In preparation for ‘The Force Awakens’, I thought, “why don’t I watch Episode IV this weekend so I have enough time to watch the rest of the original trilogy before December 18?” So Sunday night arrives and I’ve blazed through all three movies.
In light of the momentous occasion of a new ‘Star Wars’, I started thinking about the first cinematic space epic, the movie that changed the landscape of storytelling far beyond the reaches of our imagination. This is, as many cinephiles know, Georges Méliès’ ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’ (‘A Trip to the Moon’), the 1902 French silent film that is Today’s Throwback Thursday, a look at sci-fi of the past.
Méliès is widely considered to be the first auteur. He employed film, a new technology, as a way to entertain and add to his repertoire of spectacle. ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’ is filled with innovative special effects and an epic narrative, and at the time, garnered the enthusiasm of spectators around the world. (Sounds pretty familiar.)
Méliès plays Professor Barbenfouillis, the leader of the Astronomic Club. Barbenfouillis along with five other astronomers build a capsule and head to the Moon. Their capsule lands right on the face of the Man in the Moon, and the next day the astronomers explore the magical land. However, aliens on the Moon known as Selenites approach the astronomers. Our heroes have a hard time fending them off. Yet, they manage to defeat the Selenite king and make their way back to Earth where there’s a parade in their honor.
Beginning around 1913, Méliès declined into obscurity and many of his prints were lost due to a fire and the onset of World War I. It wasn’t until the late 1920s when film enthusiasts rediscovered his work. It took years to track down a complete version of the black and white print, and the full version was restored in 1997.
Hand-colored prints also remained lost for many years. (Elisabeth Thuillier, a glass and celluloid colorist, operated a coloring lab in Paris where as many as 200 hundred people hand-painted prints of ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’.) In 1993, a copy surfaced, and in 2011 it was fully restored with a soundtrack composed by Air. This restoration is available on Netflix.