Home Video Hovel: A Trip to the Moon, by Tyler Smith
Orson Welles once described filmmaking as “the biggest electric train set a boy ever had.” This enthusiastic approach to the novelty of filmmaking could certainly be seen in Welles’ stylistic playfulness, but not always his tone, which often had a baroque cynicism to it. On the other hand, French filmmaker Georges Méliès brought a consistent sense of delight to every film he made. His theatrical background, combined with a childlike wonder, made Méliès’ work unique amongst early silent film. An early pioneer of special effects, Méliès achieved worldwide success, most notably for his landmark 1902 film A Trip to the Moon.
This short film is about a team of turn-of-the-century scientists as they hatch a plan to travel to the moon. They design a rocket shaped like a giant bullet. They crowd into the rocket and are then shot out of a huge cannon, crashing into the literal face of the moon and creating one of the most iconic images in film history. Once there, they encounter hostile aliens and must flee for their lives.
The story combines imagery right out of a Jules Verne novel with the whimsy of a fairy tale. Despite the film being about space travel, nobody would ever accuse it of being science fiction. It is pure, ridiculous fantasy, and Méliès seems to revel in every delightful moment.
There comes a time in the life of a young film fan when they can no longer just watch films. They have to try to make one themselves. So they gather some friends together to make a movie. In doing so, they encounter small obstacles and they either overcome them or circumvent them. The resulting films are often amateurish and sometimes utterly unwatchable. But the passion is clearly there; the exuberance of engagement and creation.
This is the passion we get in A Trip to the Moon. Upon first seeing films projected onto a large screen for an audience, Méliès was struck by the possibilities, and immediately went to work pushing the boundaries of both the medium and his own imagination. Many of Méliès’ projects have been forgotten over the years, and Méliès himself eventually faded into obscurity, but A Trip to the Moon has remained a vital part of film history as one of the earliest examples of auteurism and experimentation.
Flicker Alley has spent decades lovingly restoring Méliès’ masterpiece to its original glory. They’ve painstakingly gathered missing frames and cleaned them up as best they could. They’ve recreated the colors that Méliès used to give the film even more unique personality than it already had (back in the days when every frame needed to be hand-painted if a filmmaker wanted to include color). Flicker Alley has included three different musical scores, by composer Jeff Mills, musical group Dorian Pimpernel, and pianist Serge Bromberg. One can also listen to narration, written by Méliès himself.
A Trip to the Moon has taken its place in the pantheon of landmark films, and rightfully so. And it has not lost much of its original power, to dazzle and entertain. The good people at Flicker Alley have put out a Blu-ray worthy of the film’s prestige, and it is one that every film fan would be advised to own.