A Trip to the Moon (and Five Other Free Films) by Georges Méliès, the Father of Special Effects

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:

They will all be added to our col­lec­tion of 550 Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Pow­er of Silent Movies, with The Artist Direc­tor Michel Haz­anavi­cius

The Birth of Film: 11 Firsts in Cin­e­ma

The Ear­ly Days of Ani­ma­tion Pre­served in UCLA’s Video Archive

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 Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (5)
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  • Brian says:

    Well Georges Melies have very impres­sive per­son­al­i­ty. George’s melies full name is Marie- Georges- Jean Meliens. He was born on the 8th of Decem­ber 1861 in Paris. He was a French illu­sion­ist and film­mak­er famous for lead­ing many tech­ni­cal and nar­ra­tive devel­op­ments in cin­e­ma. Méliès is some­times referred to as the first “Cin­ema­gi­cian” his two famous films are A trip to the Moon and The Impos­si­ble Voy­age. Both sto­ries involve strange, sur­re­al voy­ages, some­what in the style of Jules Verne, and are con­sid­ered among the most impor­tant ear­ly sci­ence fic­tion films, though their approach is clos­er to fan­ta­sy. He gets suc­cess in his life through the stage shows. In every big and famous cinema’s his movies are played. High amount of fam­i­lies come there and enter­tain their life from his act­ing.

  • Walker says:

    I am impressed Bri­an you have a lot of knowl­edge about that great film­mak­er. I have been watched that famous movie few years ago such a won­der­ful sto­ry. I real­ly liked the sto­ry, a group of astronomers hold a meet­ing where they dis­cuss how to trav­el to the Moon. The head astronomer pro­pos­es that they build some­thing like a huge gun or can­non and fire them­selves at the lunar face.

  • Timothy says:

    Very infor­ma­tive post for all blog read­ers. This film con­tains one of the most rec­og­niz­able images in motion pic­ture his­to­ry. It is also still sur­pris­ing­ly enjoy­able and bursts with many of Melies’ tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions. In this movie a group of men trav­el to the moon by being shot in a cap­sule from a giant can­non.

  • Toad says:

    Tom Han­ks did an amaz­ing trib­ute to Georges Méliès in the HBO series he pro­duced on the Apol­lo pro­gram, From Earth To The Moon. The final episode of that series is a reen­act­ment of the mak­ing of Le Voy­age dans la Lune, fun­ny and poignant, with Han­ks play­ing the assis­tant of Méliès. They went to great effort to make the episode; it’s clear­ly a labor of love that Han­ks had a lot of fun mak­ing. The whole series is excel­lent if you like NASA sto­ries, but that par­tic­u­lar episode is some­thing any­one with an inter­est in Méliès should see.

  • Repent says:

    Full of pagan sym­bol­ism and satan­ic alle­go­ry. Just look­ing at the titles of his fur­ther films I can tell this guy was into some strange and occultish things.

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