Saturday, September 13, 2008

Le Voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip To The Moon)

A Trip to The Moon(1902) France
Directed by Georges Méliès

Georges Méliès's "A Trip to The Moon" is an epic sci-fi fantasy condensed into eight flickering minutes. The film depicts a team of scientists led by Méliès himself who take a rocket ship to the moon and encounter surprises, danger, and malevolent moonmen called Selenites. The short was Méliès's 400th film, by far his most expensive and popular, and the best example of his combined strengths as a writer, director, actor, editor, and special effects man who drew heavily from his background as a magician. Méliès is largely creating and defining film language as he goes along and intuitively grasps many of the fundamentals that would remain staples of cinematic grammar for the following century.

Motion is ever-present despite the static camera set-ups necessitated by the technology of the day. The scientist adventurers scurry throughout, the rocket makes two explosive voyages, and
Méliès hired French acrobats and circus performers to play the Selenites who move like they're spring-loaded. The frame (all of them wide shots) is filled with dynamic movement throughout that keeps our attention. Inventive editing is utilized in early examples of things as simple as fades to masking special effects via double exposure and quick cutting that makes moonmen appear to vanish into puffs of smoke or, in the film's most memorable and iconic moment, the rocket to crash into the eyeball of the grimacing face of the moon.

The fantastic voyage and its strange and captivating sights was a big hit in its day and has become one of the staples of early silent cinema. Many of the moments have been aped and homaged over the years, perhaps most memorably by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris whose Tonight, Tonight video for the Smashing Pumpkins is a beautiful, direct remake. The ambition and scope of
Méliès's film, the story could hardly be called small, ignored the constraints many would assume of short films and ventured to use the film medium to tell the kind of sweeping story typical of a Jules Verne novel with great economy and strong visuals. The work influenced a generation of filmmakers and is a precursor to every director who has tried to cram a feature's worth of ideas and plot into a short, though few are as successful as Méliès. With such an abundance of style, dense plotting, and over-written characters resulting in thousands of shorts that amount to a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, it's refreshing to be able to return to a short that uses nothing but carefully arranged images to tap directly into our imagination, entertain and delight us even a century later.

1 comment:

Lance McCallion said...

I think it's important for more people to see this kind of work. Melies in particular has a huge debt owed to him by contemporary Hollywood blockbusters that still build on the optical effects foundation established by these late 19th/early 20th century shorts.