Air: Le voyage dans la lune

Air - Le voyage dans la luneSynopsis: Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) is a classic silent film by revered French director Georges M‚liŠs. Released in 1902, this legendary 16-minute film is widely considered one of the most important works in film history, and the very first to use science fiction as its theme, incorporating special effects that were very state-of-the-art at the turn of the 19th century. It was loosely based on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells The First Men In The Moon. Eager to put a contemporary spin on this classic silent film and reach a new audience, the foundations decided to approach AIR’s Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel, to compose an original modern soundtrack, an enormous honor for French musicians, considering the film’s place in the canon of French cinema.


Air: Le voyage dans la lune 8.0

eyelights: the colouring. the special effects. its Alice in Wonderland-esque fantastical quality
eyesores: the quality of the print. the sometimes-discrepant score.

I’ve been a pretty big fan of Air from the moment that I heard their score for ‘The Virgin Suicides’. I thought that their compositions were beautiful, melancholic and that it underscored the tragedy at the film’s core especially well. After that, I fell in love with ‘Talkie Walkie’, and revisited their past works (thus far I hadn’t been impressed, but I wanted to give them another chance…).

I then followed their every move, picking up whatever I could get, including remix albums, side-projects, …etc.

When I heard that they had composed a brand new  score to George Méliès’ ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ I was thrilled. I had never seen the film, although I was familiar with it (in particular, its iconic “man in the moon” shot), and felt that Air could bring something magical, spectacular to such a science-fiction classic. When I discovered that they had released a limited edition of their album that included the film on DVD, I was especially eager.

I started off by playing the album a number of times. It was jarring at first: “Astronomic Club” was weirder than I expected and started abruptly. But this wasn’t entirely out of character, I would find out: ‘Love 2’, their previous album, also started abruptly. Thankfully, this album flowed better as it went along, transiting into more atmospheric and/or playful pieces. It didn’t win me over (truth be told, I ended up listening to ‘Love 2’ a lot more), but it was good.

Then, the other day, a buddy of mine who had become a fan of the band well before I did, came over and we decided to watch the film. We discovered that the this was the long-lost hand-coloured version of ‘Le voyage dans la lune’, of which there is thus far only the one copy. It was rediscovered in 1993 in such a terrible state that it took from 1999 to 2010 to complete the restoration, which included recolouring certain parts.

Basically, we were being treated to a rare piece of film history.

As mentioned before, ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ is mostly recognized for the sequence in which a rocket is shot into the man in the moon’s eye. This is an iconic image that  has been represented just about everywhere. But the film is also one of the first science fiction films every produced, consisting of rudimentary but effective special effects and storytelling techniques, including live action and animation.

What we were watching  was mostly like watching silent but dynamic theatre filmed on a 4:3 screen in black and white and then coloured for effect: the acting is theatrical, the sets aren’t exactly realistic and the special effect are functional but hardly amazing to watch – in some ways, it now feels very quaint, given how far beyond these techniques filmmaking has developed in the century since its release.

And yet, it retains a certain awe-inspiring quality to it; there’s a magical allure to ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ which is hard to put into words. I couldn’t help but be engrossed by the adventures of these astronomers, shot out of a large cannon and landing on the moon; everything had an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality to it that was rather appealing.  And I totally lost my marbles when we met the moon men, and saw them explode upon impact.

Sadly, the film is in extremely poor condition. I was already surprised that a 16 minute film could take over a decade to restore, but to see the end result was even more mindboggling. The definition of the picture wasn’t very good, perhaps to be expected given the age of the material, but it looked like a mess, and I wouldn’t have thought that any work had been done on it if this wasn’t highlighted. I can’t even fathom what it looked like before!

As for the music, I continue to have mixed feelings about it. While there are some great tunes, I was confused by the choices that Air made in scoring the film. The opening piece, for example, seemed discrepant with what was on screen, not just tonally, but also structurally – it just didn’t seem to hit the same beats as the picture did. Thankfully, it got better as the film progressed. And it sounded phenomenal, mixed in 5.1.

Still, despite these flaws, we weren’t deterred in our enjoyment: both my buddy and myself adored this little sci-fi adventure. It was über original, zany, exciting and it was visually arresting even though the damage to the final product remained considerable. Although the result is imperfect, it’s a terrific endeavour. And if one doesn’t like the music, one can always mute the sound – the film was originally silent, anyway.

‘Le voyage dans la lune’ is a trip well worth taking.

Date of viewing: July 28, 2013

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