When Georges Meiles made A Trip to the Moon in 1902, the Wright Brothers were still a year away from their first flight in Kitty Hawk. Viewed in those terms, Meiles masterpiece of interstellar adventure stands as a remarkable achievement in imagination.
The film, which clocks in at less than 15 minutes, can rightfully lay claim to being the cinema’s first science fiction work, as well as one of the first examples of a filmmaker putting a story on the screen, as opposed to simply filming an activity.
ATTTM is told without subtitles, but they really aren’t needed. The film opens with a group of scientists in a heated discussion, and a blackboard indicates the topic – How to get to the moon. The method is something you might expect them to come up with. A huge bullet-like capsule that is to be fired out of a cannon, but in looking at the craft, it is not dissimilar to that which the Apollo astronauts flew to the moon decades later.
The inspiration and concept for the film came from that great font of futuristic speculation, Jules Verne. His novel From the Earth to the Moon was published in 1865, and like much of Vernes’ work is eerily prescient about out the world to come. Meiles film shares that quality – That pedal-to-the-metal feel of an imagination running rampant.
Putting aside the scientific aspects of ATTTM, it’s also fascinating to consider it as a world of cinematic art. Meiles greatest contribution to film history is that he was the first filmmaker to truly incorporate what we now call “special effects” into the language of film. Stuff like fade-outs are invisible to the eye of the modern viewer, but in this film, in this context, they are magical.
ATTTM is also surely one of the earliest examples of a director focusing on casting, costumes, and set construction. Take for instance Meiles use of female ballet dancers in this film. There’s no reason for the arc of the story for there to be shapely female characters, but I guess they suspected even then that sex sells. Or take the acrobats who play the moon men. Their inclusion gives the aliens an otherworldly vibe which must have made them completely enthralling to audiences watching at the turn of the century.
It’s not hard to watch ATTTM and see how their concept of alien life was taken and expanded upon in countless Sci-Fi films throughout the years. The malevolent creatures of the Alien and Predator movies are direct descendants of Meiles Moon-men in their skeleton costumes.