The 16 Minutes that Changed Film Forever

Some will recognize it from the film Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s recent Oscar winner. For others, it will trigger some vague memory of the 1996 music video for the Smashing Pumpkin’s song “Tonight, Tonight,” widely regarded as one of the best music videos of all time.

But no matter where you first encountered the imagery of A Trip to the Moon, Georges Méliès’s 16-minute 1902 masterpiece about Belle Époque astronauts on a fantastical lunar adventure, it’s hard to get the dreamy visions out of your head: The grumpy man-in-the-moon, a crashed space capsule stuck in his eye. The Big Dipper, with human faces peering out of each star. The goddess Phoebe, rocking back and forth on a crescent moon swing.

man on the moonThe whimsy is on par with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And the throwback special effects have the feel of a vaudeville magic show; Méliès was an intrepid illusionist, pioneering such cinematic sleights-of-hand as the stop trick, time-lapse photography, and multiple exposures.

In 1993, a rare hand-colored print of Méliès’s short, the only one left in existence, turned up in an archive in Spain. It wasn’t certain if the film, badly decomposed, could be saved. But in 1999, an 11-year, frame-by-frame restoration began in Los Angeles. The fully restored film, not seen in color for a century, debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival—109 years after its original release. French electropop outfit Air provided a new soundtrack.

This Saturday, the newly revamped A Trip to the Moon plays Minneapolis, as part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. It will undoubtedly be one of the most important screenings of the three-week program. Accompanying it will be the companion documentary The Extraordinary Voyage, which chronicles the film’s century-long impact on filmmakers, including Scorsese.

The film fest is always a crapshoot, and navigating the hits and misses is part of the fun. But this is an easy call to make. Go see A Trip to the Moon. It’s literally been one hundred years in the making.

A Trip to the Moon & The Extraordinary Voyage
Saturday, April 14, 9 p.m.
Wednesday, April 18, 9:30 p.m.
St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main St., Mpls.