Looking Back At Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Georges Méliès, 1902)
Those adults and children not familiar with the work of Georges Méliès, more than likely, now will be thanks to Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo; while this film lifted the veil, albeit briefly, on a small portion of Méliès’ work, his oeuvre (of 500 films) really must be seen in its original form to be fully appreciated. He was an artistic genius; a true magician of cinema, conjuring tricks through pioneering visual effects in the early nineteenth century. It is clear that his work inspired many and aspects of his work can be found through Chaplin and even today, there are many directors, aside from Scorsese, who cite him as an inspiration including Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michel Gondry and Michel Hazanavicius. Allusions to his infamous short film Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) can be seen in various cultural products, even one as diverse as The Mighty Boosh.
Le Voyage dans la lune was made in a black and white and coloured version yet the latter was considered lost for decades before being found in 1993 by the Filmotecade Catalunya. In 1999, work began restoring it, the film stock was rescued and those elements which were unsalvageable were digitised. Those cells which were too damaged were taken from the black and white version and coloured and clearly these cells were lovingly restored, with due care and attention. Complete restoration was completed in 2010, 109 years after creation and it is still a wonder to behold. Méliès not only directed, wrote, and starred in his films but designed and made the costumes and developed some of the most recognisable camera effects including the dissolve, double exposure shot and split screen acting.
Le Voyage… was produced in 1902 and its light-hearted satirical plot is loosely based upon the works of Jules Verne and contains fairly detailed exposition given its sixteen minute running time. The film charts Professor Barbenfouillis (Méliès) and his wishes to explore the concept of space travel and head an expedition to the moon – an anthropomorphic being – aboard a spacecraft which is promptly crashed into the moon’s eye. Once on the surface they are captured by hostile inhabitants, the Selenites and only upon discovering their weakness do they plummet to the depths of the ocean before being rescued and honoured in Paris, as heroes. All action is captured through a static camera with all actors moving into frame, it may seem archaic in light of the camerawork of the twenty-first century, however, this is a live-action painting and the technique, skill and mastery deployed at a time when technology barely existed is staggering. The only criticism, and it is a miniscule one, is that this version has a soundtrack performed by French electro-pop group Air and this musical accompaniment does seem a little too modern for this film. The great extra on the disc is the documentary which not only celebrates Méliès and his work but also delivers a meticulous summary of the restoration process itself.
Anybody interested in film as an art form must familiarise themselves with Mr Méliès’ work immediately for without him the world would not have had Chaplin, Jeunet or Scorsese, amongst others.