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With: Georges Méliès, Jeanne d'Alcy
Written by: Georges Méliès
Directed by: Georges Méliès
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: -99
Date: 19/03/2013

Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema - 1896-1913 (2008)

4 Stars (out of 4)

To the Moon

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema - 1896-1913 on DVD

Georges Méliès (1861-1938) may well have been just another magician, but one day in 1895, he attended a showing of films by the Lumière brothers. A year later, he had built his own movie studio and began shooting his own films. Between 1896 and 1913, he shot over 500 films, ranging from one-minute to "epics" running more than a half hour. His work covers an amazing array of genres. Many of his films are simple magic tricks, incorporating cutting and double-exposures to create fantastic illusions; his timing and knowledge of the camera are still amazing. Some of them get into more complicated stories of fantasy, using dreams and nightmares. And a few, such as adaptations of Joan of Arc, Cinderella and Baron Munchausen, strove toward high art. He is often credited with making the first horror films, and his ten-minute sci-fi effort Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), a.k.a. A Trip to the Moon, is currently his best-known film. The shot of the rocketship crashing into the moon's eye is surely one of cinema's greatest indelible images. (Most people will recognize the picture, even if they don't know the film.) Today, some 173 Méliès films survive and Flicker Alley has performed the gargantuan task of compiling them into one giant, five-disc DVD box set, which runs "over 13 hours." Until now, there has been only one Méliès DVD, Méliès the Magician (2001) from Facets, which was rather skimpy and of questionable quality. If there are any such problems with the new set, it's that the sheer number of films makes the DVD menus rather clunky to navigate.

As for the films, A Trip to the Moon is here, of course, and the 20-minute The Impossible Voyage (1904), a dazzling, special-effects extravaganza about an adventurer's club traveling around the world in various forms of transport. The submarine sequence is especially thrilling. Viewers can also finally see Tunnel sous la manche (1907) -- or Tunneling the English Channel -- which Jonathan Rosenbaum named as one of the ten best films of all time. One of my favorites is The Four Troublesome Heads (1898), which is one of his simplest and most entertaining magic trick films. Watching a number of these in one sitting reveals obsessions with the devil, drugs, nightmares and dreams, and other dark corners of the soul. By 1913, Méliès was forced into bankruptcy by a changing film market and spent the rest of his life in near-poverty, selling toys. D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin would later credit him as an inspiration.

Aside from the films themselves, Flicker Alley's box set comes with Georges Franju's delightful short "biopic" Le Grand Méliès (1952) -- in which André Méliès plays his own father -- and liner notes essays by Norman McLaren and John Frazer. The DVD booklet also contains a very helpful listing of the films in chronological order, with running times and titles in French and English. A few of the films come with English narration, written by Méliès himself.

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