Wednesday 6 September 2017

Georges Méliès' Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible

George  Méliès' Journey Through the Impossible  
(Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible)  with original soundtrack by La Pêche.

Georges Méliès' Le Voyage dans la Lune (English: A Trip to the Moon) was the smash hit of 1902. In fact, it was so popular that it was causing no end of trouble for Méliès, who became one of the first victims of media bootlegging when illegal copies of the film were made and distributed all over the United States. The popularity of the film cried out for a return to Scientific Romances, to which Méliès responded by pulling out all of the stops in Le Voyage à travers l'Impossible (English: The Impossible Voyage or Journey Through the Impossible) in 1904.

Though borrowing the title of a stage play written by Jules Verne - a theatrical fantasia on his literature that included trips to the centre of the earth, the ocean depths, and another planet - Méliès' film is more inclined to retread A Trip to the Moon. At nearly twice the length of its predecessor, it doesn't necessarily add anything, but does say it "louder." There is just more of it in Impossible Voyage: the Geographical Society has decided to take a trip around the whole world and the whole cosmos, beginning with a lengthier tour of the factory where their travelling contraptions are being built, then a romp through the Alps before they leave Earth, at which point they are swallowed by an anthropomorphic Sun and escape in a submarine car that drops off the Sun's edge and into the ocean, where they sail around until it explodes, throwing them back on shore to a lengthier celebration.

The film is more technically accomplished than Méliès' earlier effort. There is more and varied use of special effects, (especially miniatures) more evolved set design, a wider scope of a film and the prints were even hand-tinted in colour. Overall, it is a very good film in its own right. The problem is just that it is almost a point-by-point retread and expansion of A Trip to the Moon.

Without even any attempt at dramatic content, the length doesn't necessarily serve the film well. The beauty of Méliès' context is that the short length of movies in the very early 20th century compacts the action. It works almost perfectly at the dawn of the 21st century, when people's attention span seems to peak at a YouTube-friendly 10 minutes. The Impossible Voyage doubles the length without adding extra content: the viewer simply sees more travelling, more of the factory, more celebrating, without any drama to carry the characters.

The only thing that is lacking is that interesting sense of coherence between the astrologer and the astronomer. The men and women of the Geographic Society are purely Edwardian and the film veers aesthetically closer to literary Scientific Romances, even if there are carryovers like a flat Sun that the voyagers fall off of. Besides that, and like the flat disk of the Sun, one gets the sense that they've seen all this before. Perhaps that is why Méliès would sadly not return to a comparably epic Scientific Romance until 1912's Conquest of the Pole.

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