A science fiction soundtrack release and DVD premiere 110 years in the making

By C.J. Bunce

It’s not every day, or even any year, that you get to witness the video premiere of a film from 1902 in its original color version.   Or that you get to listen to the world premiere sound recording of a complete score to that film.  Especially if that movie never had a musical score and the musical score is actually composed and released 110 years after the film’s premiere.  And if that film is considered to be the first science fiction film of all time, then you’re really in for something unique.  Confused?  Read on.

The classic science fiction film is, of course, the French classic Le Voyage dans la lune, or A Trip the the Moon, created by science fiction special effects and animation pioneer George Méliès, who current film audiences may know as one of the heroes of Martin Scorcese’s Academy Award-nominated film Hugo.  The famous scene in A Trip to the Moon where the rocketship blasts into the Man in the Moon’s eye is a classic bit of film nostalgia.  The 14-minute film was based on two classic works: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, and H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon.  You can’t have a better science fiction pedigree than A Trip to the Moon.

The Victorian era meets the future in this seen from the 1902 color film A Trip to the Moon

Film enthusiasts for literally a century were aware that A Trip to the Moon was originally released in theaters not in the typical black and white that monopolized film into the 1960s, but in color.  But how could that be?  The story was a secret treasure of sorts, that stayed hidden until 1993, when a film collector revealed the sole remaining color copy of the 1902 film in Barcelona.  But the 13,375 frames of decomposed material was practically worthless, until film preservationist Serge Bromberg found a way to catch the very few minutes when the film was able to be photographed when deposited with a special chemical vapor.  Every day for two years his staff worked bit by bit through each frame, and in 2010 digital technology had come so far as to allow the preservationists to re-build the film at Technicolor’s laboratories in Los Angeles, following a $500,000 grant from French film foundations.  The result was revealed to dazzled audiences at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Film pioneer Georges Méliès mixed stunning color animation and special effects in this view of the future of travel in A Trip to the Moon

But before the film was revealed, a matter of sound arose.  The original film was created before the concept of the talkie, or even the playing of music to accompany the film.  No score had ever been created for A Trip to the Moon.  The same foundations that had financed the restoration selected the French band Air to compose a 16-minute soundtrack for the film.   Because the home-grown film was considered by the French to be revered even more than the rest of the world, musicians Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel were themselves elevated to a celebrity status like never before.  After completion of the soundtrack, Air began composing a full musical score expanding on the themes they created for the film.  Their sound is both futuristic and modern, and has been compared to their influences: Pink Floyd, spaghetti Western composer Ennio Morricone, and the bands Vangelis and Tangerine Dream.

A sea of tranquility featured in the 1902 film

National Public Radio will be revealing the full album stream this coming Friday, February 3, 2012, at www.npr.org/music .  A limited edition CD/DVD set will be released at Amazon.com on February 7, 2011, including the re-mastered original color version of the film.

Film distributor Flicker Alley will be releasing the premiere Blu-Ray release of the color version of A Trip to the Moon on March 27, 2012 in a deluxe edition, including the 78-minute documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange of Lobster Films in Paris, about the life of Georges Méliès and his film A Trip to the Moon.

We featured A Trip to the Moon here at borg.com a few weeks ago as one of our most iconic images of the history of sci-fi in film.  If you haven’t voted for your favorite sci-fi image yet, check it out and vote for your favorite here.

On a final note, George Méliès was another creative master in the realm of masters like Wolfgang Mozart who suffered financially.  Students of copyright law and theory should check out his story, as he may be the first victim of film piracy, as his film was secretly duplicated by film technicians and sold without any profits given to Méliès, eventually resulting in his own bankruptcy.  Long in the public domain, the new color transfer with soundtrack by Air will give modern preservationists of film history and the modern composers some profits that the creator himself never saw.  This is well deserved, as in doing so, modern audiences get a new, immediate film experience and a look at something not seen since the original moviegoers watched the film for the first time.

You can pre-order the Air CD release, including the color version of the DVD via Amazon.com today here.

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