In my May 31st entry for Amazing Stories I wrote about the first science fiction film, The Mechanical Butcher. Although the term “science fiction” had not yet been coined, and cinema-goers were fascinated more by the concept of the new moving picture invention than the subject itself, the Lumiere brothers’ film started a trend in motion picture history that has never stopped.
Since that May article, there have been major announcements and revelations about upcoming science fiction movies and TV shows that have fans on the edge of their seats as release dates rapidly approach. Many of these films are what are considered epics—all-star casts, filming on sets of massive proportions, lavish budgets, and all-too-often fantastic achievements at the box office. In honor of the on-going string of epic science fiction films that have been released in recent years I thought I would continue writing about the history of the science fiction film by talking about the very first epic of the genre, Georges Melies’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon).
Made in 1902 and based on novels by both Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the film is perhaps also the first major adaption of a science fiction novel, appearing in the aftermath of Wells’ The First Men in the Moon and features the alien Selenites. Drawing inspiration from Verne, the plot has a small team of researchers (led by the film’s master Melies himself) board what is for all intents and purposes a giant bullet and be blasted into space. In early 1900s charm this vessel crashes into one of the eyes of the “Man in the Moon: After a brief exploration of the Moon’s surface, the group must flee underground to escape a snowstorm and end up captives of the native Selenites. Discovering that the Selenites disintegrate when struck, the heroes are able to make their way back to the space-bullet, somehow dislodge it and fall back to Earth, crashing into the ocean. After a brief “tour” of the bottom of the ocean the gang are rescued, and welcomed back home as heroes.
Lasting around 21 minutes in an era where films usually only ran for a single minute, A Trip to the Moon is regarded as Georges Melies’ masterpiece. The picture of the spacecraft protruding from the Moon Man’s eye is one of the most famous scenes of all time. Melies wrote, directed, constructed and even starred in the film himself, and it was perhaps his fame as a magician that helped it garner the success it had. Unfortunately, it also fell victim to piracy, and did not make its creator as much money as he deserved. Still, its success and influence led to it being named as one of the 100 Greatest Films of the 20th Century by The Village Voice.
It can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.