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This is a guest post by Lauren Bailey

In 1902, well over half a century would pass before man took its first steps on the moon. Watching early film innovator George Melies’ stunning silent film, A Voyage to the Moon, fifty years after science fiction turned into science fact is an emphatically eerie experience. Although the film has been a mainstay of movie trivia for decades, its rerelease in 2011, accompanied by a new soundtrack from the band Air, is nothing short of cinematic history. In addition to the new soundtrack, the movie has been restored to its original full-color state. Melies had reportedly hand-painted each frame of the 15 minute movie, but this version was thought lost or destroyed. In 1993, a badly damaged color copy was found in a film archive in Spain. After over ten years of painstaking restoration, we now have the opportunity to see the movie as Melies intended.

Enjoying A Voyage to the Moon necessitates a fondness for quirky details, which is why repeat viewings of this short film are a must. The plot itself is simple—a group of turn-of-the-century men plan and successfully execute a trip to the moon and back. Their mode of transportation, a cannon-propelled, airship, carries the men to the lunar surface safely and effortlessly. The cabal of moon explorers takes a perfunctory nap, traipses through fantastical moon caverns, and eventually encounters hostile aliens. Panicked, the explorers attack, and find that the threatening moon beings can be exploded into non-existence with the mere swing of an umbrella. A short arrest brings our explorers to the moon alien king, who is summarily exploded by an explorer. The explorers escape, jump back into their airship, and return to a welcoming heroes’ parade. At less than a quarter of an hour long, the movie’s narrative arc is almost laughingly rudimentary. Soon, however, one realizes that the full weight of this film lies beyond its plot.

No discussion of the film would be complete without an exploration of the added soundtrack courtesy of French electronic band Air. While Air fans may have mixed feelings about the soundtrack as a standalone album, the music as it accompanies the film successfully teases out what for me is a central conceit of the movie—that atmosphere, at least in this sci-fi film, will trump narrative.  It’s particularly interesting to watch an earlier version of the film on YouTube, one which featured a different soundtrack, and then compare it to Air’s projections. Two songs played during two particular scenes were especially adept at capturing Voyage’s whimsical, gossamer essence—when the ship first departs and lands on the moon, and when the voyagers sleep and dream of comets and distant planets.

Still, there are moments during which Air’s musical interpretations seem off-the-mark. One aspect of the film largely removed by Air’s atmospherics is the film’s carnivalesque depiction of science. While it may seem an interpretive stretch to argue that Melies seeks to parody the inflated, self-important presumptions of scientific advancement, Melies himself stated as such during the movie’s making. The opening scene in particular, during which wizard-capped scientist caricatures argue the best way to reach the moon, is a shade heavy-handed when accompanied by Air’s melodramatic song “Astronomic Club.”

Despite this one shortcoming, the new version of Voyage to the Moon is sure to be a pleasurable, fifteen minute romp back in time. You’ll come away stunned by the film’s surprisingly advanced special effects and its delightful portrayal of the ultimate scientific feat—landing on the moon.

By-line:

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99 @gmail.com.

 [Editor’s Note] 

  • You can watch the original black and white film for free at YouTube.
  • You can purchase the new music CD by Air from Amazon.com.