An Excursion to the Moon (1908)

by popegrutch

This movie is an unabashed remake of Georges Méliès beloved classic “A Trip to the Moon,” although with a shorter run time and a smaller cast and (evidently) budget. It nonetheless does preserve bits of Segundo de Chomón’s signature wit and gentle charm.

The movie consists of a series of discrete shots, each set up as a tableau within a proscenium-style stage area. The first shot shows a group of “scientists” or explorers, is a garden at night, the moon hanging overhead. One, who is kitted out in a classic wizard’s robe and cap, lectures at them and gestures to the moon. The others appear skeptical at his message. However, they follow him off stage after a bit of pantomime. The next shot shows the wizard/scientist’s observatory, with a large telescope in the background. The wizard shows his fellows the elaborate equations he has worked out on the chalkboard, then turns the chalkboard over to reveal a screen on which an animated image of a capsule flying between Earth and Moon appears. The others appear to congratulate him, and then follow him off this stage to the next scene.

The next shot shows a workroom in which a bullet-shaped capsule is being constructed. The wizard character points out various features and a shorter scientist interrupts him to pontificate for a moment, before being picked up by the seat of his pants by a small crane. He is rescued and the scientists move on. This scene shows the huge gun which will fire the capsule at a distance. Unlike in the Méliès film, this gun has been constructed in the remote mountains, rather than in the middle of Paris. The short scientist is now carrying several suitcases, which he drops over the side of the railing, presumably losing his luggage down the mountainside. We now cut to the loading of the gun, which here is handled by military men rather than women in revealing military-style costumes as in the original. The short fellow again has two suitcases, which must have been recovered for him, but he is booted in the backside by a servant as he climbs aboard. One of the soldiers lights the fuse to set off the rocket, and there is a brief cut to an image of the barrel of the gun expelling the ship.

Now we see an image of the man in the moon, apparently peacefully sleeping until the rocket speeds towards him. Rather than getting stuck in his eye, it goes into his mouth. When he swallows it, he suddenly spits out bright orange flames. While the movie has been tinted to this point, it features hand-stenciled color from here on. Now we see a tableau of the scientists on the moon’s surface, watching a brilliant sunrise. They suddenly lie down to sleep, but are awakened as snow falls around them. They seek shelter inside a crater that leads to an elaborate cave-system. Inside the cave, they find a room with a waterfall and large colorful mushrooms, one of which sprouts suddenly from the floor and appears to shoot spores at them. Then a moon-native arrives. Rather than a demonic/lizard-like Selenite, this is a sort of elf-being with large ears and pajamas decorated with stars. This creature leads them to the throne room and disappears (apparently voluntarily) in a puff of colored smoke. Within the throne room is the king and a few of his guards, all decked out in more-or-less Turkish-style clothing. Some archways and columns in the background complete the image of a fairly Earth-bound exoticism. The scientists bow and introduce themselves, and a girl who was reclining before the king gets up to meet them, soon joined by several other moon-maidens in a dance. One of the scientists takes the first moon-maiden by the arm, then suddenly runs off with her, infuriating the king. He summons two of the large-eared creatures to chase the remaining scientists out of his presence. The creatures follow the scientists back to their ship, then push it off the cliff’s edge, from where it drops back to Earth. We see several astronomers back in the original garden, watching through hand-held telescopes, and suddenly the capsule lands in the pool. The scientists clamber out of he wrecked ship, all unharmed, and joined by the moon-princess.

It appears to me as if someone at Pathé discovered how popular the original movie was an insisted that de Chomón should make one for them, but didn’t give him the budget he needed to improve on it, despite the later date and improved techniques he could have applied. In fact, he seems to have cut corners at every step of the way. The shots are all tighter, to make the screen feel less empty with the smaller cast, but also to allow for smaller, less elaborate backdrops that would be quicker to construct. The costumes are simpler and generally appear borrowed from other productions, even the makeup for the man in the moon is scaled down from what Méliès used. It’s also possible that Segundo de Chomón realized that there was no way he could make a better version, and so simply didn’t try. It’s interesting that where Méliès showed the scientists bashing Selenites with umbrellas, and capturing one accidentally for further study, de Chomón reduces the violence and adds the romantic storyline of the wooing of the moon-princess, who accompanies the scientists to Earth willingly. This seems to confirm the trend established in “The Golden Beetle,” in which fantasy and feminine elements are treated with more sympathy, and even given agency, where in Méliès films they are often objectified more thoroughly.

Director: Segundo de Chomón

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 6 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here.