Film reviews

Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon – Blu-ray Review

Georges Méliès. A name that is well-known to cinema buffs and aficionados of moviemaking history, but one which has almost vanished into obscurity amongst the general public. Yet Méliès is owed a massive debt for having pioneered the early techniques of filmmaking, in devising and refining so many of the methods which later became standard among his successors across the following decades.

Dissolves, superimpositions, multiple exposures, time lapse, substitution splices: Georges Méliès truly broke new ground in this fresh medium,  blazing a trail with his genuine vision and creativity.  In a career which lasted 17 years, he directed more than 500 films, yet Méliès almost ended up without a legacy. Having had so many of his works duplicated by others without permission in an age before strict copyright laws, as well as losing control of his studio to Pathé, Méliès ended up burning the negatives to his films in retaliation, many being the only versions in existence.

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Thankfully, over 200 of his productions have survived to this day, yet Méliès still appears to be at risk of failing to receive the recognition he deserves. Efforts have been made to have Méliès‘ profile raised during recent years, such as the novel The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, depicting an older Méliès working as holder of a small toy stall in Paris’ Gare Montparnasse, which is what happened in real life after his retirement from showbusiness; it was adapted into the 2011 film Hugo by Martin Scorsese, casting Sir Ben Kingsley as Méliès.

The final episode of the HBO mini-series From The Earth To The Moon juxtaposed the very last mission to the Moon with the making of Méliès‘ most famous work, Le Voyage Dans La Lune (or A Trip To The Moon). Whether or not you knew that it was Méliès who made it, the iconography of it has endured, through the famous image of the Man In The Moon having a capsule fired into his eye. The film was also used as the basis of the accompanying video for the Smashing Pumpkins song ‘Tonight, Tonight’, and Queen’s music video for ‘Heaven For Everyone‘ was made up of excerpts from a number of Méliès’ works, including A Trip To The Moon.

Arrow Academy brings A Trip To The Moon to Blu-ray with a set containing two versions of the feature – a monochrome one, and a hand-coloured print which was only rediscovered in 1993 and has been painstakingly restored. Given that the hand-coloured print had been done with Méliès‘ approval, it avoids the trap of the colourised versions of black and white films which have been put together over the years, running contrary to directors’ visions. The vivid, flickering colours of this print add an extra dimension, and certainly bring things to life in an unexpected way.

When your main feature runs to around a quarter of an hour, the big challenge is finding a way to get people to purchase any physical media release; even having two versions of the film mean that the overall run time comes to just around 30 minutes. Thankfully, Arrow Academy has given a number of extra ways in which to enjoy the film, with the monochrome and hand-coloured prints each having a variety of different audio tracks, from just musical scores to narrated versions, and even one where actors are providing dialogue for what was originally made as a silent movie.

In addition, the impressive raft of extras provides essential value for money, including a new video essay by the writer and documentary filmmaker Jon Spira, taking a closer look not just at A Trip To The Moon, but also Méliès‘ career. The perfect companion piece to this comes in the form of 1952 short biopic Le Grand Méliès, which runs us through Méliès’ life at a brisk pace, lasting around half an hour; as well as it touching on all the main events, and giving us some insight into Méliès the man and Méliès the artist, it has additional novelty in that Méliès is actually portrayed by his actor son, André.

Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange’s 2011 documentary feature An Extraordinary Voyage looks at the rediscovery of A Trip To The Moon, as well as all the preservation and restoration work put into saving the only hand-coloured print known to exist, which was in such a fragile and decaying state that it was disintegrating even as it was in the process of trying to be rescued. Seeing the efforts to which all behind such an immense effort went in trying to preserve a piece of cinema history before it was lost forever does make you appreciate the hand-coloured version even more, and certainly drives its significance home.

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Although not available for review, this extremely limited-edition set also contains an English translation of the long-lost autobiography by Méliès, originally penned in 1937, a year before his death. The rare memoir was located from a bookseller in France, and Jon Spira launched a Kickstarter in 2018 to have the first ever English edition printed. As it was originally just 32 pages in length, supplementary materials for this imprint have been provided by Spira, plus a range of other contributors, such as filmmaker Michel Gondry, whose works include Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

Méliès‘ place in the whole story of the cinema truly needs to have a reappraisal, with proper appreciation given to all of his achievements and accomplishments. Arrow Academy’s immaculate presentation of A Trip To The Moon will surely go a long way towards helping with that much-needed and long overdue discussion, and is a worthy addition to those who not only love the medium as a whole, but also want to see Méliès‘ work being treated with the veneration which it truly warrants.

Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray exclusively from Arrow.

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