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Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Actually, I had written this piece earlier, but had never posted it online. Recently, I watched Hugo (a tribute to the great ‘Cinemagician’ Georges Méliès) and the famous scene of the space capsule landing into the eye of the moon reminded me of LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE.

H G Wells and Jules Verne were definitely the best writers in the history of science fiction. And when a movie is inspired from novels written by these two authors, you expect the very best. If the movie is the very first movie in the genre, then it is all the more special. I am referring to the movie LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE ( A TRIP TO THE MOON) .

‘A TRIP TO THE MOON ‘ is a black and white movie which was released in 1902. The movie has been produced and directed by Georges Méliès, who has also starred in it. He has co-written the movie with his brother Gaston Méliès. The movie belongs to the silent era but per say, it is a French movie, the narration in the original movie being French. Interestingly enough, the movie is now more than 100 years old and copyright laws are no more applicable on it and is now available in the public domain.

The movie is 14 minutes long (depending on the frame rate as it is a silent movie) and begins with a meeting of astronomers. The president of the astronomers addresses the group and proposes a trip to the moon. He explains by drawing images on the black board how a bullet shaped projectile would take them to the moon. After some infighting and indecision, they reach a consensus of making a trip to the moon Five of the astronomers agree to accompany the president on his voyage. They proceed to inspect the construction of the space capsule and subsequently, they enter the completed space capsule. The capsule, the shape of a bullet is inserted into huge cannon. The cannon is lit and the capsule disappears into space.

Once, the crew reaches the moon, they get out of the capsule and are more than happy to see the completely new surroundings. They are tired and fatigued and they take out their blankets to sleep. During their sleep, many stars and comets visit them. Saturn and Phoebe too visit them – all in human form. It is not very clear whether they are dreaming about these heavenly beings or the heavenly beings are actually a part of the story. Phoebe – the moon goddess is not very happy to see the intruders and she brings about snow fall to disturb them. The astronomers then seek refuge in a crater. Once inside the crater, some strange incidents occur. One of the astronomers sticks his umbrella into the ground and it turns into a mushroom. They are then attacked by some creatures – selenites that are native to the planet. These selenites are delicate and explode when enough pressure is applied. The astronomers are captured but they escape and all except the president get into the capsule. The capsule incidentally is resting beside a cliff. The president drags the capsule off the clip and it falls off the face of the moon. The capsule comes back to earth, it lands into a water body and is rescued by a steamer. At this point, it is told that a grand reception is awaiting them for completing the voyage successfully.

Needless to say, the movie being a science fiction, a lot of events which are out of the world or IMPOSSIBLE have to be captured on film. If you compare the special effects with those in current movies, they would look completely tacky and not at all make believe at some points. But at a time when even sound recording did not exist, coming out with so many camera tricks is really exceptional. The part about selenites has been picked up from ‘THE FIRST MEN ON MOON’ by H G Wells. The whole idea about the projectile being shot into space has been inspired by ‘FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON’ by Jules Verne. Also the initial part of the story about the president proposing to the club members has an uncanny resemblance to ‘FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON’. Here, I must say that Jules Verne did a great job in actually trying to find out the rough estimate of a canon which could launch such a payload into space. Though the escape velocity could never be reached using Verne’s apparatus, still it has been observed that the projectile could have covered quite a considerable  distance provided a chemical suitable for the explosion of the canon is obtained.

This movie is special in another way. Most of the contemporary science fiction movies are just that – fiction or just plain impossible with the current technology available. But ‘LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE’ depicts something, which we know is not only possible, but is quite common these days. The first  time a man-made object was launched into space was on October 3 1942, when Germans launched the V2 rocket. Subsequently, many developments have taken place and on, July 20, 1969, Man set foot on the surface of moon. Thus the events transpiring in the movie are at least 67 years ahead of time and hence we must understand that some erroneous depictions are bound to happen.

What were the erroneous depictions in the movie ? To start with, the way the projectile is launched – though the basic idea has remained the same all thse years, it definitely takes more than a simple canon to launch a rocket into space. Also, though the astronomers wear some kind of suit, it is not vaccum proof and definitely they have not taken the oxygen masks along. Another flaw is probably in the way the capsule lands on moon without any hassles as the gravity in moon would be quite different and finally, the capsule falling off the edge of the moon didn’t look convincing at all.

Looking at the brighter side, the concept of aliens was introduced and as in most of the contemporary movies, it is the human beings who are the ultimate winners. The special effects, specially depicting the moon with a human face and bringing it closer as they land in the eye of the moon was commendable. The scene showing the umbrella turning into a mushroom and the bursting of the selenites are some scenes which have been carried out very smoothly.

All in all, the first science fiction ever was some really high quality stuff and it has set the tone for a  whole genre of movies entertaining us and capturing our imagination over the past century.

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