A Trip to the Moon on Blu-ray
by Jef Burnham
Available April 10, 2012 in a Blu-ray/DVD Limited Edition SteelBook from Flicker Alley.
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Flicker Alley’s upcoming Blu-ray release of A Trip to the Moon provides an absolutely staggering cinematic experience, one that no serious film historian or cinephile can afford to miss. Before this release from Flicker Alley, I had seen George Méliès’ 1902 masterpiece, A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune), no fewer than a dozen times, probably more. And in my personal library, you’ll find (off the top of my head) various prints of the film on at least three DVD collections of early cinema. Indeed I fancy myself something of a film historian, but I had sadly never seen A Trip to the Moon in its original, hand-painted color. In all fairness though, no one had screened a color print of A Trip to the Moon in something like a hundred years, and, in fact, no such prints were thought to exist until Lobster Films uncovered a severely decomposed print in a Spanish archive. Flicker Alley’s upcoming Blu-ray release presents a restoration of the color print discovered by Lobster Films, which preserves the film’s hand-painted colors circa 1902, along with Serge Bromberg’s 2011 documentary about Méliès, A Trip to the Moon, and the restoration, entitled The Extraordinary Voyage.
At the risk of getting too far away from a discussion of the release itself, perhaps a bit of historical contextualization (for the uninitiated) is in order. George Méliès attended the first ever public exhibition devoted to projected cinema, held by the brothers Lumière in a Paris cafe on December 28, 1895. Méliès immediately recognized the potential of the cinematic medium for a magician such as himself and would soon become the master of the trick film. Inspired by the work of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, A Trip to the Moon relates the fantastic journey of a group of astronomers to explore the Moon. Upon its release, the 14-minute epic would quickly become the single most financially successful film in the world, even though rampant piracy prevented Méliès from seeing much of the profits he deserved.
The impressive color presentation of A Trip to the Moon here represents one of the most intricately hand-colored films I’ve encountered from the era. A radically modern soundtrack by French duo AIR accompanies the color presentation, and the AIR score is at once playful, funky, and somehow altogether perfect for A Trip to the Moon, though I’m sure some would disagree with that sentiment given the obvious modernity of the track. Not only does this Blu-ray release include a restoration of a long-lost color print of the film, but it also includes a restored black and white version sourced from original 35mm elements. What’s more, Flicker Alley offers multiple audio options for viewing the black and white version, making this set all-the-more enticing. These options include an orchestral score by Robert Israel with the original English narration written by Méliès himself, and an audio track featuring a troupe of actors voicing the film’s characters as performed on tour in the U.S. in 1903.
As previously indicated, the restored version of the film featured here was sourced from the only known color print of A Trip to the Moon, a print that, upon Lobster Films’ receipt of it, had actually formed into one solid, circular chunk as a result of decomposition. With the aid of the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, Lobster Films’ print underwent a 12-year restoration process. The restored version premiered at Cannes in 2011 before going on tour, and eventually working its way onto this, the definitive release of A Trip to the Moon. Put simply, this restoration constitutes nothing less than a cinematic miracle, as The Extraordinary Voyage reveals. What’s more, in addition to detailing the complex restoration that led up to this marvelous Blu-ray release, The Extraordinary Voyage also relates the story of Méliès’ life and his career as a filmmaker in its all-too-brief 65 minutes, making for an ideal supplemental viewing to A Trip to the Moon.
Bonus content on this release includes an interview with AIR; two additional moon-related Méliès shorts, “The Astronomer’s Dream” (1898) and “The Eclipse” (1904); and a booklet featuring an essay, production stills, and more.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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