The Astronomer’s Dream (1898)
Back to the nineteenth century and Georges Méliès in my ongoing history of the horror film. By 1898, his trick films are becoming more elaborate and sophisticated, although this has much in common with the movies we’ve been seeing from him so far.
Here, a man in a typical wizard’s outfit is nodding while he studies in his observatory. The Devil appears and seems to be threatening his slumbering form, until a woman wearing a lunar symbol on her head banishes him. The astronomer gets up and draws on his chalkboard, but the figures come to life. Then, various objects, beginning with the chalkboard suddenly disappear. He tries to observe the moon through his telescope, but instead of the moon looking bigger, suddenly it appears in his room, and it has a mouth which eats the telescope! Some children dressed as clowns come out of the mouth, but the astronomer throws them back in. He tries to fight it off, but it leaps back out of range, and every object he tries to throw at it disappears. It turns into a crescent moon, with a woman reclining on it, he makes her come closer with the telescope and tries to embrace her, but then she flies up through the ceiling. Another woman appears on the crescent, and he tries to speak to her but suddenly a wall appears in the window. He tries to break it down but suddenly the giant moon is back and it swallows him whole. It chews him up and spits out the pieces, including his severed head. The Devil comes out of the mouth and gloats, picking up the head. Now, the lunar goddess reappears and again smites the Devil, putting the astronomer back together and restoring normalcy to his observatory.
Clearly, this one has a lot in common with “The Alchemist’s Hallucination,” but it is longer and more elaborate, and arguably more coherent. The lunar theme is maintained, and the general trajectory of the story is a kind of battle between good and evil, represented by the goddess and the Devil. We also get a kind of primitive gore effects, in seeing the astronomer dismembered by the moon, although it is done in a non-bloody manner that probably pleased most children. Most of the effects are achieved via the stop trick, there’s no magnification or double exposure that I recall. The other major effect is the woman flying directly upward, presumably on wires. The presence of the Devil also adds a traditional “horror” element, although again, he is more of a clown than a monster.
Alternate Titles: Le Reve D’un Astronome, A Trip to the Moon, La lune à un mètre
Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Georges Méliès
Run Time: 3 Min, 15 secs