Director: George Melies
“Generally considered the first example of science-fiction cinema. It offers many elements characteristic of the genre – a spaceship, the discovery of a new frontier – and establishes most of its conventions.” (Chiara Ferrari, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 20)
Imagine what it must have been like to watch this for the first time in 1902! Watching it now in 2012 it is understandably quite clunky but you have to remember that at the time Le Voyage dans la Lune was groundbreaking and just beginning to utilize techniques that have now become commonplace such as the dissolves. In some ways it is not only the first science-fiction movie but also the first special effects movie.
Watching it again my initial thought to the opening scene is that Professor Lupin’s office/classroom in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) bears a rather striking resemblance to the room the astronomers meet in which shows just how much it is still influencing work over 100 years later.
It is by no means the smoothest piece of filmmaking ever but that just makes it all the more delightful to watch. And the cuts are clearly noticeable unlike films today when the editing is so smooth the audience hardly realize it is there at all. The framing is out of sorts, with people’s heads cut off as well as some of the action, but people were still learning – or rather creating – the rules of this new media at the time.
Melies clearly drew on his theatrical background – capturing many of the techniques employed on stage in a camera instead. However he also uses superimposition to show off just what was capable in the new ‘moving pictures’.
“Melies was able to offer a fantasy constructed for pure entertainment. He opened the doors to feature film artists by visually expressing his creativity in a way utterly uncommon to movies at the time.” (Chiara Ferrari, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 20) Without Melies we wouldn’t now have directors like James Cameron, who pushes new digital techniques past their limits (Avatar, 2009) or Christopher Nolan, who creates as many ‘special effects’ in camera as possible (Inception, 2010).
La Voyage dans la Lune is a remarkable piece of cinematic history and kind of charming to watch even now. The face of cinema as we know it today owes a great debt to George Melies!!