We’re all familiar with this image, right?
That is from one of the earliest and greatest science fiction films ever made, “Le Voyage dans la Lune”. Or in English, “A Trip To The Moon”. It was released in 1902 and today we’re going to take a look at the both the original black & white print AND the hand coloured version!
A Trip to the Moon (French: Le Voyage dans la Lune), alternately Voyage to the Moon, is a 1902 French black-and-white silent science fiction film. It is based loosely on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon.
The film was written and directed by Georges Méliès, assisted by his brother Gaston. It was released by Méliès’s company Star Film and is numbered 399–411 in its catalogues. The film runs 14 minutes if projected at 16 frames per second, which was the standard frame rate at the time the film was produced. It was extremely popular at the time of its release, and is the best-known of the hundreds of films made by Méliès. A Trip to the Moon is one of the first known science fiction films, and uses innovative animation and special effects, including the well-known image of the spaceship landing in the Moon’s eye.
It was named one of the 100 greatest films of the 20th century by The Village Voice, ranking at #84.
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 final sequence (missing from some American prints of the film) depicts a celebratory parade in honor of the travelers’ return, including the unveiling of a commemorative statue bearing the motto “Labor omnia vincit” (Latin: “work conquers all”).
“Le Voyage dans la Lune” (1902 Original):
The Hand Coloured Version.
Like many of Méliès’s films, A Trip to the Moon was sold in both black-and-white and hand-colored versions. A hand-colored print, the only one known to survive, was rediscovered in 1993 by the Filmoteca de Catalunya. It was in a state of almost total decomposition, but a frame-by-frame restoration was launched in 1999 and completed in 2010 at the Technicolor Lab of Los Angeles- and after West Wing Digital Studios matched the original hand tinting by colorizing the damaged areas of the newly restored black and white. The restored version finally 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. It was released by Flicker Alley as a 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD edition, also including the documentary The Extraordinary Voyage about its restoration on 10 April 2012.
“Le Voyage dans la Lune” (2010 Hand Coloured Version):
Some historians suggest that although A Trip to the Moon was among the most technically innovative films up until that time, it still displays a primitive understanding of narrative film technique. American film scholar Ken Dancyger writes, “[The film is] no more than a series of amusing shots, each a scene unto itself. The shots tell a story, but not in the manner to which we are accustomed. It was not until the work of American Edwin S. Porter that editing became more purposeful.” Porter was inspired partially “by the length and quality of Méliès’s work”.
Although most of the editing in A Trip to the Moon is purely functional, there is one unusual choice: when the astronomers land on the lunar surface, the “same event is shown twice, and very differently”. The first time it is shown crashing into the eye of the Man in the Moon; the second time it is shown landing on the Moon’s flat terrain. The concept of showing an action twice in different ways was experimented with again by Porter in his film Life of an American Fireman, released roughly a year after A Trip to the Moon.
Some have claimed that the film was one of the earliest examples of pataphysical film, while stating that the film aims to “show the illogicality of logical thinking”. Others still have remarked that the director, Georges 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”. This is seen as an inherent part of the film’s plot: the story pokes fun at the scientists and at science in general, in that upon travelling to the Moon, the astronomers find that the face of the Moon is, in fact, the face of a man, and that it is populated by little green men.
Méliès had intended to release the film in the United States for profit, but he was never going to see a penny from the film’s distribution. Agents of Thomas Edison had seen the film in London. They bribed the theatre owner, took the film into a lab and made copies for Edison. The film was a sensation in America and a fortune was made off its exhibition. None of it went to George Méliès who eventually went bankrupt as a result. This was due in part to the eventual view which was held towards his films that the special effects were overshadowing the plot.
In an interview of Martin Scorsese by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Scorsese said, “He [Georges Méliès] lost basically most of his financing when the bigger companies came in. What happened here. . . at that time there was a lot going on with copyright and not copyright and that sort of thing.” Stewart said, “There is a story that Edison had taken one of his [Georges Méliès] films, brought it to America and showed it and it became enormously popular in America. But Edison decided not to pay I guess what we would call royalties.” Scorsese replied: “That’s right. So what happened, the film was I think the famous one, ‘A Trip to the Moon.’ They [Thomas Edison and his associates] were just taking the films and making dupes of them. So that was one of the reasons why he [Georges Méliès] was finished financially, ultimately.”
In Popular Culture:
* Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, whose story revolves around Méliès, features a description of the “man in the Moon” scene. Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation Hugo prominently features this scene and includes other scenes from the movie.
* The HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon featured a documentary-style recreation of the filming process during its last episode, titled “Le Voyage Dans Le Lune” in honor of Méliès’s work.
* The music video for rock band Queen’s song “Heaven for Everyone” features clips from the original 1902 short film.
* The film served as the basis for The Smashing Pumpkins’ award-winning music video for their song “Tonight, Tonight”.
* Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a 2012 album by French band Air, featuring vocals by Victoria Legrand and Au Revoir Simone. The album is based on and expanded from the soundtrack Air provided for the hand-tinted restoration of the film.
* The trophies given out by Visual Effects Society at their yearly awards ceremony feature the famous shot of the Moon with the rocket in its eye.
* The television series Futurama features an episode titled “The Series Has Landed”, in which the Lunar Park mascot Crater Face resembles Méliès’s “Man in the Moon”. Bender embeds his beer bottle in Crater Face’s eye after Crater Face attempts to confiscate his alcohol.
You May Also Be Interested in…
* “The Fly” By George Langelaan
* “Midnight And The Stars And…Who?”
* Space oddity By David Bowie By Andrew Kolb