Movie Review – “A Trip To The Moon (1902)”

Canadian viewers see references to this film every time they watch a movie on Space: The Imagination Station. This was a very significant part of early film history, but does that mean it’s actually good?

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

The cast was uncredited.

Directed by George Melies

Written by George Melies, with inspiration from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Complete information is available from the IMDB.

This DVD release includes a dubbed narrator (and 39 other early films, including The Great Train Robbery, Exiting the Factory, The Sprinkler Sprinkled, the first animation, the first porn, and others.) The narrator has a thick French accent, but since all of the movies on this DVD predate synchronized sound technology by at least 14 years, the language options aren’t really that big a deal.

Past movie reviews can be found here.


The president of a country has a plan to travel to the moon and back, which he and most of the cabinet put into effect.

High Point

The trip home. They had to do something, after all; it’s not like they brought a cannon with them.

Low Point

The government of a country meets a new species, and their first instinct is to attack them? Great example, guys!

The Scores

The originality is impressive. Made in 1902, this was doing a lot of things for the first time. It was one of the first films to actually tell a story, for one thing. I’ve also been told that it was the first film the told a story using multiple camera shots. The dissolves used here were among the first, and the special effects were new to audiences that were still getting used to the idea of fiction on film. Normally, I wouldn’t give an adaptation of written work full credit for originality, but given how much work and effort went into innovation just in movie-making itself, I’ll give it a full 6 out of 6.

The effects are pretty cheap by today’s standards, but some aspects are still impressive. The vaporisation of the locals was very well done, particularly given how smoothly the cuts were masked when looking at the actors moving on other parts of the screen. When Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was made 18 years later, it still had less convincing effects. At the same time, some of the other effects (like the stars and planets looking down on them, or the spacecraft returning to Earth) looked pretty terrible in any age. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story seems fairly clear to me, even when I first watched the film (in a version without a narrator). The narrator helps a bit, but the mismatch between the narration and action at points is detrimental to the film. Other parts (such as the return trip home) don’t make sense to anyone familiar with Newton’s laws of gravity (which were over 200 years old when this film was made.) On one hand, the story is simplistic, with some pointless events, and some nonsensical choices from the characters. On the other hand, it was the most complicated story audiences had seen to date when it first came out. In the end, I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting was exaggerated pantomime, required to get the story across to audiences who wouldn’t necessarily have access to the narration. There were no lines, and no close-ups. The President was really the only character in the film, and we don’t get that close to him. It’s hard to rate the acting because of all of this; the actors couldn’t act naturally and still do their jobs. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response is very strong, but likely not in the ways the filmmakers intended. When originally released, this was high adventure for intellectual viewers, showing off the stories that film is capable of telling. Now, over a century later, I don’t know anyone who has watched the entire film without laughing at the story and/or special effects. It becomes something almost Ed Woodian in nature, particularly in battle and the trip home. Still, it provokes a powerful response from every audience I’ve seen it with. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is remarkable for 1902. By today’s standards, the composition is poor, the sets are cheap, and the editing is just enough to do the job. However, in the standards of the time, the fact that they built sets at all is impressive, let alone this numbers and complexity of sets. The use of multiple camera shots for a single story was still a new idea, and audiences were barely ready for it. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a movie that entertains people who aren’t particularly interested in the development of film, which is something that can be said about very few of the earliest works. I recommend it to pretty much anyone; it’s interesting, entertaining, and it’s only 14 minutes long. (This was really long in its day.) I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, A Trip To The Moon receives 35 out of 42.

One reply

  1. Tonight, Tonight

    I think when a film has a ship poke an anthropomorphic Man in the Moon in the eye, and then cut to the same ship on a moonscape, we can safely assume it’s unconcerned about Newton’s or any other scientific laws.

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