EST. 2009

September 24, 2014

That Voyage dans la Lune

ON THIS MONTH, 112 YEARS AGO, what is considered to be the world's first science fiction film was released in Paris. Le voyage dans la lune, French for "Trip to the Moon" was a silent film that ran 16 minutes long, costing 10,000 francs and taking three months to complete. Created by Georges Méliès, who wrote, produced, directed, starred in, designed, publicized and even worked on building the set for the film, Le Voyage dans la Lune is regarded as one of history's most influential films, not only for generating its iconic moon image but ultimately for exploring the capabilities of the film medium.

Anyone who considers themselves a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, The Matrix, or any science fiction film at that, has Méliès to thank for pioneering the genre. Though Le Voyage is fundamentally more fantastic than scientific, the film was one of the first to incorporate themes of scientific ambition and exploration. Imagery, scientific elements and alien life forms, not to mention scantily-clad females, are elements in Méliès's film that can be found across multitudes of sci-fi films that have been released since. Bringing these elements to life was a combination of set design, costume and special effects, particularly the "stop trick" or substitution splicing that utilized editing to make film elements transform or disappear. Le Voyage was one of the first films in history to employ such techniques.

Poof! With a whack of an umbrella and a puff of smoke did a moon-inhabiting Selenite disappear. Just like its magically vanishing creatures, Le Voyage dans la Lune itself has undergone its own disappearing act, embarking on a century-long adventure of piracy, oblivion, rediscovery and restoration. Proving a blockbuster after its release, the film was pirated so rampantly in France and the United States that Méliès opened an American branch of his company to combat the illegal distribution. Between 1917 and 1923, the film's reel, along with other Méliès films, was destroyed both by the French military and Méliès himself, in an act of fury over the demolishing of the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, and Pathé's takeover of his company.

In 1993 however, 91 years after Le Voyage's first release, a copy of its hand-colored reel was discovered in Barcelona and donated anonymously to the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Though the film was in very poor condition, the discovery led to a restoration of the cinematic gem, completed in 2011 by Lobster Films, the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage.

With music by Air's Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, the restored Le Voyage dans la lune Premiered on May 11 at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Feeling much more like a music video than a science fiction movie, the film offers magic onscreen and off, demonstrating that wonderful advancements and discoveries are only ever coming our way.

Le Voyage dans la Lune, 1902. Directed by Georges Méliès. Film excerpts from Fondation Gan pour le Cinéma