Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Overlooked Films: A Trip to the Moon (1902) in Color!

You’ve probably seen this one, or at least pieces of it. But have you seen it in color? I had no idea it existed until I spotted this DVD at the library. I still prefer the black and white version (for me, the cheesy color destroys the illusion) but it’s still mighty interesting.

You be the judge. The color version (all 15 minutes of it) is presented below, courtesy of YouTube, and the black and white version is easily found there too.

A Trip to the Moon was released by Georges Melies - probably in black and white - way back in 1902, and hailed as the first science fiction film. It was also most likely the first film to tell a narrative story, despite that honor being claimed by The Great Train Robbery, released in 1903.

Hats off to the brave travelers.

Locked and loaded.

Between 1896 and 1913, Melies produced over 500 films. All were shot in black and white, and coloring them was a laborious process. Melies used a company employing 300 women to squint and apply paint to the film, frame by tiny frame. For a film like A Trip to the Moon, which had somewhere in the neighborhood of 13,000 frames, that took a long time. And all that work produced only one print.

At some point, obviously, this was done to A Trip to the Moon, but it’s existence was only dreamed of until 1993, when a color print finally surfaced. It was in such bad shape that it had to wait eight years for technology to reach the point where restoration could begin. Even then, the work had to be done frame-by-frame, with missing pieces colored and added from black and white prints, and took another ten years to complete. The restored version made it’s debut at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, with a new soundtrack by Air.


Nighttime on the moon.

First contact.

The DVD release also features a documentary on Melies life and work. He was, it appears, the first to realize the possibilities of special effects, and clips from many amazing short films are included. There are also clips from an episode of the HBO documentary From Earth to the Moon, in which Tom Hanks portrays Melies at work on A Trip to the Moon.

Trapped by the Martians, some of whom look like college kids.

Luckily, the Martians prove fragile. Hit 'em and they explode.

Melies own story was not so happy. When he released the film in 1902, it was immediately pirated and shown in the U.S. and other countries without him getting a dime. And in 1908, the U.S. studio Pathe made an unauthorized remake called An Excursion to the Moon. Then live action came into vogue, and audiences lost interest in Melies’ studio-bound fantasies. He closed up shop for good in 1913.

According to the documentary, Melies eventually burned his own copies of 500+ films, though other sources say the French Army melted many of them down to use the raw materials for - among other things - heels for soldiers’ boots. To date only about 200 of his films have been recovered.

The Martians bid their guests an angry adieu.

The heroes return. Much revelry ensues.

More Overlooked Films, and more revelry, at SWEET FREEDOM.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Brilliant choice, Evan! Never heard of it, so never saw it. I'd like to see the black-and-white version first before I see it in colour. I wonder what the sets were like then. Interesting this film should be made a year after H.G. Wells wrote "The First Men in the Moon" that has a similar theme.

Evan Lewis said...

This was supposedly inspired by the Wells book, and Jules Verne's From Earth to the Moon.