Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: 'A Trip to the Moon' Blu-ray

What to do with this new medium called cinema? Use it for anatomical studies? To record vaudevillian pratfalls? To document history? “No,” declared Georges Méliès. Cinema would be best used to conjure dreams.

There are few films dreamier than A Trip to the Moon, the culmination of Méliès’s celluloid magic tricks and one of the mere 200 of his 500 works that still survives. A surprise survivor is the original hand-painted color edition of his most famous film, which had to undergo a painstaking restoration process that would have driven even the most driven cinephiles mad. That process and the tangled history leading up to it is the subject of The Extraordinary Voyage, a wonderful documentary by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange that accompanies presentations of both the color and black and white versions of A Trip to the Moon on Flicker Alley’s new Blu-ray/DVD combination pack.

Like Citizen Kane or The Wizard of Oz, A Trip to the Moon remains one of those keystones of cinema history that remains an absolute pleasure to watch. Yes, it is a handy marker for the birth of fantasy film-making, trippy special effects, and space-age imaginings (though it is not the first Méliès film to trade in all those things), but it holds up perfectly as a perfect film. The blatant artificiality of its sets and effects are key to its imagination-unlocking spell.

Both the color and B&W versions display a considerable amount of wear and tear, but considering everything this film has been through, its images of a moon-blinding rocket, bizarre creations frolicking among the craters, and undersea wonderlands still looks crisp and powerful. You should look so good when you’re 116-years old.

In addition to the color options, each version of A Trip to the Moon can also be enjoyed with an assortment of audio options. Both the color and B&W versions feature their own unique music choices in the form of full scores and solo piano pieces, as well as narration composed by Georges Méliès. Additionally, the B&W one offers contemporary actors providing character voices.

The two synthesizer scores that accompany the color version feel too modern for the material and too dated for the 21st century, leaving the more suitably whimsical piano accompaniment the preferable option. Méliès’s narration sounds suspiciously like a shooting script though. The orchestral score on the black and white version is by far the best music on the disc. The actors’ voice track is amusing, but might be a touch too Mystery Science Theater 3000 for some viewers.

Two lunar-centric shorts, “The Eclipse” (9 minutes) and “The Astronomer’s Dream” (3 minutes), complete the package with additional examples of Méliès’s camera-pausing magic tricks and utterly delightful two-dimensional props. The monstrous moon in “The Astronomer’s Dream” is easily as unforgettable as the iconic one in the main feature.
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