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Life by Design

10/10/2009

Looking Back on Méliès’s Voyage dans la Lune

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

It seems the stuff of science-fiction (and the beginning of Armageddon) when we talk of shooting rockets into the moon, but yesterday that's exactly what NASA did. Not only did they shoot the moon once, but twice! Call me crazy, but tampering with a heavenly body with gravitational pull doesn't seem like a good idea. The plan sounds naive, much like these early imaginings of man landing on the moon by Georges Méliès, father of cinematic special effects.
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During Comic-Con, director James Cameron unveiled a 25-minute preview of his latest film, Avatar, to approximately 6,000 people. After, EW.com correspondent Nicole Sperling wrote, “The audience went wild.”

With its much-touted 3D technology, Avatar is poised to revolutionize the moviemaking experience, just like a little known movie did in 1902. That movie is Georges Méliès’s Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), the world’s first sci-fi movie.

Made by Méliès, a “pioneer…of narrative and special-effects techniques,” according to British Film Institute writer Michael Brooke, Voyage tells the story of five astronomers who journey to the moon, meet the Selenite race, inadvertently kill their leader, then return home in celebration. All this with elaborate sets, an impressive number of extras, and the use of the earliest special effect—the splice.

While filming an earlier movie, Méliès accidentally discovered that people could disappear and re-appear simply by stopping and re-starting the film. Thus, in Voyage, Méliès used the splice to great comical effect. Poof! Selenites disappear in a puff of smoke when struck with the astronomers’ umbrellas.

Far from the sweeping epic narratives of modern sci-fi films, this movie offers a lighthearted view of a classic plot. Given its more than 100-year vintage, audiences should forgive the movie’s uneven transitions and static single-camera placement. Méliès films an entire scene with one stationary camera, prompting moviegoers to actively focus on the most important action onscreen, wherever it is.

Despite its faults, Voyage dans la Lune is a childhood dream that reminds us of how far we’ve come and what passions continue to fuel us. Before submerging yourself in the world of Avatar, enjoy the innocence of Méliès’s Voyage, ponder on then and now, and say, “Wow.”
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Georges Méliès made over 520 movies, of which only 170 survive. Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) is included in a 5-DVD set of Méliès’s surviving works, which can be purchased though http://www.flickeralley.com/ for $89.95.


Photo credit: Steve Biodrowski

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