Two things can happen over a long period of time: technology can improve, and long lost items can be found. Now, when you combine these two elements in the world of film, you frankly have a recipe for something truly spectacular. Take, for example, the 1902 science fiction fantasy classic A Trip to the Moon from the great French special effects pioneer Georges Méliès. Originally released to moviehouses in both black-and-white and hand-colored editions (color hadn’t been introduced to film the way we know it then, kids), the latter version was considered to be a lost film until a copy surfaced in 1993 — during a time when the art of restoration wasn’t as advanced as it is today.
In 2010, the hand-colored version’s digital restoration was completed. To make up for the fact that there were many missing bits and pieces damaged by the ravages of time, techs took frames from the original black-and-white version (which itself went through some repair in 2003, when the film’s ending — which was also thought to be lost — was found in a barn) and digitally coloring them. In 2011 (nearly twenty years after the hand-colored version was found), the restored, complete “color” edition of A Trip to the Moon was screened to audiences with a new, modern soundtrack by French band Air.
And now, here we are: 110 years after the award-winning fifteen-minute film first flashed onto screens around the world, the folks at Flicker Alley have given us a 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Steelbook Combo set presenting the 2011 re-release of the iconic film, along with the complete black-and-white version. It’s truly a delight to see this surreal masterpiece in either format — just to compare Georges Méliès’ innovative trick-photography 1902 special effects to the bloated world of CGI crap in 2012 if nothing else — but to see it now like this is nothing short of a miracle. Heck, this is a miracle! The movie looks positively stunning considering its age and near-archaic style.
Both versions are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios (we really didn’t have widescreen moving pictures back then, either, boys and girls), and the main, hand-colored cut of the film includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix — which, as you might expect — is just the score by Air. Some of you might find the contemporary soundtrack to be a little disorienting at first (I thought I was watching a Smashing Pumpkins music video for a few minutes), but I have to say the work of musicians Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel is exceptional. Unlike most silent films, there are no dialogue cards to be found in A Trip to the Moon.
The original black-and-white version of A Trip to the Moon is presented here in three different editions: with English narration written by Méliès over an orchestral score by Robert Israel (Dolby Digital 2.0), with an assortment of actors (recreating a release of the film from 1903) and piano accompaniment by Frederick Hodges, and a plain voice-less piano-scored version by Hodges (both of the latter tracks are in LPCM 2.0). The English narration is missing from some discs (including the one I received), and replacement discs can be picked up from Flicker Alley’s website.
Also included here are two other Georges Méliès shorts (with LPCM 2.0 music): The Astronomer’s Dream, and The Eclipse or The Courtship of the Sun and the Moon. Rounding out this incredible release is the 2011 documentary The Extraordinary Voyage by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange, which dives into Méliès’ life and career; and an interview with the boys from Air, wherein they talk about their inspiration and work on the 2011 re-release. A 24-page booklet also comes with this Limited Edition set, and sheds even more light on this magnificent Voyage dans la Lune.