Saturday, 21 February 2015

1902: A Trip to the Moon

A Trip to the Moon

I don't know what I can add to the volumes that have been written about this, Georges Melies' most famous film and probably the first great science fiction film, except that it's a shame so many great film-makers of this period fell on hard times later. Melies, as you'll know if you've seen the excellent 'Hugo', ended up running a toy stall in a Paris railway station. If only they had known that their work wasn't, in the end, as ephemeral as it seemed at the time.
This film has recently seen a brilliant and painstaking new restoration by Serge Bromberg's Lobster Films, created from a badly decayed hand-coloured print that technology has only been able to rescue in the last few years.  Until recently you could find the Park Circus DVD of that version in Fopp for as little as £3 but some dealers on Amazon are now asking up to £150. Never mind, though, it's on YouTube in full HD - for the moment. (I've linked to one that's less likely to be removed.)
The style of acting and photography hasn't really moved on yet, but Melies' stop-camera effects become ever more effective, as the moon creatures who chase the heroes back to their ship vanish in puffs of smoke when hit with umbrellas - hardly an effective survival mechanism, you'd have thought, but certainly spectacular.
Aside from the presence of breathable air and humanoid life on the Moon, one huge difference in the perception of the space-travel business in 1901 versus later years is that in those days it seems to  be so far removed from reality that it falls into the province of wizards and mystics, since the film opens with a meeting of pointy-hatted, robed gentlemen discussing the project with the aid of a blackboard.
On the other hand, the space capsule, remarkable similar to a Gemini or Apollo craft, splashes down in the sea and is retrieved by the Navy.