Le Voyage dans la Lune – Georges Méliès
Fancy a sci-fi film? Grab some popcorn (but not much – it’s only a short film) and make yourself comfy. (Contains violence, aliens and pointy hats.)
Galileo’s first views of the rough lunar terrain, craters and mountains provided the first clues to what it might be like to walk around on the Moon. Three centuries of refining lunar maps further piqued interest in what it might be like to travel there. Innovative film maker Georges Méliès was a prolific fantasy film-maker famed for his ground-breaking animation techniques and special effects. In 1902 he wrote, directed and starred in one of the first science fiction films Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon.) It is based on two popular science fiction novels of the time: Jules Verne’s 1870 2-part story A Trip to the Moon and Around It and H. G. Wells’ 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon and was produced in both black and white and hand-coloured versions.
Méliès stars as Professor Barbenfouillis president of the Astronomer’s Club who oversees an expedition to the Moon. Even though it is just 14 minutes long at 16 frames per second (the standard frame rate at the time) it was Méliès’s longest film up to that date and cost 10,000 francs to produce. It was released to huge acclaim around the world. It made Méliès famous but not rich as his rivals, including Thomas Edison, made pirate copies of the film for distribution in America where it made huge profits for them. Méliès started his own film company in an attempt to stop piracy but he eventually went bankrupt.
The plot (from wikipedia) is as follows (spoiler alert!):
At a meeting of astronomers, their president proposes a trip to the Moon. After addressing some dissent, six brave astronomers 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 portrayed as a bevy of beautiful women in sailors’ outfits, while the rest are men. 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 and watch the Earth rise in the distance. Exhausted by their journey, the astronomers 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 calls down a snowfall that awakens the astronomers. They seek shelter in a cavern and 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 a hard force. More Selenites appear and it becomes increasingly difficult for the astronomers to destroy them as they are surrounded. The Selenites arrest the astronomers and bring them to their commander at the Selenite palace. An astronomer lifts the Chief Selenite off his throne and dashes him to the ground, exploding him.
The astronomers run back to their capsule while continuing to hit the pursuing Selenites, and five get inside. The sixth 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. The Selenite falls off and the capsule floats back to the surface, where they are rescued by a ship and towed ashore.
The end sequence (celebratory parade and unveiling of a commemorative statue) was lost until 2002 when a well preserved complete print was discovered in a French barn making a full restoration of the whole film possible.