A Trip To The Moon: Review
Editors Note: This post is a bit of an experiment. Two of my students handed in exceptional one page summaries on the 1902 short film, A Trip To The Moon. So I decided to merge them together (with their permission) into one larger review. I think they both got a good sense of the film. I’ve credit each with the sections they contributed.
Kailee: Before beginning A Trip to the Moon, I had no idea what to expect. However, once the film began it was clear that this was a specific style back in the 1900’s. Moon is a French silent film directed by the historically revered Georges Méliès. This film was very standard, with no camera movement or different angles whatsoever, making it very difficult for a millennial to watch. I found myself struggling to become engaged in the plot. I then realized that the score had a major impact on the film; without the music, it would be even more difficult to understand. Proving that music can truly set the tone for an entire movie, having an immense impact on the progression of a film, its plot, making or breaking it.
Jeff: Considering that the film was completed in 1902 it shows an amazing number of stylistic tricks and techniques which I’m sure Méliès’ contemporaries quickly tried to emulate: multiple sets and scenes, beautifully painted backdrops, props with moving parts, elaborate costumes (I have to admit that I am disappointed that modern academics no longer wear tall, pointy wizard hats!), and a wide variety of special effects.
Kailee: This film was shot in a very theatrical style, which meant it was shot as if you were watching it on stage. Whenever there was a scene change, there would simply be a cross fade for a transition. So, the camera stayed in one place when rolling, and did not move at all. By placing the camera in one spot the entire time the filmmaker was able to capture the scene in its entirety. This means you’re more focused on the physical movements of the actors (or their over acting), and less concerned with the silence. Without dialogue, it actually made sense by having the film shot the way it was; because if there were any types of close ups or interesting angles, dialogue would be preferred. Instead, this film focuses solely on story telling through theatrical action. This makes the audience focus in on the music in the film, as well as the scenery.
Jeff: I was particularly taken with the backdrops, which were simple, almost cartoonish, and yet very effective. I noticed that they were painted in a high contrast style to accentuate their visibility in the film; I’m assuming that a normally painted backdrop would have appeared rather flat, and needed the extra pop that Méliès provided in order to maximize effectiveness, a skill no doubt developed during his magician days. I was somewhat surprised at the costuming for the women: the uniforms seemed too modern for 1902 and my guess is that in 1902 their outfits would have been considered somewhat risqué, perhaps influenced by vaudeville and burlesque? Apparently “sex sells” even back in the 1900’s.
Kailee: There were a number of special effects that were used in order to heighten the film’s unique quality since the story is a straightforward narrative.
Jeff: The underground scenes on the Moon, with demonic-appearing moon-men leaping from seemingly nowhere, then “poofing” into smoke when struck, would have seemed either horrifying or hilarious to audiences at the turn of the century, though I’m not sure which! I also appreciated the humor throughout the film. Although, It was eerie watching a film with no sound, and no title boards! It was truly up to you, the viewer, to piece together what was happening in each scene, and deduce who the primary characters were. I continue to be amazed at Méliès’ ingenuity and imagination. He was truly a genius of cinema.
Kailee: After watching the film, I decided to do some research, and I realized that this was a very internationally popular film back in 1902. After discovering this, it made sense; I could see as to why this film style set the tone for the future of filmmaking around the world. This film’s influential style left a significant artistic imprint with not only French filmmaking, but American filmmaking as well, inspiring the genre of science fiction in films.