US Release Date: 10-04-1902
Directed by: Georges Melies
- Georges Melies, as
- Prof. Barbenfouillis
- Bleuette Bernon, as
- Lady in the moon
- Brunnet, as
- Henri Delannoy, as
- Captain of the rocket
- Farjaut, as
- Kelm as
An iconic moon landing.
In 1902 the technology of the moving picture had been around for about a decade, but the art form that we know of as “The Movies” didn’t exist until Georges Méliès made the astounding A Trip to the Moon. Never before had anyone attempted a one reel (12 minute) film with a narrative. Not only does Trip to the Moon have a wonderful narrative, it also has at least a dozen sets, a cast of several dozen, an impressive array of costumes, and special effects that must have seemed like magic to audiences of the day, including very early use of stop motion technique to make characters “disappear”.
It begins with a cabinet meeting where the minister proposes a trip to the moon. Cut to the rocket, which is really a hollow bullet, being built. Then the group of astrologer, volunteers get inside it and the rocket is shot out of a gigantic cannon. This is followed by the movies’ most famous image. A close up of the moon with a human face. Then the bullet/rocket hits the moon and lands right in one of the faces’ eyes.
The moon has giant mushrooms and a weird race of aliens. They attack the earthlings and take them to their leader. The humans quickly discover that the aliens are easy to kill and so make their escape back to the rocket which they then push off the “edge” of the moon and “fall” back to earth, landing in the sea before being rescued by a ship. The End.
By today’s standards this movie looks like drawings on a cave wall. Historically though it represents a huge leap in the art of the motion picture. Everyone should see it at least once. A shortened version is shown at the beginning of the original Around the World in Eighty Days, but only about half of the complete movie.
A Trip to the Moon and The Great Train Robbery, which was released the following year in 1903, are the world’s first “Movies”. That means science fiction and the western, along with comedies, which were already around just in shorter versions, are the three oldest film genres.
Amazingly enough, Melies got somethings right in his depiction of the moon landing.
What struck me about this movie was that despite being ludicrous in its depiction of science, it actually came close in a couple of ways to how the actual moon landing went some 67 years later. The shape of the space capsule here is very similar to the real ones used in the 1960s and 1970s. The Apollo rockets were little more than giant bullets that were fired towards the moon. And the rockets that returned from the moon landed in the ocean where they were picked up by ships and the astronauts were treated as heroes and given parades upon their return, exactly as shown in this movie.
While this movie does many things for the first time, what I noticed while watching it are all the things that it doesn't do that modern movies do. There are no close-ups. The camera never moves during a scene. It's almost like each scene is a play. The actors are on a "stage" and they move about during the scene, but the camera doesn't follow their movements, it stays focused on the middle of the "stage". The only cuts during a scene are those that involve the special effect of the aliens exploding, which is certainly the most impressive effect in the whole short.
Apart from the historical significance of this movie it is actually entertaining. It's very short, but it's lively enough and it actually tells a full story. About the only thing it lacks is real character development.
Perhaps the most amazing thing to me is that there are people who saw this movie as children who lived long enough to see the real moon landing! That we could go form the crude depictions and ideas of this movie to the real thing in one-person's lifetime is a testament to the power of humanity's intellect.
Dreaming on the moon.
What my brothers never mentioned is that this is a comedy. Some of the jokes are intentional and some perhaps not. The ship in the eye is the most obvious joke. My favorite is the dancing girls who put the ship into the cannon. If Méliès was making a serious movie, would he have loaded the cannon in such a way?
When they show the ship being readied for the launch, it features about 6-8 guys working on it. All of them are just hammering away. None seem to actually be accomplishing anything. The just keep hammering the whole scene.
I also liked the acrobatic moonmen. When they first come across them in the mushroom field they walk on their hands, jump and tumble all over the place. An obvious sign of aggression.
The movie seems extraordinarily quaint, but it set a science fiction standard that to this day is still being copied. Some humans go to another planet where they get into a battle with the indigenous people, and then get sent packing. Avatar is just a remake of A Trip to the Moon.
Photos © Copyright Georges Melies (1902)