Thursday, May 5, 2011

The BEst Movies I've Never Seen Before: Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902) ***
Directed by: Georges Méliès.
Written by: Georges Melies based on the books by Jules Verne.
Starring: Victor André, Bleuette Bernon, Jeanne d'Alcy, Henri Delannoy, Georges Méliès.

Georges Melies was perhaps the first true movie magician. According to the IMDB, he directed 555 shorts between 1896 and 1913 – although many of them have been lost to time. He was the first to use stop motion photography, the fade in, the fade out and dissolve. He pioneered special effects for the movies. He was trained in theater, and was the first one to start making true stories out of films. He was unable to keep up with the changing industry, and stopped making films in 1913 – 25 years before his death, his final years marked by poverty. But he had a host of admirers, with D.W. Griffth saying of Melies “I owe him everything”, and many other early filmmakers citing him as a major influence. There are few filmmakers that can claim that they forever changed film history – Melies is one of them.

His most famous film is inarguably Le Voyage Dans La Lune from 1902. It runs only 14 minutes, and is fairly crudely made, even by silent movie standards. Yet, for its time, it is a truly groundbreaking film. The story is of a group of scientists who decide to take a trip to the moon. They build a giant gun, and fire themselves, inside a bullet, to the moon – resulting in the iconic image of the rocket hitting the moon in the eye. They get out of the spaceship, having some adventures with the inhabits of the moon, known as Selenites, who are acrobatic little creatures, before pushing their bullet off the side of the moon, and landing in the ocean – where they are greeted like heroes.

Watching the film today, 109 years after it was made, is a fascinating experience. Of course the film as aged horribly in that time – how could it not – but what fascinated me is everything that Meiles is doing in this film that had never been done before. The effects work surprisingly well, and the film is actually quite amusing. I enjoyed the comic fight between the scientists that begin the film, and the exaggerated fight sequence with the Selenites on the moon. The whole movie is an enjoyable way to spend 14 minutes.

Is it a truly great film? Not by today’s standards, and not even by the standards later set by the silent movie giants like Griffth. Yet it is impossible to imagine those other filmmakers existing without Melies and his contribution to film. In a very real way, cinema history begins with Melies, and so if you are a fan of film, you have him to thank. Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a curiosity piece, true, but if you love film, you should see it.

Note: Martin Scorsese is currently making The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is based on the award winning children’s book by Brian Selznick, in which Ben Kingsley will play an aging Melies, his filmmaking days behind him. It is a great book, and I’m hoping, a great movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment