Thanks to Martin Scorcese’s recent Hugo, which is as much at attempt to educated the jaded audience to the wonders of the early silent era as it is a showcase of modern technology, many viewers have been introduced to the fact that French film pioneer Georges Méliès existed and that among his many movies was a certain epic called A Trip to the Moon. In the scene where one rediscovered print is projected to two wonder-struck children, the director’s wife carefully explains that they hand-colored it.
The 15-minute epic is presented as a lively group of scenes, each telling its own little sequence of detailed events within the shot. A professor tells an assembled mass of fogeys (dressed in wizard robes) about his planned trip. He shows his colleagues the workshop where it’s being assembled. There’s a ceremonial firing from a massive cannon (borrowed from Jules Verne), attended by dancing girls in vaguely naval uniforms.
There’s the famous shot of the moon’s approach and the rocket in the unfortunate man in the moon’s eye (now with red dripping blood); along with the slit eyeball in Un Chien Andalou, this is the most eye-conic image in cinema of the eye-damage that symbolizes the attraction of film itself. There are gratuitous heavenly bodies. There’s the slapstick colonial-empire variant of fighting the native insectoid Selenites (borrowed from H.G. Wells), who explode at the touch of an umbrella, and the flight or drop home to an underwater landing and a hero’s welcome.
The film has been available on various DVDs, including Flicker Alley’s massive and essential Méliès box set, but here’s the thing: whereas tinted or black and white prints have been floating around, none of the brightly hand-colored editions was known to exist—until one was discovered in 1993. As is explained in the fascinating and loving documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage, this has been meticulously restored (as nearly as possible) through several painstaking processes as technology allowed. It can never look like it was shot yesterday, as do some very fine Méliès prints; it looks like it was shot a hundred years ago, went through the wars, and somehow returned alive with at least some of its youthful dazzle intact, still bursting with character and primitive verve.
It finally premiered at Cannes last year with a soundtrack by the French group AIR, and that’s what on this new DVD/Blu-Ray combo. Also included are a black and white version with different sound options (one with Méliès’ original narration read aloud, and one with a small group of actors uttering exclamations), two bonus shorts of Méliès lunacy (the random surrealistic transformations of The Astronomer’s Dream and the saucy The Eclipse), and a documentary in which the members of AIR discuss their music. As a whole, the package is sweet, charming, loving and inspirational.