VOYAGE A TRAVERS L'IMPOSSIBLE, LE (Georges Méliès, 1904, France, 24m, BW)
The Impossible Voyage
VOYAGE A TRAVERS L'IMPOSSIBLE, LE (Georges Méliès, 1904, France, 24m, BW)
The Impossible Voyage
Directed by Georges Méliès
Written by Georges Méliès
Victor de Cottens
Based on Journey Through the Impossible
by Jules Verne
Starring Georges Méliès
Star Film Company
Distributed by Georges Méliès
Kleine Optical Company
29 October 1904
Running time: 20 minutes
The Impossible Voyage (French: Voyage à travers l'impossible, advertised as an Invraisemblable équipée d'un groupe de savants de la Société de Géographie incohérente; pièce fantastique nouvelle en 40 tableaux), originally released in the US as An Impossible Voyage and in the UK as Whirling the Worlds, is a 1904 French silent film directed by Georges Méliès. It was released by Méliès's Star Film Company and is numbered 641–659 in its catalogues, with an optional supplementary section numbered 660–661. Based in part on Jules Verne's play Journey Through the Impossible and modeled in style and format on Méliès's earlier, highly successful A Trip to the Moon, the film is a satire of scientific exploration in which a group of geographers attempt a journey into the interior of the sun.
Since the film is silent and has no intertitles, the proper names and quotations below are taken from the English-language description of the film published by Méliès in the catalog of the Star Film Company's New York Branch.
A geographic society, the Institute of Incoherent Geography, plans to make a world tour in such a way as to "surpass in conception and invention all previous expeditions undertaken by the learned world." At a meeting headed by President Polehunter, "assisted by Secretary Rattlebrain, by the Archivist Mole, by the Vice-president Humbug, the members of the office, Easily-fooled, Daredevil, Schemer, etc., etc.," the members listen to Professor Daredevil's plan for the world tour, but reject it for being out-of-date. The president then welcomes the eccentric engineer Crazyloff (in French, Mabouloff; "maboul" is French for "crazy" or "crackpot"), who explains his project for a new "impossible" voyage, using "all the known means locomotion—railroads, automobiles, dirigible balloons, submarine boats…" The unusual plan is accepted enthusiastically, and preparations begin.
When work is complete, the machines and travelers are loaded onto a train, and are sent to the Swiss Alps, where the travelers will begin their journey. They first board an automobile, the Auto-Crazyloff, and journey through the mountains. In an attempt to run over the summit of the Rigi, the travelers crash at the bottom of a precipice. They are saved by mountaineers and rushed to a Swiss hospital.
After they have recovered, they board a train with their vehicles, and make a second attempt at running over a summit: this time, the Jungfrau. Getting higher and higher every minute, with dirigible balloons attached to the train, they rise into space and are swallowed by the sun. The travelers land with a crash. They are happy to be alive, but the heat is too much. All but one of the travelers are loaded into an ice box, but are suddenly frozen. The remaining traveler, Crazyloff himself, finds a bundle of straw among the debris and starts a fire to melt the ice. The travelers thaw and are happily moved over to the expedition's submarine, which is launched off a cliff on the sun, plummets through space, and falls into an ocean on Earth.
After a few minutes of underwater travel, a boiler problem causes the submarine to explode. The travelers are thrown up into the air, landing safely at a seaport amid the wreckage of the submarine. They return in triumph to the Institute of Incoherent Geography, where a grand rejoicing is held for them.
An optional 50-meter-long epilogue, "Supplément Voyage à travers l'impossible" (advertised in the US as Supplementary Section of the "Impossible Voyage"), was sold separately. The epilogue begins in Crazyloff's study, where he is criticized by the Institute of Incoherent Geography for losing so much transportation equipment during the voyage. At the top of the Institute's tower, he presents his plan for recovering the equipment: a powerful magnet able to attract the automobile lost in Switzerland, the train eaten by the sun, and the submarine destroyed at sea. The plan is a success and is celebrated at a banquet where Crazyloff is applauded by his scientific colleagues.
The supplementary section was believed lost until the 1970s, when the Méliès scholar John Frazer discovered and examined it in the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences among surviving negatives from Star Film's New York offices. However, a 2008 Méliès filmography by Jacques Malthête lists the supplement as lost.
Georges Méliès as the engineer Mabouloff (Crazyloff)
Fernande Albany as Madame Latrouille, one of the travelers
May de Lavergne as a nurse in the Swiss hospital
Jehanne d'Alcy as a villager at the seaport
The Impossible Voyage was made during the summer of 1904. The film, running to 374 meters, was Méliès's longest film to date, and cost about ₣37,500 (US$7,500) to make. In its staging and design, the film is symmetrical with Méliès's A Trip to the Moon: while the astronomers' progress toward the moon in that film is consistently depicted as left-to-right motion, the Institute of Incoherent Geography's progress toward the sun in The Impossible Voyage is consistently right-to-left. While most of the film was shot inside Méliès's glass studio, the scene at the foot of the Jungfrau was filmed outdoors, in the garden of Méliès's property in Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis.
A print of the film (though not the supplemental epilogue) was deposited for American copyright at the Library of Congress on October 12, 1904, and the film was sold in French, American, and British catalogs by the Star Film Company. As with at least 4% of Méliès's entire output (including such films as A Trip to the Moon, The Rajah's Dream, The Kingdom of the Fairies, and The Barber of Seville), some prints were individually hand-colored and sold at a higher price.
The Impossible Voyage was one of the most popular films of the first few years of the twentieth century, rivaled only by similar Méliès films such as The Kingdom of the Fairies and the massively successful A Trip to the Moon.
The film critic Lewis Jacobs said of The Impossible Voyage:
This film expressed all of Méliès's talents. In it his feeling for caricature, painting, theatrical invention, and camera science became triumphant. The complexity of his tricks, his resourcefulness with mechanical contrivances, the imaginativeness of the settings and the sumptuous tableaux made the film a masterpiece for its day.
An Impossible Voyage was one of the films from early French film pioneer Georges Melies (1861-1938). Melies was originally an amateur magician who jumped upon the novelty of the movie camera soon after the Lumiere Brothers made the very first film in 1895. In almost no time, Melies discovered special effects trickery. This came about by accident when his camera jammed one day – when playing his footage back, the jump in the film appeared to make an object vanish. Melies quickly began experimenting with stop-action camera effects. His first such film was The Lady Vanishes (1896) in which he appears as a conjuror and makes a lady disappear in a puff of smoke. Melies’s films rapidly started to progress in sophistication and he discovered many of the modern special effects tricks – animation, superimposition, split-screen, miniatures, even the fade and the dissolve. He also built the first ever movie studio – which had only a single set – in his country garden in Montreuil. Melies made some 500 short films between 1896 and the eventual bankruptcy of his studio in 1914.
The film that Georges Melies will always be associated with is A Trip to the Moon (1902). It is an undeniable classic and its position has had Melies labelled the father of the science-fiction film. An Impossible Voyage was Melies’ successor to A Trip to the Moon and is a point where he was operating at the absolute height of his technical skill and artistry. Considering the primitiveness of filmmaking techniques during the day, the inventiveness of what he pulls off is extraordinary.
Georges Melies can be compared to his countryman and contemporary Jules Verne – indeed, Melies often borrowed freely from Verne, using Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) as the basis of A Trip to the Moon and conducting his own version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1907). Verne gained prominence by creating a series of adventures based on the new modes of transport that were just opening up in the Victorian era – of journeying across Africa by balloon in Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) or the round the world trip in Around the World in 80 Days (1873) – or coming up with entirely new ones of his own – the idea of the submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870); going to the Moon by being shot out of a cannon in From the Earth to the Moon; of the warlike possibilities offered by the airship in Robur the Conqueror (1886) and Master of the World (1904). Melies borrowed from many of these and created his own voyages extraordinaire in a similar vein to Verne. An Impossible Voyage is a case in point – the film seems construed as an amalgamation of all the new and exciting modes of transport that were suddenly arriving around the turn of the century – the train, the motor car, the dirigible airship, the still speculative ideas of the submarine and space travel. These have all been implausibly combined into one and the combination vehicle we see looks absurdly improbable – a train that buzzes along on its rails with two dirigibles attached above it at either end, for instance.
For its era, An Impossible Voyage is an amazingly sophisticated work. The design that has gone into it is amazing – this is true Steampunk back during the era where such was Victoriana’s fantasies of how technology would be rather than modern writers looking back with foreknowledge of how everything did turn out. The sophistication of some of the model work – in particular of the train passing along a bridge on its tracks or zipping up the mountainside – is extremely good. Melies even goes so far as to build cutaway sets of the interior of the train – especially clever being those of the submarine, which are constructed in a way to allow a view into two different compartments showing the drama as a fire breaks out in the engine room.
The film’s most imaginative and science-fictional scenes come when the train takes off from the mountainside and flies off into space. Melies has it passing stars, planets and comets before impacting into the mouth of the Sun. (Melies’s films, despite being cited as works of early science-fiction, more often sit as fantasy films in their depiction of The Moon and Sun with personified faces – one will not even bother discussing seriously the idea of humans being able to walk on the surface of the sun whereas in reality they and their craft would be incinerated before they even came within a few million miles). The sophistication of special effects techniques that depicts all of this is quite extraordinary.
Georges Melies was always an entertainer first and foremost. At heart, Melies’s films though were little more than glorified magic shows. Amid all of his discoveries Melies, for example, never discovered the concept of moving his camera. Films made during this era had not even yet discovered the idea of editing or breaking a scene up into closeups or multiple shots and so all of the scenes in Melies’s films take place in wide-angle master shots. His shows were exactly like stage shows where the camera remained in a fixed position in exactly the same place that the audience would sit and the trick effects would take place on the stage before it. His marvels here are also undercut by a frequent slapstick element – scenes with the engineer kicking an obsequious servant who brings a tray in while he is working; the members of the expedition being clonked and knocked over in their rush to get aboard the departing train; the car crashing into and driving all the way through the dining room of an Alpine lodge; the slapstick chaos of the members of the expedition in their hospital beds. Especially cute are the scenes on the sun’s surface where the explorers try to hide from the heat by getting into an icebox (that has conveniently been brought along on the train) only for the explorer to open the door and find they have all been frozen into a single block of ice.
Queen's 1995 music video "Heaven for Everyone" contains footage of The Impossible Voyage, as well as Méliès' best-known film Le Voyage Dans La Lune.
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