Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

La Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902, Fr.) (aka A Trip to the Moon)

In this pioneering early, silent science fiction film, a 14-minute ground-breaking masterpiece with 30 separate tableaus (scenes), one reel in length (about 825 feet), it was one of the earliest experiments in film. The remarkable film was made by imaginative, turn-of-the-century French filmmaker/magician Georges Melies, approximating the contents of the novels by Jules Verne (From the Earth to the Moon) and H.G. Wells (First Men in the Moon).

Melies wrote the whimsical script, acted in the film in the lead role, designed the sets and costumes, directed, photographed, and produced the film! He made up and invented the film medium as he directed. He developed the art of magical special effects (and film editing) in earlier films and then perfected them and used them in later films, such as this one. For many, it is regarded as the first sci-fi movie. It has all the elements that characterize the science-fiction genre: adventurous scientists, a futuristic space voyage, special effects such as superimpositions, and strange aliens in a far-off place.

It was one of the earliest, if not the first example, of the use of miniatures (the model spaceship, for example). With innovative, illusionary cinematic 'editing' techniques (trick photography with superimposed images, dissolves and jump cuts), he depicted many memorable, whimsical old-fashioned images and scenes:

  • the film opened in a scientific meeting/congress of a French astronomical society - the Astronomic Club; the society president - white-bearded, academic professor with a pointed hat Professor Barbenfouillis (Georges Melies himself), explained to the members his plan for an exploratory trip to the moon, illustrating on a blackboard how a rocket would be fired from Earth (a basketball-looking Earth) from a great space gun toward the lunar surface
  • although one member of the society violently objected, the plan was approved, and five learned men/explorers made up their minds to go with him; the female assistants-manservants brought traveling suits for them to change into
  • in a workshop, smiths, mechanics, weighers, carpenters, upholsterers and inventors constructed the projectile rocket ship for the mission; one clumsy astronomer, Micromegas, fell backwards into a tub of nitric acid
  • a group of five ascended to the rooftop to witness "a splendid spectacle" - the casting of the cannon (or space-gun) by the foundry; the hoisting of a flag signaled the start of the procedure; the mass of molten steel was directed from the furnace into the mold for the cannon; the molding process produced flames and vapors, causing the enthusiastic astronomers to rejoice; a modern-looking, projectile-style rocket ship was constructed
  • at the launch site, the rocket shell was in position, ready to receive the six travelers, who arrived and responded to the acclamations of the crowd before entering the steel-riveted shell (their space vehicle); they were assisted by a line of uniformed females for the launch [Note: the scantily dressed assistants (or pages) who launched the cannon were dancers from the Châtelet ballet]; the female assistants/gunners pushed the shell up an incline into the mouth of the cannon - and it was closed
  • a man on a ladder ignited the gun; the rocket shell was fired or launched out of a monstrous iron cannon pointed into space (gunpowder powered?) into space
  • as the hollow, bullet-shaped shell moved through space, the moon approached [in a sophisticated, multi-plane process shot] and was magnified. As in a fairy tale, it turned out to be a huge smiling face of "colossal dimensions" - it has become one of the most recognizable images in film history and has often been used as the iconic symbol for early pioneering efforts in cinema
  • the rocket ship shell moved closer and closer to the moon, and then crashed into the pie-face, smack into the right eye of the pasty-faced 'Man in the Moon', who winked or grimaced
Six Astronomers After Landing and Stepping Out Onto Moon's Surface, and Looking Back at the Earth Rising Behind Them
  • the scientists' team stepped out onto the desolate lunar surface through the shell's door, delighted by the unfamiliar landscape marked by craters; against the moon's horizon, the visitors from another planet (dressed in Victorian garb) looked back to view the Earth slowly rising into space
Imaginative Dream Sequence as the Explorers Slept on the Lunar Surface - The Vision of a Passing Comet, Seven Gigantic Stars, a Goddess on a Crescent Moon and Two Females Holding Up a Star
  • they were interrupted and rocked by a violent explosion (volcanic?) that sent them in all directions; to rest their fatigued bodies after a "rough trip," they stretched themselves out on the lunar surface under blankets; as they slept - in an imaginative dream sequence (marked by a dissolve) as they slept - they first saw passing comets and meteors in their dreams
  • then, seven gigantic stars slowly appeared in the blackness behind them; out of the center of each of the stars emerged the face of a beautiful woman, who each seemed annoyed by their presence; the stars were replaced by a lovely vision of goddess Phoebus (Bleinette Bernon, a music hall singer) sitting on a crescent moon (she was on the Moon and also sitting on the Moon?), and bearded, old-man Saturn peering out from a window in his globe surrounded by a ring, and two charming young girls holding up a star
  • Phoebus ordered the terrestrial intruders to be punished by causing a snowstorm, covering the ground with a white blanket of snow; to seek shelter, the men descended into the interior of a great moon crater
  • in the lunar underground kingdom, the scientists marveled at a mysterious grotto filled with enormous mushrooms of every kind; strange beings that made contortions, moon inhabitants (Selenites - acrobats from the Folies Bergere), emerged from under the mushrooms; when poked at by one of the astronomers' umbrellas, two of the Selenites disappeared in a puff of smoke (a camera technique known as a jump cut)
  • although the terrified scientific explorers fled, they were captured when overwhelmed by large numbers of moon people and taken prisoner; the group was led to the palace of the King of the moon people, who was on his throne in his court, surrounded by the seven living stars

Prisoners In the Court of the King of the Selenites (Moon People)

The Rocket Shell Propelled by Being Tipped Off a Cliff's Edge

The Pursuing Selenites
  • President Barbenfouillis attacked the King and threw him to the ground, where he burst into smoke like a bombshell and disappeared; during their escape, other fragile moon people were also transformed into dust after being whacked by umbrellas; the assaulted group of travelers fled back to their rocket ship shell; five of the astronomers entered the space-ship, but the President took it upon himself to hang from a rope attached to the tip of the rocket, to cause it to fall off the cliffside - and vertically drop into space back to Earth; it was a miraculous last-minute escape
  • the rocket shell splashed into the Atlantic Ocean and sank to the bottom (where there were wonderful sea creatures, lizards? and a sunken vessel) before floating back to the surface, where it was rescued by a steamer and towed to a French port; the scientists were greeted in Paris by a general ovation/grand march of Marines and the French fire brigade for their happy return - with the retrieved rocket shell as part of the proceedings; they were decorated as heroes (each received a crown), and in their honor, the mayor unveiled a commemorative statue of the club's President pointing toward the stars

Astronomers in Club Meeting

The Construction of a Projectile Rocket (or Spaceship) Shell

The Rocket Shell (with Astronomers Inside) and the Cannon

Female Assistants Pushing the Projectile Rocket Shell Forward Into the Cannon Preparing For the Launch

The Firing of the Rocketship Into Space

The Approach Toward the Moon

The Crash Landing into the 'Man in the Moon'

The Underground Grotto With Giant Mushrooms

One Selenite Disappearing in a Puff of Smoke

Rocketship Shell Rising Back to Surface of Ocean

Towed To a French Port

The Retrieved Rocket Shell in Parade

The Commemorative Statue


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