2012 Film Challenge #35 - Le Voyage Dans La Lune
There's a strange feeling in watching a film made 110 years ago.
It must be a combination of the outlandish, impressionistic sets, the emphatic gestures in lieu of speech, the graininess, the fact that all colour's been applied by painting by hand and, apart from anything else, the notion that without exception, everyone you see drifting jerkily before you must have died years ago.
Of course, as time progresses, this feeling will become increasingly commonplace. There will eventually come a time when watching a film more than a century old will be as taken for granted as is reading a book more than a century old.
Today, though, there's the poignancy. The gravity.
This was a restored colour version of Le Voyage Dans La Lune. However, by “restored colour”, it's thankfully nothing like that bizarre eighties re-imagining of Metropolis with added neon lights and music by Queen.
Rather, this is the first time since, perhaps, the film's initial release that the whole thing's been realised in gloriously muted dreamlike washes of colour. This edition was thought lost, rediscovered in 1993 and brought to full fruition in 2010 – with the missing segments recoloured using footage from the existing black and white version.
And it looks magnificent.
It's always been the case that this – what must be the first ever science fiction film – was completely unlike anything that ever came before. Lord knows the joy and wonder if must have brought to the virginal eyes of 1902.
Only whilst watching it in the original colour, though, does it become apparent that neither does it resemble anything that's come since. Not even films from the same era come with this amount of otherworldly serenity. And, even though I still believe it to be the most wonderful music video ever made, the grand homage that is The Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight Tonight has nothing on this – even though it's essentially a frame-by-frame remake.
It's only sixteen minutes long, and it follows a storyline so linear it hardly even qualifies as a plot. But there's so much breathless exuberance inherent in every inch of every frame - my favourite being the overwhelmed joy of the scientists as they see Earth from space for the very first time.
It's easy to forget that, when this film came out, nobody had seen the Earth from space – and indeed wouldn't for nearly 70 years more. It's a truly spellbinding moment; a very early hint at the transcendent, soul-enriching power that cinema would possess before long.
It's all set to a new soundtrack by Air. I'd been listening to the soundtrack for some weeks before I actually got round to watching the film on the bonus DVD. Though I really enjoyed the music,it being a curious mix of banjo, spacey synths, proggy breakdowns and Herbie Hancock style funk noodlings, I wasn't quite sure how effectively it would marry up with the visuals.
It does, though. The album is effectively a standalone entity to the soundtrack, and the soundtrack takes the dreamiest, most extraterrestial moments to make an ideal compliment. Like a jam session conducted by mad scientists, it may even be the case that this is the sort of music Georges Melies himself might have chosen as accompaniment had the technology been available in 1902.