Le Voyage Dans la Lune also known in English as A Trip to the Moon is a 1902 French silent film directed by Georges Méliès. Inspired by a wide variety of sources, including Jules Verne’s novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, the film follows a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled rocket ship.While it may be one of the first examples of science fiction the short film has a much more of a fantasy element in it than it does a science fiction vibe. The actor’s portrayals were nothing like actual human beings and the entire piece seemed much more like a cartoon than it does a movie or a short film, but that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable and does not subtract anything from the story.
You might watch this film and think the over the top acting and campy unrealistic set design had everything to do with film budgets back then as well as the limits of motion picture technology but you would only be partially correct. Everything that made A Trip to the Moon enjoyable was its campiness and it was made that way intentionally.
In the early days of cinema history film was very much a novelty. During this time emphasis was placed on the entertainment value of the film. This film is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously and these exaggeration acting and fantastical set design adds to the film’s comedy. A Trip to the Moon is an excellent example of satire and presents some obvious anti-imperialist themes.
Once on the moon’s surface, our heroes begin to explore this new territory. During their exploration, they encounter the moon’s native inhabitants. The moon men act in strange and bizarre ways that frighten the astronomer and during their first encounter with a native they kill him. When reflecting on this exchange the true gravity of the situation is baffling. It is clear that the moon men are a dehumanized caricaturization of native Africans. The presentation of the moon-men as wild and savage truly speaks to the ignorant stereotypes about Africans that European’s at this time believed. But the cartoon-like film wasn’t mocking the imperialized it was mocking the imperialists.
The slaughter of the lunar natives by the earthling invaders highlights the folly of European nations violent scramble for Africa.The violence in this film was like the violence parents expose their children to when they put shows like Looney Tunes on TV. Each kill is cleverly hidden with early special effects in a cloud of smoke. Each act of violence is made comedic and unrealistic. This slapstick display of murder effectively mocks the violent interactions between Europeans and Africans. It is through this mockery that the criticism being made is clear. After the astronomer’s attack and kill several other lunar inhabitants the people of the moon capture them but the astronomers miraculously escape and guess what they kill more moon people.
The astronomers were able to return home by allowing their ship to just fall off the edge of the moon and they don’t return alone. While they fled back to the ship a Moonman chases them and becomes a stowaway on their spacecraft. Once on Earth, he becomes their captive. The captive moon made is a symbol of the effects of imperialism; slavery, abuse, and oppression.The short film ends with a celebration on Earth of the men’s return as they humiliate the captive moon man, parading him around like a poor defeated circus animal, with little hope for the future.