and then crashes into the pie-face, smack into the right eye of the Man in the Moon. Extremely unreal but very memorable, when the human-faced moon grimaces. After "landing," the scientists' team steps onto the desolate lunar surface through the shell's door, delighted by the unfamiliar landscape marked by craters. Against the moon's horizon, the visitors from another planet (dressed in Victorian garb) look back and see the Earth slowly rising into space. [The illusion of its rising is created by the descent of some of the backdrops.] As they are about to explore, a violent explosion (volcanic?) sends them in all directions. To rest their fatigued bodies after a "rough trip," they stretch themselves out on the ground under blankets.
As they sleep - and dream, seven gigantic stars slowly appear in the blackness behind them. Out of the center of each of the stars emerges the face of a beautiful woman. All seem annoyed by the presence of the intruders on the Moon. The astronomers see passing comets and meteors in their dreams. Then, the stars are replaced by a lovely vision of goddess Phoebus (Bleinette Bernon, a music hall singer) sitting on a crescent moon (she is on the Moon and also sitting on the Moon?), of Saturn in his globe surrounded by a ring, and of two charming young girls holding up a star. By order of Phoebus, they punish the terrestrials by causing a snowstorm, covering the ground with a white blanket of snow. The unfortunate voyagers wake up half-frozen in the cold. They decide without hesitation, and in spite of the danger, to descend into the interior of a great moon crater for shelter. They disappear, one by one, as the storm rages.
In the lunar underground kingdom, the scientists arrive at a mysterious grotto filled with enormous mushrooms of every kind. One of them opens his umbrella to compare its size to the mushroom, but the umbrella suddenly takes root and transforms itself into a mushroom and soon grows to gigantic proportions. Strange beings making contortions, moon inhabitants (Selenites - acrobats from the Folies Bergere), emerge from under the mushrooms. One of the fantastic beings rushes at one of the astronomers who defends himself with his umbrella. With a jab of the umbrella, the creature bursts into a thousand pieces in a puff of smoke. A second creature suffers the same fate from the explorers/colonizers.
After taking flight, the terrified astronomers are captured when overwhelmed by large numbers of moon people. The group of terrestrials are bound and taken to the palace of the King of the moon people. On his planet's splendid throne, the King is surrounded by living stars. President Barbenfouillis makes a dash at the King of the Selenites, picks him up, and violently dashes him to the ground, causing him to burst like a bombshell. Although pursued, all of them manage to defend themselves, reduce their fragile adversaries to dust with a whack from an umbrella, and escape back to the rocket ship shell - a dissolve moves from one scene to the next.
The astronomers shove themselves into the rocket's interior - all except for the President, who is left behind - outside the shell. To propel it back to Earth, he climbs down a rope that hangs from the front of the shell. His weight as he slides down the rope gives the rocket enough impetus to cause it to fall off the edge of the moon. One of the Selenites hangs on the flat end of the projectile and accompanies it on the trip as the rocket drops in space and falls "down" to Earth. The brief journey is a vertical tumble through space.
The shell falls rapidly and splashes into the sea - the Atlantic Ocean. It continues down to the bottom of the ocean, where the wonders of oceanic life including seaweed, jellyfish, live lizards (?) and a sunken boat appear. The shell balances and rights itself, and then slowly rises to the surface due to the "hermetically-sealed air in its interior." Its movement upward puzzles the fishes. The shell is rescued, picked up by a steamer, and towed to a French port. [The scientists are greeted in Paris by a general ovation/grand march of Marines and the French fire brigade for their happy return. They are decorated as heroes, and the mayor unveils a commemorative statue.]
As A Short History of Film notes, A Trip to the Moon combined "spectacle, sensation, and technical wizardry to create a cosmic fantasy that was an international sensation." It was profoundly influential on later filmmakers, bringing creativity to the cinematic medium and offering fantasy for pure entertainment, a rare goal in film at the time. In addition, Méliès's innovative editing and special effects techniques were widely imitated and became important elements of the medium. The film also spurred on the development of cinematic science fiction and fantasy by demonstrating that scientific themes worked on the screen and that reality could be transformed by the camera. In a 1940 interview, Edwin S. Porter said that it was by seeing A Trip to the Moon and other Méliès films that he "came to the conclusion that a picture telling a story might draw the customers back to the theatres, and set to work in this direction." Similarly, D. W. Griffith said simply of Méliès: "I owe him everything." Since these American directors are widely credited with developing modern film narrative technique, the literary and film scholar Edward Wagenknecht once summed up Méliès's importance to film history by commenting that Méliès "profoundly influenced both Porter and Griffith and through them the whole course of American film-making."
Partly inspired by Jules Verne's early work of science fiction De la terre à la lune (1865) and by H. G. Wells's prophetic novel The First Men in the Moon (1901), Georges Méliès's Le voyage dans la lune (1902) is remarkable for its imaginative, and continually diverting, narrative development. The serious, didactic purpose of the literary antecedents is ignored to provide an engaging entertainment. By the turn of the century lunar episodes featured regularly in fairground shows and theatrical spectacles, and as early as 1898 Méliès had followed the fashion with short fairy-tale sequences such as La lune à un métre. However, with Le voyage dans la lune —his account of the pioneering journey to the moon undertaken by the intrepid Professor Barbenfouillis and his companions, and of their adventures with the Selenites—he surpassed all previous lunar spectacles, creating new standards in film entertainment, and in so doing accelerated the trend towards more sophisticated studio-based productions. Comprising 30 tableaux using 18 decors, the film is about 14 minutes long, and for its period was both ambitious in conception and lavish in its production values. Méliès was director, producer, setdesigner, and leading actor.
In his exuberant narrative Méliès successfully mixes traditional stage-craft with his extensive repertory of special effects. The painted backdrops for the Astronomers Club, the industrial landscape with smoke rising from a host of chimneys, and the opulent Palace of the Moon King are magnificent examples of theatrical trompe l'oeil. Although fixed cameras are used throughout, Méliès films from different angles on the same set to create changes of perspective and viewpoint. Transitions between successive tableaux are achieved by overprinting frames, a technique borrowed from magic-lantern shows and already used extensively by the filmmaker in his version of Cendrillon in 1899. Several episodes, such as the launching of the spaceship and the hectic chase across the lunar landscape, have rightly become anthology pieces.
Méliès's growing mastery of special effects is witnessed in the depiction of the spaceship drawing closer to the moon and landing in the moon's eye. The simulated forward travelling shot, in which a model of the moon is brought closer to a static camera, had already been exploited in L'homme à la tête de caoutchouc (1902). After this visual joke about the Man in the Moon, the spaceship is seen to land again in a more realistic mode, and in this double presentation Méliès extended traditional narrative conventions. Stop-camera techniques are used to change the passing stars and planets into pretty maidens, and the same trick is used to convert umbrellas into gigantic mushrooms, or to remove Selenites in a puff of smoke. For the return of the spaceship to Earth a series of different scale models was used in a rapid montage sequence, while the scenes of the craft dropping to the ocean floor and the subsequent rescue exploited the resources of an aquarium. As Pierre Jenn's analysis has shown, Georges Sadoul's long-acceptd direct equation between tableau and decor does not hold for Le voyage dans la lune. A given tableau may exploit more than one decor, and on occasions one decor may give rise to several tableaux.
Made in May 1902 and marketed in August of that year, the film was an immediate success. As with so many of Méliès's productions, counterfeit copies were soon circulating in America and this finally prompted Méliès to open up a transatlantic office to protect his rights. Capitalising on his success, Méliès extended the space travel genre with Voyage à travers l'impossible (1904), this time recounting a trip to the sun.
With its evocative sets Le voyage dans la lune has been frequently cited as seminal to the development of the German expressionist movement, while for its spontaneity and fantasy the film became a reference point for avant-garde filmmakers and surrealists. Buñuel, for one, acknowledged Le voyage dans la lune as a formative influence, while the films of René Clair and Jacques Prévert owe much to their pioneering compatriot. In Shoot the Moon (1962) the underground director Rudy Burckhardt paid explicit homage to Méliès, while in his film tribute Le grand Méliès (1952), Franju uses footage from Le voyage dans la lune to illustrate the director's innovative approach to filmmaking and his technical brilliance.
It remains Méliès's most famous film as well as a classic example of early cinema, with the image of the capsule stuck in the Man in the Moon's eye particularly well-known. The film has been evoked in other creative works many times, ranging from Segundo de Chomón's 1908 unauthorized remake Excursion to the Moon through the extensive tribute to Méliès and the film in the Brian Selznick novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and its 2011 Martin Scorsese film adaptation Hugo. Film scholar Andrew J. Rausch includes A Trip to the Moon among the "32 most pivotal moments in the history of [film]," saying it "changed the way movies were produced." Chiara Ferrari's essay on the film in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, which places A Trip to the Moon as the first entry, argues that the film "directly reflects the histrionic personality of its director", and that the film "deserves a legitimate place among the milestones in world cinema history."
A Trip to the Moon, the common English-language title, was first used in Méliès's American catalogues. It was initially labeled in British catalogues as Trip to the Moon, without the initial article. Similarly, though the film was first sold in France without an initial article in the title, it has subsequently been commonly known as Le Voyage dans la Lune.
Proper names taken from the authorized English-language catalogue description of the film: see Méliès 2011a, pp. 227–229.
Barbenfouillis is French for "Tangled-Beard." The name probably parodies President Impey Barbicane, the hero of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon; Méliès had previously used the name in a different context in 1891, for the stage magic act "Le Décapité Recalcitrant".
The name of the purported prophet.
Alcofribas was a pseudonym of François Rabelais.
The name of a space traveler from Voltaire's story of the same name.
The image is a visual pun: the phrase dans l'œil, literally "in the eye," is the French equivalent of the English word "bullseye."
"Labor omnia vincit" is Latin for "work conquers all".
The film's total length is about 260 meters (roughly 845 feet) of film, which, at Méliès's preferred projection speed of 12 to 14 frames per second, is about 17 minutes. Films made in the same era by Méliès's contemporaries, the Edison Manufacturing Company and the Lumière Brothers, were on average about one-third this length. Méliès went on to make longer films; his longest, The Conquest of the Pole, runs to 650 meters or about 44 minutes.
The stationary position of the camera, which became known as one of Méliès's characteristic trademarks, was one of the most important elements of the style. Though he often moved his camera when making actualities outdoors (for example, 15 of his 19 short films about the 1900 Paris Exposition were shot with a moving camera setup), he considered a theatrical viewpoint more appropriate for the fiction films staged in his studio.
The specification of visible editing is necessary because, in reality, Méliès used much splicing and editing within his scenes, not only for stop-trick effects but also to break down his long scenes into smaller takes during production. Thus, A Trip to the Moon actually contains more than fifty shots. All such editing was deliberately designed to be unnoticeable by the viewer; the camera angle remained the same, and action continued fluidly through the splice by means of careful shot-matching.
Méliès's earlier film Gugusse and the Automaton has also been nominated as the first science fiction film.
In Méliès's numbering system, films were listed and numbered according to their order of production, and each catalogue number denotes about 20 meters of film; thus A Trip to the Moon, at about 260 meters long, is listed as #399–411.
The word tableau, used in French theatre to mean "scene" or "stage picture," refers in Méliès's catalogues to distinct episodes in the film, rather than changes of scene; thus, Méliès counted thirty tableaux within the scenes of A Trip to the Moon.
The historian Richard Abel notes that stories involving trips to the moon, whether in print, on stage, or as themed attractions, were highly popular in America at the time; indeed, a previous film of Méliès's, The Astronomer's Dream, was often shown in the United States under the title "A Trip to the Moon."
Wemaere & Duval 2011, p. 186
Hammond, Paul (1974), Marvellous Méliès, London: Gordon Fraser, p. 141, ISBN 0-900406-38-0
Frame rate calculations produced using the following formula: 845 feet / ((n frame/s * 60 seconds) / 16 frames per foot) = x. See Elkins, David E. (2013), "Tables & Formulas: Feet Per Minute for 35mm, 4-perf Format", The Camera Assistant Manual Web Site (companion site for The Camera Assistant's Manual [Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2013]), retrieved 8 August 2013.
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