30 Days, 30 Classics – Day 3: Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)
Posted on October 4, 2012
Le Voyage Dans La Lune or The Voyage To The Moon, is an early silent film from film-making pioneer Georges Melies. Its short story sees a group of explorers travel to the moon and have an encounter with the natives. Melies takes the part of the astronomer who overseas the mission. Le Voyage Dans La Lune became very popular on its release, making Melies famous in America.
Melies’ work was recently brought to the masses in Martin Scorsese’s 2011 hit Hugo which featured a fictionalised account of Melies’ life, being based on the children’s book The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Scorsese’s Hugo delves into the work of Melies with fictionalised behind the scenes footage of his studio and featuring clips from his work, including Le Voyage Dans La Lune.
I love the way Melies’ imagination comes to life in Le Voyage Dans La Lune. The image of the ‘spaceship’ hitting the moon in the eye is now iconic but there are so many other fascinating ideas during the films fourteen minutes. My personal favourites include the way in which the explorers use gravity to return to earth and sleep underneath stars that appear alive.
Trained as a magician with a strong interest in stage magic, Melies brought this creative approach to his film-making, developing many early special effects. Le Voyage Dans La Lune features many of these early techniques including the use of smoke and the stop trick to make objects disappear. One of my favourites takes place in the moon caves – an explorer puts up his umbrella and it becomes a giant toadstool.
“Le Voyage Dans La Lune feels a little crazy, almost dreamlike and is very freeing to watch”
Inspired by the work of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, it’s incredible to see the early visual interpretations of this genre. Le Voyage Dans La Lune feels a little crazy, almost dreamlike and is very freeing to watch. It is pure imagination and does not feel confined by reality or realism as many modern science fiction films do.
The newly restored tinted colour version of Le Voyage Dans La Lune (the colour was painted on by hand afterwards) adds to that atmosphere of fantasy as the images appear somewhere between reality and a moving painting or animation. Until 1993 all hand-coloured versions of the film were thought to be lost, when a badly decomposed painted print was found by a Spanish film archive. The newly restored colour version debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. You can read more about the restoration project and the documentary about the restoration process, The Extraordinary Voyage, in this article on thefastcompany.com.
Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a time capsule transporting it’s audience back to a different age. The origin of today’s science fiction and fantasy movies, Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a groundbreaking piece of cinema and a joy to watch.
You can watch the full Le Voyage Dans La Lune below – the first video uses an early twentieth century piano and music box score, while the second has a more modern score from Air (the album Le Voyage Dans La Lune is available to buy). The closing music is particularly good on this one but very modern. This second version was used for the restored film’s premiere at Cannes last year. Of course it’s an old film so it flashes a bit and might hurt your eyes if they’re a bit sensitive.