Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

A Trip to the Moon

(Le Voyage dans la lune)

Notes: 21 minutes (2 reels)
Directed: Georges Méliès
Camera: Lucien Tainguy

Leader of Expedition: Georges Méliès
Lady in the Moon: Bluette Bernon
Also: Victor André, Farjaux-Kelm-Brunnet, and the Ballet Girls of the Théatre du Chatelet

Pre-Commentary: The film parodies a Jules Verne story, From the Earth to the Moon, and H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, but Méliès insisted that narrative considerations were negligible for him compared to his film tricks, his “little abracadabras.”

Summary: Follies girls celebrate the trip and a large cannon shoots a spaceship full of scientists to the moon. They hit the eye of the man in the moon, sleep on the moon’s surface, and are covered with lunar dust. They discover a cave with giant mushrooms and soil fertile enough to allow their umbrellas to take root. An alien disappears when tapped with an umbrella. The scientists are captured and taken to the moon’s ruler, protected by his lobster guard. They escape, return to Earth, land in the ocean, and get picked up by a ship.

Commentary: Most consider this the first significant science fiction film, primarily because of its relative length for the time. Around 1900, in America, England, and France, filmmakers began to tell stories that, even if crude, required more than one shot. French magician Georges Méliès was one of the pioneers who devised a style of cutting to continuity, with narrative segments connected by a fade-out then a fade-in to the next. After seeing the Lumière brothers’ first film project in 1895, he rigged a combined camera and projector and began making phantasmagorias blending stage effects and new optical effects such as multiple exposure. So in addition to being an innovator in the narrative full-length film, Méliès can be considered the first special-effects wizard. He accidentally discovered special effects, the story goes, while filming on a Paris street in 1896. His camera jammed, so that after he fixed the problem and developed the film, the gap made it look like a bus had turned into a hearse. Thereafter, he advertised his films as stories in “arranged scenes.” He created such scenes as two dirigibles floating a railroad car into outer space. By 1924 he was reduced to obscurity, selling toys in a Paris subway kiosk.

Science Fiction Films