0023 | Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon)

Yesterday, at various points of the day, I was made aware of a new film/extended headache/death advert that will be released imminently in the UK that goes by the name G.I. Joe: Retaliation 3D. First of all the poster artwork appeared as the background to a website that I visit on a daily basis. Then I saw a couple of posters as I made my way home by public transport. And lastly I saw a couple of short 30 second ads for it on TV in the evening.

Now, please bear with me here … or rather please bear with my judgemental nature. The G.I. Joe franchise (from the early 20th Century comics right the way through to the Hasbro toys and the films we are presented with today) has never really captured the wider public imagination over here in sniffy, namby pamby we-don’t-like-guns-and-we’ll-be-all-superior-about-it-forever England. And yes, I’m sorry we’re like this. And I’m sorry we always say sorry. I haven’t seen this or any other G.I. Joe movie. Sorry.

That means, aside from telling you that G.I. Joe is an American soldier, I can’t dredge up a single further relevant fact to share from the ‘cinema information’ quarter of my brain. I do admittedly have a dim awareness that the films are supposedly noisy pieces of charbroiled horseshit made for brain-dead fools, who actually pay for the privilege of sitting there for 90 minutes with permanent boners (even the women) while magazine after magazine of ammunition is clipped into place and then fired repeatedly at moronic bad guys who threaten to undermine all those terrible things that the US War Machine stands for, like drone strikes on undefended villages full of civilians going about their daily business or the right to freely holler “BOO-YA!” and “GET SOME!” repeatedly. There are hundreds of thousands of people willing to pay to watch the G.I. Joe explosiathons, meaning our increasingly-valuable cinema screens are occupied with this kind of noisy tat, when they could actually be showing something worthwhile (like Hugh Grant repeatedly mumbling the word ‘sorry’ in his latest film Four Mumbles And A Loving Sorry Actually).

And you thought you were just going to read a piece about Georges Méliès’ 1902 silent short Le Voyage Dans Le Lune. Ha!

So anyway, I digress. In the evening, after being unexpectedly made privy to the poster art several times during the day, I saw the TV ad spots (On the subject of this, briefly, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to call the film Vests, Tits and Guns: 3D instead?) These were little more than a series of rapidly-cut images, about a billionth of a nano-second in length, which showed the central characters of G.I. Joe: Retaliation 3D brandishing their various weapons of choice. A sword of some description, at one point. Some guns. Some bigger guns. Some monumentally-big guns. I’m not really sure as it all happened a bit too quickly for my puny human brain with its outmoded ability to process images at a pathetic speed of approximately one-tenth of a second. The only other image I took in was that of the UK’s Houses of Parliament being blown up, which presumably meant the screenwriter and director at some point went through a long list of iconic buildings and that was the first one they came to that hadn’t been GET SOME-d in some other tediously unimaginative military advert masquerading as an action film. That’s what I think happened, at least. My brain quickly processed it as something I had never seen before, before moving swiftly on to process an advert for a car. Or dog food. Or whatever.

Then, this morning, I happened to watch Méliès’ film on the way to work. You might be wondering why I’ve just spent several paragraphs slating a film I haven’t even bothered to go and see, but after seeing Le Voyage Dans La Lune my mind started to wander, and the question I came up with was this: ‘how on earth did we go so very, very wrong?’

Rather than include a ‘normal’ review here, I’ll just include a synopsis of the film. Méliès’ begins by showing us a bunch of astronomers / explorers that are planning a trip to the Moon. They build a rocket which is then shot towards the Moon from a giant gun, famously landing in the Moon’s eye. On the surface, the six explorers sleep and dream of Saturn and the Moon goddess Phoebe; we also see a comet pass by and the Big Dipper (or The Plough if you’re English). The explorers travel into a cavern full of giant mushrooms and are captured by alien ‘Selenites’. They are brought before the King of the Selenites but manage to escape and ‘descend’ back to Earth, though one Selenite manages to grab onto their ship (I’m pretty sure Ridley Scott was paying attention at this point). After landing in the ocean they are towed back to land by a boat, where a celebratory parade is held and the captured Selenite is displayed for all to see. The version I watched was in black and white; there is a colourized version and an earlier version which does not include the celebration.

In my mind Le Voyage Dans La Lune stands for many things, despite it being less than a quarter of an hour in length. It symbolizes the idea of film as a playful, creative medium that – in the right hands – can excite and entertain audiences thanks to all of the aesthetic qualities it might incorporate, and simultaneously it can advance our understanding of ourselves and the universe around us (Eh? – Ed). It’s an early example of how the medium can be used to hold a mirror up to society (and, in this case, criticize it, but this isn’t really anything new when you consider the history of theatre). It is also a film that indicates or explores just how much possibility is afforded by the cinema; it would be several decades before man could actually travel to the moon, but Méliès is able to show us something that was a pipe dream in 1902, even if it had been imaginatively described in literature. The impact at the time must have been incredible, however unrealistic it appears (in the famous scene where the Moon is shown replete with a face, the rocket that lands in the Moon’s eye is scaled ridiculously – the viewer is required to suspend disbelief throughout). 110 years later, what kind of impact is there when someone decides they want to show us the Houses of Parliament being blown up for the first time?

The story of film is one where the incredible imagination of its makers has been tied to the development of the necessary technologies in order to get those very ideas onto a big screen. Méliès used substitution cuts for many of his special effects, but for me they are more enjoyable to watch than most modern, polished computer-generated effects.

Today we supposedly have all the technology we will ever need, but what is it being used for? What happens when we start to travel further along this path of G.I. Joe films, of Michael Bay films, of films that are basically just extended explosion wankfests designed to appease idiots that sheepishly ask us as viewers nothing except for the question “will this do?” (And the answer, firmly, is ‘no’.) Are we creating a world where the only films that will ever get made in the future are those that return billions of dollars of profit? Why did a bunch of people who fell in love with the possibilities offered by cinema (independently of each other at some point in their life and strongly enough to work within that industry) subsequently gather together and agree to make G.I. Joe: Retaliation 3D, whatever amount of money they received? Granted plenty of extras might have needed the money, but Bruce Willis? Channing Tatum?

In my mind Le Voyage is the sounding of a starting pistol (which is pretty impressive for a silent film). It was a statement: here’s what you can do … now go and make Citizen Kane. Go and make 2001: A Space Odyssey. Go and make Fitzcarraldo. Go and make Titanic. Hell, go and fucking make The Naked Gun if you really want to. Don’t go and make G.I. Joe: Retaliation 3D. Don’t go and make a film that appears to be nothing more than an early warning of a death knell, a crudely-made stain on all that’s worthwhile and artistic and beautiful and interesting. Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a perfect example of an early filmmaker rejoicing in the possibilities afforded to him by cinema. Over a hundred years later, it’s amazing that so much money is regularly being spent on films that essentially amount to nothing but vacuums of ideas.

Now I’m going to look pretty stupid when Joe cleans up at next year’s Oscars.

The Basics:
Directed by: Georges Méliès
Written by: Georges Méliès, Gaston Méliès
Starring: Georges Méliès, Victor André, Bleuette Bernon, Jeanne d’Alcy, Henri Delannoy
Certificate: U
Running Time: 12 minutes
Year: 1902
Rating: 7.5 

Comments 6

  1. Todd Benefiel March 28, 2013

    Yes, I’ll have to agree…sometimes I wonder how on earth did a particular film make it beyond the idea stage and actually make it into theaters as a finished product? What group of people sat around a table for hours and excitedly jumped up and said, “Let’s do this!” And in the meantime, while these overblown junkfests are raking in millions, so many smart, well-made little films are disappearing under the radar, rarely to be seen again.

    I guess that’s why my DVD collection is loaded with films of the 1940s and 1950s, and my favorite cable channel of all time is Turner Classic Movies.

    And if it helps any, Stu, when I was five or six I opened a present from my aunt and uncle for my birthday; after I’d torn away the wrapping and saw that the box contained a G.I. Joe, I threw it on the floor and exclaimed, “I hate this!”

    • Popcorn Nights March 28, 2013

      I guess ‘raking in millions’ is the answer to all of those questions Todd, but I do wonder the same myself. More and more often, too. The age old argument is that the profits (presuming it makes some) from the likes of GI Joe will go towards funding smaller projects, but looking at MGM and Paramount’s list of forthcoming releases it just looks to me like a bunch of self-perpetuating franchise blockbusters and stale 3D versions and reboots: A new Robocop film. A Stargate reboot. The second Star Trek and Hobbit films. More Avengers. A Ben Hur remake. A 3D version of Top Gun…etc. etc. I mean, I’m looking forward to a few of those but I can only hope that all those sub-production companies that are owned by the big players are seeing some of the money!
      Very funny about your Joe toy! Our equivalent here was Action Man, famously a soldier role model that was completely lacking in genitalia.

  2. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop March 28, 2013

    Here, here! Great review/rant Stu! It really is quite depressing when you see some of the films getting made nowadays, especially when you consider how much they cost and how a filmmaker who actually gives a shit about making films could use even a fraction of that budget. As for La Voyage, I watched this myself recently and it’s a really interesting piece of cinema. I thought it was a little unclear as to what was going on at times (I watched it a second time with some kind of commentary on it) but after reading up on it, it was astounding just how groundbreaking it was.

    • Popcorn Nights March 28, 2013

      Thanks Chris. I also found it quite confusing at first as I only read up about the film after viewing it; I thought they were all wizards to begin with – it was about 2 or 3 minutes in before I realised it was supposed to be an astronomical society! I rewatched it and it’s kind of obvious given all the paraphernalia lying around but…well it was early in the morning for me. That’s my excuse anyway. Very interesting short film to read up about though, especially regarding the way they showed the moon landing from two different perspectives, sounds like that was completely new at the time.

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