First the Moon, now the Sun; Méliès is Really Going Places

Time for the next science fiction film (the second ever)!

Before we get on to it though, a note about these early years; you’ll notice on the central page for this challenge that both 1903 and 1905 have so far been marked as having no sci-fi films at all.  This is a real shame, but the genre (and indeed the technology of film itself) was still only a baby at the time, and working itself out.  You can quite easily find definite lists of all the films released in both of those years, and by my reckoning none of them are sci-fi.

Saying that, notable in the list of ‘things I now really want to watch purely because of their titles’ are;

  • A Daring Daylight Burglary
  • What Happened in the Tunnel
  • Beauty Bathing
  • Bag Inspection

I said it last time, and I’ll say it again; simpler times.  I mean, come on; BAG INSPECTION?! Not a real movie, 1904.

Anyway, the film.  I’ve been reading up on how to properly capitalise French, and here’s my best shot (if you know better, tell me please!);

Le Voyage à travers l’impossible (1904)

Guess who's back

It’s Méliès again for this one, folks, and another silent movie.  I’m pretty excited; his journey to the moon two years previously was pretty class.  Like I mentioned before, he pretty much came out with most of the cool films of the time, so for a while it’s Méliès, Méliès, Méliès.  Also rocking the scene was a guy called Cecil Hepworth, who you won’t be surprised to learn was English.  He wasn’t producing sci-fi at all, but with films such as The Egg-Laying Man, How it Feels to be Run Over, Explosion of a Motor Car and Baby’s Toilet, I feel he’s worth a shout.

I know what you’re thinking; lay off on the Voyages, Georges.  Let’s face it though; most sci-fi is about impossible journeys.  It’s practically a defining quality.  Without further ado, let’s get stuck in to ours!

To cut the plot set-up short;  we’re back in the ‘lots of important men arguing’ scene, only this time they’re what looks like rich aristocrats and one of them has suggested, by means of a globe, that somebody jolly well ought to try and go all the way around it.  At this point, another man (who I’m almost but not entirely certain is Méliès) steps up with what looks like a fantastic plan.  He even has an early equivalent of a PowerPoint to show it!

Upon repeated inspection, all I can ascertain of this plan is the following;

  • There seems to be another infeasibly huge cannon involved,
  • Um… everyone really thought it was a top-notch plan.  The women danced excitedly!

I should point out that unlike before, I have no helpful French-accented narrator for this one; I’m on my own as far as interpretation of the visuals goes… :D I reckon it’s decided that this plan will be put into immediate action, and the clever so-and-so who suggested it will lead the whole thing.  Cut to him getting very uppety in a factory, where his *cough**mumble*something-or-other* machine is not being built to his exact specifications!  Outrageous.  Something very similar happened in The Journey to the Moon; I wonder if Méliès has something against these poor factory-folk.  They’re always cast getting things helplessly wrong.

You think this is easy? You try working out what that plan is!

After a bit of this, he gets physically violent with a nice lady who’s just trying to serve him some tea (on the factory floor; it’s health and safety gone completely non-existent) and is ambushed by a bunch of the rich men from before.  They’re interested in how the project’s coming along (presumably, they’re providing the funding) and there’s a good bit of semi-slapstick action trying to stop the whole group of them from seeing the almighty cock-ups going on with the work.

That is, before the wheeling on-screen of an absolutely fantastic machine.  It looks a bit like the shell that the lunar explorers from before used, only this one’s got a propeller on the front, and various interesting valves and things.  Everyone’s pretty happy with this, and we move on.  There are a couple of great pyrotechnics during a tour of the factory; many wives and children of the investors are put into danger by explosions and fire.  As a consequence, some other poor fool at the factory ends up having a bucket of water dunked over him by a rather rotund and angry lady.  It’s oppression I tell you!

Before long, everybody sets off on a huge train.  I assume this was the original plan; I don’t know where I got the cannon from.  There are loads of different carriages, and most of the rich families from the beginning have come along.  There’s a very dodgy but definitely worthwhile fade-cut between scenes (frankly I have no idea how it was done…), and suddenly everyone’s getting off the train again in a small mountain village and setting off on Phase 2 of the journey around the world in a hilarious Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-style car.  I think this is something they brought with them on the train.  Unfortunately, Phase 2 lasts all of 20 seconds (literally; I checked) before our great leader smashes the car into the side of a building, completely ignoring the warnings of the busty mountain wenches.

You know, I was wondering when a huge gang of pretty girls would make an appearance; it didn’t seem to have the same feeling as The Journey to the Moon until this point…

But wait!  Phase 2 is not, as I thought, over!  The group’s journey takes them on a destructive path straight through said building (completely ruining a feast which is frankly much grander than the barn it’s set in) and before they can say “sorry we bust up your feast with an outrageous comedy vehicle”, they’re blasting over the snowy mountain peaks at a speed completely unmatched by the train from before.

After roughly 20 more seconds, things really do meet a grizzly end when the car goes off the top of a mountain and crashes pretty violently into the snow.  Not to worry, though; after a brief spell in a mountain hospital the crew gets going again in another train.  This one’s special though; after driving the train up a roughly 45 degree inclined mountainside, it just carries right on!  I don’t think that description does the enormity of what this train manages justice, so here’s a play-by-play;

I hope the scene’s apparent now.  Good old Georges, I feel like this is going places.

To cut the trip short, the train flies up through clouds, planets, comets and more clouds all the way to the Sun!  Which, it’s important to note, has a face.  Yes, just like the Moon did.  Only possibly grumpier… It lets loose a big yawn (it’s night-time; the Sun gets sleepy.  Problems?) and the space-train only goes and flies in through its mouth!  It’s also important to note that the flight is possibly the most charming of the special effects sequences I’ve seen yet; the train zips gently past carefully hand-drawn astrological bodies and can be seen from afar shooting through the clouds.  The director doesn’t have a reputation for getting this stuff right for no reason, it seems.

After their most exotic crash yet, the gang are understandably relieved to all still be in one piece, and find themselves on the surface of the Sun.  There’s a lot of acting that’s very similar to the astronomer’s reactions to ending up on the Moon in Le Voyage dans la lune.

Now, as we all know, it’s a bit balmy on the surface of the Sun; a realisation our group comes to pretty quickly.  All but the leader pile into one of the big packing crates from the train for a rest from the heat, and there’s a funny little scene in which he tries to start a fire.  He has trouble.  On the Sun.  Told you it was funny!

After a little while , everyone’s sick and tired of being on the Sun, so they come back home. They use the silly propellered machine from the factory earlier, which makes me think that possibly the original plan was in fact to go into space, and the flying train was all part of it.  I feel silly, if so.  The machine doubles as a submarine, which is lucky since they land in the ocean.  We’re treated to a much richer sea-experience this time (i.e. not a two-second shot through the side of a fishbowl), and possibly the funniest moment when a huge sea monster appears at the porthole.  Everyone flips out and eventually they solve the problem by… well… closing the hatch so they can’t see it anymore.

Sea monster at the window. Look how colourful everything is!

Finally the gang reaches land.  By falling out of the sky in half a submarine.  You see, due to engineering difficulties, it exploded.  Violently enough to throw them out of the ocean depths entirely, but not so much as to harm anyone.  Thank God for that!  Many maidens welcome their return to Earth, as expected.

Well there we have it; another crazy romp through space by Georges Méliès, only this time with more romping on Earth first.  I enjoyed this, but not as much as the earlier Voyage dans la lune.  It didn’t quite have the same surreal charms… For starters, there were absolutely no silly aliens on the Sun like there were on the Moon.  Saying that, there were some pretty (relatively) big advances in effects and technology here; there were splashes of basic colour all over the place, for starters.  It looks a little like someone went through the film frame-by-frame, painting splodges of dye on wherever it was needed.  For all I know, this is probably how it was done!

At the end, I think I’ll give La Voyage à travers l’impossible…

6 Busty Mountain Wenches out of 10!

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