A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure and Short Running Time: 14 min.

Release Date: October 4th, 1902 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Georges Melies Actors: Jules-Eugene Legris, Bleuette Bernon, Henri Delannoy, Georges Melies, Victor Andre

 


 

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group of learned astronomers gather for a discussion concerning a trip to the moon. The idea is supported by many, but disapproved by one. The President selects five candidates to accompany him on the voyage, while carpenters, mechanics, marines, and more (including sailor-inspired showgirls) work tirelessly on the construction of the space shuttle. Shaped like a bullet, the ship is finally completed and ready to receive pilots and passengers. The “shell” is loaded into a canon and launched into space, where it collides with the eyeball of the “Man in the Moon,” a scene that stands out as the most symbolic, memorable element of all of director Georges Melies’ prolific body of work – and one of the most iconic images to represent the beginning of the motion picture art form.

The astronauts are overjoyed with the crash landing and ensuing exploration of uncharted terrain. They proceed to nap, dream, and escape a snowy downpour by burrowing further into a crater, where they discover vegetation, a strikingly monstrous mushroom, and volatile moon creatures (named Selenites) that explode into dust when struck. The world could be easily likened to Alice’s own fantastical Wonderland. The humans are captured by the aggressive natives, but manage to destroy the alien king with their trusty umbrellas, climb aboard their rocket, and drop into, unexplainably, the earth’s ocean, from a towering cliff. After briefly visiting the bottom of the sea, much to the puzzlement of the fish, they float back to the surface and are picked up by a steamer to be delivered to safety.

It has been heavily debated whether or not this was truly the first science-fiction film – as well as if it was the first example of pataphysical concepts (the French absurdist take on philosophy). While it aptly displays an advanced understanding of narrative techniques and shows a genuinely creative use of editing, its arguable if this 1902 short is the earliest instance of such innovations. But regardless of structural and storytelling scrutinization, “A Trip to the Moon” has become one of the most famous and recognized early productions, and therefore an excellent selection for study and exhibition. It’s also one of the few to survive over the years.

Notably, it features a dream sequence with stars and Saturn, props such as falling snow, and elaborate sets featuring otherworldly landscapes. The Selenites are Folies-Bergere acrobats adorned with skeleton-like costumes and makeup. Special effects include dusty explosions, superimposition, miniatures, and animation. It even features color! Melies was clearly pushing boundaries and demonstrating the potential for narrative storytelling, searching for product that couldn’t be emulated by the stage. Showcasing surrealistic, highly influential designs and artistry, and although only 14 minutes long, Melies wrote, directed, and starred in the film (as both a professor and the face of the moon) – an outstanding feat even for a piece long since eclipsed by the staggering inflation of complexity seen in modern moviemaking.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10