Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902)

“As a film pioneer and producer of over 500 short films, Melies made up and invented the film medium as he directed. He developed the art of special effects in earlier films, including double exposure, actors performing with themselves over split screens, and use of the dissolve and fade. He also pioneered the art of film editing. The sets or scenery backdrops in the film are simple, painted flats. It has all the elements that characterize the science-fiction genre: adventurous scientists, a futuristic space voyage, special effects such as superimpositions, and strange aliens in a far-off place.”

‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’, directed by Georges Méliès in 1902, is an early French fantasy film featuring an adventure by members of the Astronomic Club. Astronauts, led by Professor Barbenfouillis, build a rocket designed to be fired from a gun. They use is to fly to the moon, where they encounter an insect race called the Selenites. Defeating them, the crew make it back to the rocket and manage to topple it off the moon and back to Earth, where they celebrate their return. It’s a primitive, short movie but one that is so important in both the fields of science fiction and cinema in general that its effect of the medium almost eclipses the joy of the events that occur on screen. Méliès, as with all his existing films, employs an awe-inspiring array of special effects to create a sense of fantasy and, at times, horror. The sight of the moon with a face is iconic, but for me it is also a deeply unsettling image. It occurs to me that the real skill of this film is how, in such a short space of time and with such limited resources, the director is able to deliver a coherent movie that is funny, satirical, frightening and thrilling. Part magic-show, part vaudeville, ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’ is also a textbook to future generations of filmmakers on how to present fantasy on screen, a precursor to the Flash Gordon serials, through ‘Forbidden Planet’ to ‘Star Wars’ and beyond.

Would I recommend it? Yes – for the heritage value and then for the innovative effects. Watch in a double bill with ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ for a sense of how far film has come, and how much is owed to Méliès.

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