“The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.”—Carl Sandburg
When I was a child, deep down I always wanted to explore space. Fascinated by the moon, I would stare at it from my window wondering how a big illuminated sphere could affect the tides and other Earthly happenings. In the past couple of years, our headlines have seen daredevils fall from space, NASA walk away from the space program and private contractors take over plans to travel into the unknown. Imagine tourists being able to venture one day to the cosmos among the stars to see the dark side of the moon. The latter idea excites the boy inside of me still wanting to space travel, as well as the man I am, patiently waiting to take this long awaited trip. I can only hope that such a journey would be filled with great wonder and adventure like the fantastic voyage featured in A Trip to the Moon (1902).
Professor Barbenfouillis, George Méliès of The 400 Tricks of the Devil (1906), heads the Scientific Congress of Astronomers and tries to convince his fellow colleagues into sanctioning the first expedition to the moon. All of the intellectuals agree on the journey and the team is chosen. The rocket is built, and wasting no time, they are quickly launched to the moon, shot from a giant cannon. The space ship lands right in the eye of the moon (Méliès’s face doubles as the unsuspecting Man in the Moon). Once on the surface, the scientists start to explore their new surroundings and take shelter in a cave. They are met by hostile alien beings, which capture them and haul the explorers off to the Moon King for questioning. Discovering by chance the “Moonies” easily perish in a quick explosion by being touched, the scientists fight off their captors and manage to escape and reboard their space vessel for a quick return to Earth. The space ship returns by crashing into the ocean where they are rescued and honored as heroes.
A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) is a French silent short film directed by “the Father of Special Effects,” George Méliès (magician turned filmmaker), and was heavily inspired by the infamous novels of H.G. Well’s The First Men in the Moon (1901), Jules Verne’s Around the Moon (1870) and From Earth to the Moon (1865). This was the second time Méliès filmed this movie as the first was completed in 1898, but readdressed four years later due to his perfecting more special effects (especially stop trick technique aka sub splicing) with his camera. A Trip was remade as a feature length sci-fi adventure, The Astronomer (2012) by London Homer-Wambeam of Project Cora (2014).
A Trip is a very important film even today for its effective fiction narrative, over-the-top set production, stylish props, and never before seen special effects. Méliès, who was a true visionary auteur and released 500 films before his death, originally intended to make copies and distribute the film in America for profit. After editing was complete, Thomas Edison’s film technician’s had thieved and dubbed copies of the master print and exhibited in the US for profit before Méliès could make a dime off of his creation…and he never did. Upon the film’s release, it was an international hit and was the first film to be pirated by many nefarious theatre owners and companies for their own profit which in turn did not garner any money for the struggling Méliès.
A Trip is an exquisite journey that explores the new medium, space travel and subtly satires issues at the turn of the century such as anti-imperialism, philosophy, and metaphysics. A Trip is presented in such a style that mirrors a well-rehearsed stage production. During filming of A Trip, Méliès would experiment and perfect the techniques of maximum exposure, dissolves, intercutting, and tracking shots. Méliès was not aware he was creating one of the most influential films of all time or the first real sci-fi fantasy flick.
After Méliès’s retirement and unfortunate fall into poverty during his twilight years, A Trip dwindled into obscurity from the world but was later rediscovered in the late 1920s. The revival would help elevate Méliès to level of true film visionary and acknowledgement (D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin to name a couple), for his contributions to the craft of filmmaking before his death in 1936.
A Trip to the Moon has been mentioned time and time again by the film community, trade magazines and books as one of the most important movies ever made and one that you need to see. I agree. An original hand colored print was discovered in 1993 and restored for release in 2011; I prefer the old black and white. There are multiple copies online for free and various DVD compilation collections to choose from to view A Trip. Some copies of the film have a musical score and some are completely silent. I suggest you view any copy you can get your hands on and simply add your own space-themed music to it.
So take the time out of your busy day and give A Trip to the Moon a quick look, this shouldn’t be a problem as its runtime is a brief 13 minutes (that’s less than Stairway to Heaven on repeat twice). Méliès could never expect the revolution and the film rules that he spearheaded with his little space film or the amount of influence he would have on budding filmmaker after 113 years. All of us have the eyes of a visionary and the excited playfulness of a child still deep in our hearts; we just have to channel it and never let it go. Keep playing and ponder for a second if you will, what John Lennon shared with us, “We all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.”
(We took the time to find you a copy if you can’t get one physically. Thank the wonders of YouTube)