A Trip to the Moon – 1902

This short film from 1902 is quite famous and I’m sure I’ve seen parts of it before.  The scene of the space capsule hitting the man-in-the-moon in the eye is particularly well known.  in 1902, Teddy Roosevelt was president, Ford Motor Company did not yet exist and reliable airplanes were still several years away.  Radio and automobiles existed as curiosities, not yet ready for the masses.  It was a world that looked more like the 19th century than the 20th century.  I can barely imagine what this movie must have looked like to a person of that era.  Since the filmmaker, Georges Méliès, had a background as a stage magician, I’m guessing that was the closest thing that people had to relate it to.  There are several versions around on YouTube, the internet archive, and elsewhere on the inter-webs.  Some versions have restored hand colorization, some have updated soundtracks, and some include an extra minute or so of recently rediscovered footage.  I watched the “extended version” with no soundtrack.

The movie starts out with a convention of Dumbledore look-alikes.  I’m not sure if these guys are supposed to be scientists or wizards.  Maybe that line was much more blurry in 1902 than it is today.   Next, some female assistants in yoga pants deliver telescopes to the Dumbledorians.  1902.  Yoga pants.  Really.   Anyway, the scientists magically transform their telescopes into stools then they all have a seat and get down to serious discussion.  The boss-of-the-Dumbledores gets across the idea that he wants to send a rocket to the moon.  All hell breaks loose and goofy bickering ensues.

A group of adventurers step forward and prove their resolve by changing clothes on screen.  This part baffled me.  Why did they change out of the wizard suits?  In the future, will it be socially unacceptable to be seen in public in a wizard hat?  Are they a cult?  Are they trying to disguise themselves?  Or are the new clothes just their space suits?  If they are wizards, why couldn’t they just snap their fingers like they did with the telescopes-to-stools?

Whatever the reason, the magical scientists, now dressed in top hats and frock coats, go on a field trip to inspect the progress of their space ship.  On the construction site, the workmen have a good laugh at the clumsy eggheads.  This strikes me as a universal commentary on relations between the intelligentsia and the working class buried in some slapstick humor.

Soon we are ready to launch!  Feminine eyecandy in hot-pants-sailor-suits are on hand to assist the loading of our bumbling heroes into their spaceship.  The ladies also lend a festive air to the proceedings.  Watch the sailor girl on the left.  This was filmed the year before the Wright Brother’s flight and I swear she’s telling the old dudes to be sure their tray tables are in the upright and locked position prior to takeoff.

The spaceship is sort of a cross between a tin can and a howitzer shell.  All of the heavy lifting and loading gets handled by the sailor suit girls except for the actual lighting of the fuse.  I guess it’s like barbecuing.  “Outdoor work involving fire?  We need a man for that!”  Anyway, there’s a silent bang, the girls wave their hats, and we’re on our way to the moon!

After the scene involving the partial blinding of the man-in-the-moon, our six heroes emerge safely from the spaceship.  They hop around excitedly as they watch the planet earth rise over the lunar landscape.  This is a scene that eerily anticipates a picture of Earthrise from the moon taken by an Apollo astronaut in 1968.

Still dressed in their frock coats, our aged gentlemen pull out some blankets and settle down for a camp-out on the moon.  A cosmic dream sequence ensues featuring constellations and more pretty girls.  The reference to “heavenly bodies” is clearly a very old cliche’.  The adventurers awake to a snowfall, then toddle off to explore the moon.  They soon find themselves in a fantastic cavern with giant mushrooms that makes them look like extras from “Darby O’Gill & the Little People”.  This is where they discover that they are not alone.

Some acrobatic moon men dressed in costumes that are sort of skeletal-lizard-primitive-troglodytes take our heroes captive and deliver them to their leader.  Not to go quietly, the earth men show that they are more than a match by smashing the moon men to the ground causing the moon guys to disappear in a puff of smoke.  Anyway, our heroes beat feat back to the spaceship while the moon men give chase.  Many a luckless moon dude dies a smokey bloodless death after being pummeled with an umbrella, kicked in the pants, or thrown to the ground.

Traveling from the moon back to earth without a giant cannon to shoot your bullet-ship involves, um, well, it just happens, OK?  The capsule splashes down safely in the ocean and is towed back home by a steam powered paddle boat.  A parade through downtown Munchkin-land is then held for the returning heroes.  The hot-pants sailor girls are the first to officially welcome the heroes home.  The only dark note is that one of the moon guys seems to have stowed away on the space ship.  This might be the very first movie space alien to invade Earth.  He(?) starts off looking threatening but ends up busting some crazy dance moves.  The movie ends as the hot pants sailor girls dance around a statue of the Dumbledore boss.

This movie is really fast paced and contains many quick sight gags.  Because of this, you really have to watch it several times to catch everything.  Every scene has lots of action and never fewer than 6  people.  I think this is part of the reason the movie has aged well and is still enjoyable by modern audiences.  Even though the film was made in France, there are no title boards and the plot is simple enough to be followed easily without any dialogue.

I also watched one of the hand colorized versions of the film.  The colors shift a lot from frame to frame which lends an impressionistic feel to the movie that some people may like.  I found it to be distracting, drawing  my eye away from parts of the frame where much of the action was taking place.  The shifting colors soon got tiring.

Notable moment: Space alien stow-away invades earth but just has to dance.

 

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  1. The Lost World – 1925 | A spaceship, a dinosaur, or a guy with a sword - May 28, 2014

    […] the movie opened my first impression was that the pacing was very slow compared to “A Trip to the Moon“.   I found myself missing the action packed frames in which every person on screen was […]

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