A colorized version of Georges Meilies' "A Trip to the Moon" was discovered in 1993. Credit: Flicker Alley
As anyone who saw Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" knows, French filmmaker Georges Melies churned out hundreds of wondrous, magical films during the infancy of cinema. Many — in fact, most — of them have been lost. But his 1902 space opus "A Trip to the Moon" not only survived but has thrived, becoming one of the oldest and most exciting films to marry narrative with special effects. Its history is detailed in “Extraordinary Voyage,” a fascinating, loving documentary you can stream right here:
One thing the documentary reveals is that the film was lucky two times: First that any copy survived at all, and second that another version of the film was discovered in 1993. Among a pile of hundreds of film reels donated anonymously to a Spanish archive was a hand-colored version of the film. It was not in good shape. Like many from the era, it had been neglected, allowed to rot in a musty film can. It was still better than some: about 90% of films made before 1929 are missing utterly. That it existed in any form at all was a blessing.
“Extraordinary Voyage” gives you a history of Melies’ film. But it’s the salvation effort that’s the most transfixing. The film pores over people stitching the film into a viewable shape via computers, digitally adding missing portions of individual frames — some of which are missing almost entirely — by inserting footage from the black-and-white version, then colorizing them to create the version that came be seen today. It’s exciting and moving watching history be reclaimed, even if it leaves you wondering what will become of our digital age. Celluloid film can decay or be burned (as “Inglorious Basterds” took the time to note, it’s highly, highly flammable). But digital work can be wiped out with a single keystroke. Back up your stuff.