The Impossible Voyage (1904)

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*. This is either a sequel to or a remake of A Trip to the Moon. Or perhaps we can just call it more of the same. As David Thomson critically observes, Méliès never developed as a filmmaker. In some of these later films there’s more colour (at least for the prints that got this special treatment) and more elaborate sets, but nothing else has changed.
*. That’s Méliès himself, again, as the lead magician: Professor Crazyloff. Does the good professor want to explore strange new worlds and civilizations? Further the bounds of knowledge? Well, not primarily. As with all of Méliès’s impresarios he mainly just wants to put on a show, in this case a tour of space.
*. There are plenty of dangers. No Selenites this time, but a fire on board the submarine that has to be put out, and an attempt to survive the heat of the sun by climbing inside an ice box. This latter incident made me smile. But it’s really just another version of the old magic cabinet trick: open the cabinet once to reveal what’s inside, close the door, then open it again and voila!
*. There was more to Méliès then just these féeries (French theatre known for its fantastic plots and elaborate scenery and stage effects), but they’re what he’s remembered for today. He was good at them, and he was good at them because they were where his heart was at. Even a trip to the North Pole would turn into a fantastic voyage to another world.
*. He seemed to believe that dealing with fantastic subjects was a more legitimate and sophisticated form of art than the usual vaudeville farce and brief melodramas. Perhaps it was. This gives you some idea of how low an entertainment form early cinema was. Appolinaire told him that they were both trying to lend enchantment to vulgar material.

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*. As time went by he polished his effects of design and perspective, creating an increasingly lush and painterly visual space. In this regard The Impossible Voyage has to be considered one of his finest works. The various sets (the workshop, the train crash, the submarine) are among his most detailed and inventive, and the train being swallowed by the sun, while imaginatively of a piece with earlier films, takes the concept a step beyond the hungry planet in The Astronomer’s Dream and even the iconic image of the moon being poked in the eye in A Trip to the Moon.
*. But there was nowhere left to go after this. Very few artists, and perhaps even fewer filmmakers, who work in a form so dependent on technology are given much more than a decade to produce all of their best and most important work. That’s roughly what Méliès enjoyed. And after the devastation of the First World War France was a different place anyway.

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