Review: Le voyage dans la lune (1902)

Le voyage dans la lune (1902)

Directed by: Georges Méliès | 15 minutes | short film, adventure, fantasy, science fiction | Actors: Henri Delannoy, Farjaut, Kelm, Georges Mélies, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet, Victor André, Jeanne d’Alcy, Depierre

‘Le voyage dans la lune’ (1902) can rightly be counted among the 1001 films that you must see before you die (prepared by Steven Jay Schneider). With the fifteen-minute film, its maker, Georges Méliès, wrote film history. Méliès is the founder of the special effects, which are fully displayed in ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ (editing tricks and blends, for example). It is not surprising that the film, which at the time was considered a full-length film – because films with a running time of two minutes were common – became a worldwide success.

More than a century after its first screening, the revolutionary film has still not lost its power and it is clear why countless filmmakers count Méliès and this film among their great examples. The iconic image of the rocket that bore into the man’s eye in the moon is, of course, even more famous than the movie itself. Fortunately, film buffs who were previously unable to view Méliès’ masterpiece can now make up for it. Thanks to the efforts of a passionate team that with endless patience managed to restore the film reel found in Spain in 1993, as is extensively and fascinatingly discussed in the documentary ‘Le voyage extraordinaire’ (2011) by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange. viewing the classic at your fingertips. Kudos to Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage and Lobster Films (Serge Bromberg’s French film archive), who took on the almost impossible task of restoring the film that appeared almost irreparably damaged.

The restoration of ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ is of an unprecedented quality: literally too, because it was the most expensive and complex restoration of a film ever. The process took twelve years. ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ was released in 1902, both in black and white and in colour. The film frames were hand colored one by one, which had a busy, flickering effect and an almost hypnotic effect. At the time, the film was not provided with sound, but the restored version has a very appropriate soundtrack, made by the gentlemen of the French duo Air. It is a here and there somewhat nostalgic, melancholy, but sometimes even rocking sound, which complements the images excellently.

Méliès himself found inspiration for his ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ in the work of science fiction writers Jules Verne and HG Wells. The filmmaker/magician wrote, produced and directed the film. He also plays Professor Barbenfouillis, who at a scientific conference tries to get his colleagues (who look like they could be living at Hogwarts) to join a trip to the moon. After fabricating the rocket and launching (with the scientists assisted by lovely ladies in shorts), the rocket lands in the eye of the moon. The scientists are captured by the hostile moon-dwellers, the Selenites (who are dressed in skeleton costumes and armed with spears), and taken to their king. They find out that the Selenites go up in smoke when they are beaten with an umbrella and it proves to be their salvation. After a fall with the rocket, they end up in the ocean, after which the scientists are welcomed as heroes by the people of Paris.

It is not difficult to see how ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ came to be labeled as ‘groundbreaking’. Méliès made his film at a time when the word ‘astronaut’ didn’t even exist yet and when special effects in the film industry (which actually hardly existed) was still in its infancy. The medium of film had only just been invented! It is a gift from heaven that this magnificently restored piece of art can now be preserved for later generations. After all, you shouldn’t think that the movie of ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ was used to fabricate a comb… ‘Le voyage dans la lune’: a cinematographic masterpiece.

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