Note: This review originally appeared in the Winter 2017-18 Issue of Silent Film Quarterly.
I was introduced to A Trip to the Moon in a somewhat unconventional manner. In 1996, the Smashing Pumpkins released a music video for their song “Tonight, Tonight” clearly inspired by the work of Méliès. The first time I saw the video, I was captivated—the period costumes, the vaguely Victorian instruments the band plays, and the phantasmagorical story of a couple transported to the moon on a zeppelin. I was not surprised to learn that lead singer Billy Corgan, a pop-culture enthusiast who constantly incorporates references into his work, was emulating the style of a pioneer filmmaker (an earlier concept for the music video featured a Busby Berkeley-style production). In fact, it was after listening to the first Smashing Pumpkins album—titled Gish—that I became aware of the work of Lillian (who Corgan recalled was a favorite actress of his grandmother). It was clear to me that Billy Corgan had a fondness for silent cinema, and as a fan of his I felt compelled to explore the works of Georges Méliès.
Flicker Alley’s Georges Méliès: The First Wizard of Cinema was my first-ever silent film purchase, so it seems somewhat poignant to be reviewing the current reissue of A Trip to the Moon. I immediately began devouring all five discs. In a somewhat unusual progression, it was only after watching the films of Méliès that I discovered Chaplin, Keaton, Pickford, and Fairbanks.
As brilliant as many of Méliès’ films are—I challenge anyone to not be enraptured by The Impossible Voyage, The Kingdom of Fairies, or my personal favorite, The Conquest of the Pole—there is still something that sets A Trip to the Moon apart from its contemporaries. Maybe it is the Victorian cultural obsession with lunar expeditions that makes A Trip to the Moon so fascinating today (the film fits neatly alongside the works of Verne and Wells). Or perhaps it’s the otherworldly Selenite costumes, the steampunk aesthetic, or the now-famous shot of the rocket crashing into the moon’s face. Whatever the reason, A Trip to the Moon has become one of the few silent movies still recognizable to modern audiences.
The 2018 Flicker Alley reissue of A Trip to the Moon is in many ways similar to its 2012 predecessor. A score by the French band Air has been replaced by two new scores by Jeff Mills and Dorian Pimpernel, and the packaging has been overhauled (a 23-page booklet with photographs and an essay about the making of the film is a wonderful inclusion). The news scores are, to be honest, not for everyone—purists of the silent era will find the most enjoyment in Serge Bromberg’s piano score (with Méliès’ narration), but those who enjoy the likes of the Alloy Orchestra will appreciate what both composers bring to the table.
There is something inherently strange about such a lavish release for a film that runs a mere 15 minutes. It would be tempting to assume that such a release is redundant or nonessential, especially since A Trip to the Moon is available numerous places online for free. I would urge people who feel this way to reconsider. The quality of the print, the brilliance of the original tinted colors, the variety of scores and narration, and the bonus features included more than justify the re-release of this collection.
A Trip to the Moon is not just a milestone in the career of Méliès. When it was released it sparked entirely new genres of film, and it is still captivating to viewers 116 years after its original release. The version Flicker Alley presents here will be the definitive version for many years to come. If you own the 2012 version, an upgrade is probably not necessary; if not, please do yourself a favor and revisit Méliès’ masterpiece.