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Méliès’s Trip to the Moon Essay

The film opens with a gathering of academics in a lecture hall. They have robes, beards and pointed hats. They are standing at first in ranks in the room, five more men join them and are given telescopes by female servants. The leader enters and assumes a position at a blackboard on the left where he draws an image of the Earth and the Moon and a bullet-shaped craft landing on the Moon. They all being discussing or arguing about the project. The technique used for acting is based on what one might see acted out in the theater with no modern cinematography such as close-ups or zooms are used to focus the attention on a particular character. All the characters appear onstage and if there is any focus on a certain action is done through theatrical technique such as the females marching out and handing out telescopes and leaving.

When the main character, seeming like a professor comes in the group sort of comes to attention and stand still at first while the professor speaks and draws on the board. One’s attention’s shifts to the group again as they discuss and argue with over-large gesticulations in this silent film without written inter-titles. It is a silent stage drama recorded on film, else it would be mime theatre. The film’s scene changes almost like a shift of scene in the theatre. There is a very fake-looking space capsule that is being worked on and some of the astronauts try out the interior. There is a moment when someone falls into a shallow barrel. Possibly, this was meant to be a comic touch which would be at home later in vaudeville. There is no camera movement. It is as if one had a good seat at the theatre and watching a series of tableaux vivantes.

The film owes much more to the stage and picture books than to any already-developed film technique. The subsequent boarding of the space-bullet on the left with the cannon on the right looks especially fake and hand-drawn. There is little aim at a believable set and much over-acting: doffing their hats and so on to an imaginary group of spectators, actually us who are watching the living theater more than a film by today’s standards. After the firing of the cannon, there occurs the use of something like special effects where the Man in the Moon, framed by clouds comes closer to the viewer and has human like expressions which show the space vehicle hitting him in the eye. It is a real human looking like he has whipped cream on his face.

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