YouTube remains a wonderful place when you’re a guy like me who’s elected to go back through film history and revisit 1001 of its most treasured, historically and culturally significant cinematic experiences, and you find the first title on your list has been uploaded in its entirety! Thank you Escuelacine.com, and thank you YouTube! #NotSponsored.
Boasting perhaps one of the most iconic images to have come out of the birth of the filmmaking industry, George Méliès’s 1902’Le voyage dans la lune’ has a running time of just under thirteen minutes, and has enjoyed something of a revival since Martin Scorsese’s 2011 foray into family filmmaking with’Hugo’, which explored the life of Méliès and featured specifically this fanciful film. ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ is apparently regarded as one of the first outright science-fiction films, and with good reason! (Not just because it’s a story about space travel, there’s aliens too). These are thirteen wonderfully charming minutes that certainly feel like a pure product of their time, offering a porthole-view at the state of creativity and imagination at the turn of the twentieth century. The story is simple, naturally, I mean people back then were still agog that any picture could move in any form at all let alone handle a sprawling and comprehensive narrative.
A meeting of the Astronomic Club (who, admittedly I was convinced were actually wizards, I mean who else wears robes and pointed hats with stars on them?!) sees a trip to the surface of the Moon proposed and volunteered for, despite small dissenting voices. Building a giant space ‘bullet’ capsule, and with the help of the Marines, the astronomers fire themselves into space, and crash land in the Man in the Moon’s eye. After exploring incredible environments the very definition of unearthly, and facing down the Moon’s hostile native population of Selenites, the voyagers make it back to Earth safely and receive a hero’s welcome, as the world erupts in celebration of mankind’s momentous feat.
Despite the obviously minuscule state of filmmaking in that day and age, there remains something undeniably epic about Méliès’ work here. Credited as one of the forefathers of narrative storytelling in film, the man very much earns that legacy here with this clear, concise, quaint adventure tale that even after all this time is able to throw one or two fun little surprises in for first-time viewers. Does any of it make sense? Is it something for audiences of today? Absolutely not, it is entirely of its time. It’s sense of wonder, of danger, it’s stargazing spirit act as a reminder of the child-like playfulness that defined the very foundations of onscreen storytelling. It’s lunar landscape and the inhabitants that dwell therein could just as easily be those of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, so fantastically is our planet’s only natural satellite portrayed. It offers its audience an idea of how it must feel to spend time amongst the celestial bodies of the night sky, and it’s a wonderfully madcap offering. Perhaps more surprising than anything else is the degree of satire the film embraces, influenced by Méliès’ past as a political cartoonist, characterising these pioneers and men of supposedly unsurpassable wisdom as clumsy, belligerent types who in the end congratulate themselves for ‘heroically’ running away from the attacking Selenites, who wouldn’t have attacked them in the first place had they themselves not started blowing up the natives.
Bursting with special effects that would have utterly dazzled contemporary audiences (and remain surprisingly effective), visually arresting and with a distinct tongue-in-cheek subtext, all bound together by a sense of imagination at its most carefree, ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ and the work of Georges Méliès stands steadfast as a classic cornerstone of budding cinema.
Quality Score = 4/5
Experience Score = 4/5
Final Score = 4/5