To say “what in the world?” would, at least, be thematically correct but semantically in question. A Trip to the Moon is a brilliant, if quite odd, silent film in its own right and is still fascinating to watch over 100 years after its 1902 release date. It was created by the legendary Georges Méliès and is one of the first science-fiction movies ever created. He was a pioneer in early special effects and much of the movie is still impressive today, especially if you consider that we hadn’t even proven that heavier-than-air flight was possible until a year after its release.
As you could guess, the film is about a trip to the moon, helmed by an apparent crazy astronomer and his colleagues. I didn’t realize they were supposed to be called astronomers until looking it up later as they are dressed like dollar-store wizard Halloween costumes.
Essentially they build a giant bullet to sit in, shoot themselves to the moon and land safely. The most famous image of the film pictured above is on screen for maybe only 10 seconds and then passes on to the gentlemen walking around on the lunar surface unrestricted by silly space suits – and Matt Damon had to make living in space look so hard. Basically the “astronomers” explore our astronomical copine and discover a small, easily killed, alien species. They are captured, kill the king, then take a prisoner back to Earth by… falling off of the moon…? Neil deGrasse Tyson might have a few words to say on the physics of this universe. Once on Earth, they’re given silly medals that you might give kindergarteners for coloring insides the lines and the movie abruptly ends.
At times it’s difficult to follow exactly what the story is supposed to be saying but the film keeps your attention by constant movement. Cameras of the era were too big to move so the actors were instructed to always be moving while the camera was rolling to make it feel alive. You can easily see the transition from theatre to film in this movie.
Mr. Méliès never explicitly assigned a soundtrack to the movie (though he originally used classical music such as Barber of Seville) and was quite open to other artists adding their own music. I watched the color version which, also impressively, was a version that had been hand-painted film to add color to the film. It was accompanied not by classic musical but a rather surreal mix by the French band Air. At first the music seems an odd juxtaposition to the film itself but in the end, it really does tie the movie together in an unexpected way. I think it honestly makes it more relatable to the modern viewer. You can still watch the original uncolored version with a more classical soundtrack online but I don’t think you could go wrong either way, especially if you’re not just in it for a film history lesson.
Overall, I was impressed by A Trip to the Moon’s special effects and ability to roughly tell a story using only the movement of actors on a screen. There’s certainly worse ways to spend 15 minutes of your day and I’d highly recommend any science-fiction lover to see one of the primary ancestors of some of our favorites.