The most influential science fiction movie of all time may be this 1902 short by Georges Méliès, the French magician who was the first imaginative wizard of cinema. There’s about a century’s worth of invention in this movie’s 17-minute length, whether it’s in the mermaid-operated rocket cannon that fires the bullet-shaped capsule into space, or the umbrella that’s planted on the lunar surface and turns into a giant mushroom, or in the iconic image of the bullet-capsule striking the Man in the Moon in his eye.
The movie was based loosely on Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon, but it operates on its own whimsical level, with one foot in 19th-century stage mechanics and the other in the new, uncharted century of film technique. Indeed, the movie’s naysayers have offered a criticism that sounds awfully familiar to viewers of current sci-fi extravaganzas: too much special effects, too little plot and characterization.
Granted, the astronomers (led by Méliès himself) are a stock group of stuffy, bearded intellectuals, while the Selenites (the race of moon people) form a society no less petty, trivial, and belligerent. For all the movie’s forward-thinking technology, Méliès seemed to recognize that human nature couldn’t keep up.
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