If you’ve taken a film studies course, you’ve almost certainly seen the work of Georges Méliès. His 1902 short A Trip to the Moon, at the top, which some cinema scholars cite as the picture where special effects as we know them began, has a particularly important place in cinema history. Nobody who watches that fourteen-minute production ever forgets the image of the moon’s consternation after the protagonists’ spacecraft crashes into it. And the rest of the movie, if narratively shaky, still has an impressive visual power. If anybody had both sufficient imagination and sufficient know-how to commit such a voyage to that cutting-edge medium known as motion film over a century ago, the theater owner and seasoned illusionist Méliès did. Charged by the cinematic pioneering of his countrymen the Lumière brothers, he began doing it in 1896, and continued until 1913, which makes A Trip to the Moon a mid-career highlight.
A mid-career highlight, that is, alongside 1904’s The Impossible Voyage (just above), which continues in the same vein of Jules Verne-style fantastical science fiction. This time, in fact, Méliès took not just the sensibility from Verne but, in part, a story, drawing inspiration from Verne’s play Journey Through the Impossible about a young Danish baron tempted to travel to far-off lands, planets, and realities. He wrote into this sequel, of sorts, a natural destination: the sun. MUBI.com’s “public domain greats” page offers a list of these and other Méliès films available free to watch online, the likes of which inspired Martin Scorsese to adapt Brian Selznick’s Méliès-centric novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret into Hugo, a film visually inventive by the early 21st century’s standards just as A Voyage to the Moon excelled by the early 20th century’s. Those films currently available include:
- A Trip to the Moon (1902)
- The Infernal Cauldron (1903)
- The Impossible Voyage (1904)
- The Living Playing Cards (1905)
- The Hilarious Posters (1906)
- The Devilish Tenant (1909)
They will all be added to our collection of 550 Free Movies Online.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.