This 113-year-old film has more or less been canonized, so there's not really much point to me "reviewing" it, per se. I've also seen it many times, partially due to film class, curiosity, and the fact that it's fewer than twenty minutes long. No, the reason why I write about A Trip to the Moon is because of the version that is available for streaming via Netflix, which is one of several ways to watch the film online (it's in the public domain), but perhaps will be one of the most common methods people will use to see it.

Once color in films became a possibility near the middle of the century, someone had the not-necessarily-terrible idea to take a look at black and white films of yore and see if subjecting them to the same colorization process would improve them. This may sound like quite a decent idea to a modern viewer, many of whom reject any and all black and white films out of hand, claiming they're boring. I never understood this criticism, particularly these days, when most mainstream dramas and actions are going for a grittier, color-drained aesthetic that robs many films of visual character, anyway. Nevertheless, seeing a movie that's actually been colorized confirms one thing: they're abominations.

The colorization process ignores the fundamental idea that either the filmmaker shot the movie without imagining that being able to see it in color would be possible, or there was a clear intentionality behind not using color in the visual design. Think of a film like Citizen Kane, one that uses stark contrasts between light and dark that are all the more heightened by the blacks and whites that comprise the mise en scène. Now imagine taking a handful of pastel crayons and filling in all those colorless spaces. Are you able to picture only horrible, misguided things? That’s what colorization is like.

I say all this because the version of A Trip to the Moon that I watched was colorized within an inch of its life. Georges Méliès’s film is one of the earliest examples of special effects; it does imagine, quite fantastically, what the surface of the moon looks like, after all. So I suppose there is a bit of a logical basis behind colorizing the film. It’s not beyond reason to believe that Méliès envisioned a world full of color when designing his movie (Martin Scorsese’s Hugo recreates some of Méliès’s sets and costumes with vivid color).

Nevertheless, the pioneer did not have access to colored film stock, and so what we’re left with is an absolute mess. I watched this version of the film over a month ago, but thescorching reds and vomitous yellows and greens are seared into my mind’s eye in the worst possible way. In his later life, a disillusioned Méliès attempted to burn the majority of his many films, and I believe he would have done so with gusto if he had seen this version of his masterpiece.

Adding even further insult to injury is the presence of a truly terrible electronic score that accompanies the soundless images. My knowledge about silent film scores is tentative at best—I believe many silent directors assumed there would be no score at all—but I’m guessing that what the band Air has provided for this version is not at all what Méliès had in mind. 

According to the Wikipedia page, film critic A. O. Scott was extremely impressed with the recent restoration of the film. I hope that he refers only to the quality of the print, and not the film’s ruinous color or completely misguided music.

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