La Voyage Dans La Lune (in color)

film review

Watching the first fully fleshed film in history is 16-minutes of mind-bending madness. Stars have human heads and they float, disappear. Random figures reappear in their place. Our earthlings clash with a green Tarzan-Mime hybrid species that can summersault into puffs of dust (let’s call them moon-men). Science fiction filmmaking is born. George Méliès captures mystical elements of space 30 years before Neil Armstrong even took his first baby step.

It all begins with the encouragement of some barelegged women (pretty risqué for 1902, eh?) and the “Scientific Congress of the Astronomic Club” waving their fingers. They all shuffle around like a scattered 6-year-olds’ dance routine.

The camera never pans or tilts in Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), but this is the first use of superimposition on moving images. The execution is brilliantly simple – lines of the composition mapped out in a glass theatre, and the same scenes shot again and again on a black background. Director George Méliès then projects two or more rolls of film onto one another.

Most recovered films from the 19th century are nothing like this. In fact, many films were lost, deteriorated, or just plain boring. This technique opened up a whole new kind of artistic freakiness — motion graphics.

The added contemporary music by the French band, AIR, makes the experience even more surreal. The tune seesaws between evocative and jovial, attempting a “handmade” and “knocked together” sound. As faint suspense-filled taps, and a wandering piano occasionally overlay the omnipresent electronica, the track does tend to mirror the mishmash of 19th century special effects.

Bursts of a breathy, ominous melody, and powdery psychedelic smoke welcome the group of jolly explorers to Space after they jab the eye of a very gloomy Moon, who then pouts and bleeds.

The layered Moon is a warm, fungal bird nest and our travelers are little chicks in a tizzy over a very centralized snow. They don’t have bleached, bulky protective suits with tubes of liquefied food attached (they’re dressed rather Victorian), so when the Moon-men start chasing with spears and tumbling into clouds of dust, the human travelers can only defend themselves with the umbrellas that they just happen to carry around with them everywhere.   

Our earthling travelers scurry and encounter the Moon-king. He doesn’t seem too kind. Above him are superimposed iconographies, leading to an all too familiar halo.

They manage to escape via umbrella defense and the force of a moon-man leaping on the rocket’s backside, which has literally become a cliffhanger. The spacecraft tilts off the apparent edge of the Moon and at an impressive pace, plunges into the ocean (Raising the obvious question: In 1902, how did they know?!).

The mixed media in the final scenes become so opulent that Méliès’ Earth now resembles Candy land. The spacecraft swims along with static jellyfish and gangly sea critters.  A black and white background meets with a foreground bathed in color.

Triumphant music doesn’t end when the expat Moon-man emerges from stage right. I begin to see earth in a silly way. It’s a similar sensation to saying the same word ten times over until it sounds nothing like a word at all.  

13,000 frames of A Trip to the Moon were put back together with original color. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011.