Thursday, January 3, 2013

Top 10 Georges Méliès Films

Photo of Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès was one of the earliest filmmakers. Often referred to as a cinemagician for his innovative special effects, Méliès invented the stop trick and is also often credited for some of the earliest use of multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted coloring. Méliès is easily one of the first fantasists of film.

He directed over 500 short films in less than twenty years and less than half of them still exist today. During WWI the French army turned Méliès' film studio into a military hospital and melted many of Méliès' films down to make boot heels for soldiers. I'm sure many more were lost through time and Méliès' once in a rage even burned many of his own films. We may never know what amazing films were lost, but nonetheless, half of 500 is still a lot. 

Of the films that still exist many of them not only introduced new technical innovations, but also were many firsts of genres. Méliès is often credited to have made the first Science Fiction film (A Trip to the Moon, 1902) as well as the first Horror film (The Haunted Castle, 1986). 

Many of Méliès' films became formulaic and repetitive and at times it seems as if Méliès would just rehash older films he made and call them new. It may not be said that Méliès was the most consistent filmmaker (a seemingly hard feat when your filmography surpasses 500) but he was undeniably a creative director and one of the biggest pioneers of film. 

Since many of Méliès' films are so short (most running between 1 and 6 minutes) and there are so many of them it would be impossible for me to review each one. So instead I have decided to make a list of my ten favorite Georges Méliès' films, the ones I find to be the best. Keep in mind I haven't seen all of his films, but I've seen around fifty of them. 

10. The Conquest of the Pole (1912)

The Conquest of the Pole (1912) snow giant

This was actually one of Méliès' last films that he ever made. It's also one of his longest, running at over 30 minutes long. 

Because it follows the same plot formula it is often considered to be the final film in his Fantastic Voyage trilogy (the first two being A Trip to the Moon and The Impossible Voyage). A group of men travel to the North Pole and upon their arrival they are met with a Snow Giant who tries to eat them. 

For a Méliès film it's surprisingly boring and slow-paced and there seems to be a bit of a lack of cool tricks. It has its moments though and the Snow Giant scene towards the end is great. 

You can watch it in excellent quality here. 30 mins. 

9. The Inn Where No Man Rests (1903)

The Inn Where No Man Rests (1903)

Despite having an awesome name for a western, The Inn Where No Man Rests falls more neatly into the genre of fantasy or even supernatural horror or perhaps surrealism. 

The film seems to be about the hallucination of a drunk man who, upon checking into an inn, finds his furniture flying around the room and the paintings coming to life. 

There's some really cool tricks in here and my favorite part would probably have to be the painting part. 

Can be watched here. 5 mins.

8. The Bewitched Inn (1987)

The Bewitched Inn (1987)

A pretty early film from Méliès. It's essentially a less complex The Inn Where No Man Rests (1903) but for me it works out slightly better. 

Some very odd things happen in a man's room, including his bed disappearing! It's essentially a 19th century Paranormal Activity...except it doesn't suck. 

Can be watched here. 2 mins.

7. The Infernal Boiling Pot (1903)

The Infernal Boiling Pot (1903)

The film really just serves to show off some tricks. There's no story or anything but it's incredibly visually pleasing. The hand-coloring is great. 

Can be watched here. 1 mins.

6. The Astronomer's Dream (1898)

The Astronomer's Dream (1898)

Well, this is basically just about a moon (that looks like it's straight out of Majora's Mask) who harasses a poor astronomer. 

The sets are great and really create a fantastic cartoonish feel. 

Can be watched here3 mins.

5. The Sign of the Cross (1899)

The Sign of the Cross (1899)

So Satan walks in to a Church, right? And what do you think he does? Terrorizes it of course! He harasses the nuns, redecorates the place a bit, and even summons some demons from hell. 

All with beautiful set design and some pretty clever tricks. 

Can be watched here. 3 mins. 

4. The Haunted Castle (1986)

The Haunted Castle (1986)

One of the best of Méliès' early work. Widely regarded to be not only the first vampire movie, but the first horror movie as well. 

With a haunted house full of vampires, witches, ghosts, and skeletons, who could argue? 

Can be watched here. 3 mins.

3. The Impossible Voyage (1904)

The Impossible Voyage (1904) sun

The second film in Méliès' Fantastic Voyage trilogy. It's also sometimes regarded as the first Steampunk movie. It's also one of the first films that made people realize that film is not only a visual but can also be used for storytelling. 

It was one of the longest films of its time, running at 24 minutes long it was about five times the length of the average film at the time. 

It has simply beautiful sets and is so visually pleasing. The science in it is also hilarious. Okay, to show you just how absurd this film is I will give you a brief synopsis: A group of men fly a train to the sun and they end up in the middle of the sun by going through the sun's mouth. They then proceed to parachute off the sun in a submarine. Yes. That happened. 

Somewhat lacking in an antagonist (no moon people or snow giants) but it's still good fun. 

Can be watched here. 24 mins.

2. Blue Beard (1901)

Blue Beard (1901) women hanging

This is probably Méliès' most plot-heavy film. It's also probably his darkest. Probably the most plot-heavy and darkest film of all films at the time. 

It concerns Blue Beard who tells his new wife to never go in a certain room in his house. Alas though, the wife is tempted by a demon and she enters the room to find numerous women hung by the neck (pretty dark imagery for its time). Blue Beard finds out she disobeyed him and gets angry but then some townspeople come to her rescue and kill Blue Beard in a pretty awesome sword fight. 

I will admit there is a bit of pointless filler in here (surprising for a Melies short) but it's not too bad. For the most part the film is very straight-forward. The sets here are beautiful.

Can be watched here10 mins. 

1. A Trip to the Moon (1902)

A Trip to the Moon (1902) face

Not only is A Trip to the Moon my favorite Méliès film, it's also regarded as the first ever science-fiction film (though the science in it is admittedly ridiculous). I guess it was the first film that took place in outer space though. Inspired by the books From the Earth to the Moon and The First Men in the Moon, the former written by Jules Verne and the latter by H.G. Wells (two pioneers of the genre). 

The film is more of a comedy and it's obvious that it was made in good fun. The sets here are absolutely beautiful, especially the sets on the moon. The aliens look surprisingly cool also. 

And of course everyone is familiar with the famous image of the spaceship landing on the moon's eye. 
Méliès' most popular film is deservedly so, as I find it to also be his finest. 

Click here to watch a restored hand-colored version with a soundtrack by AIR or here for a narrated version. 


Well, that concludes my list of favorite Georges Méliès films. If there are any I didn't list that you feel are should of been, let me know because maybe I haven't seen it yet. But remember, this is a list of my favorite Georges Méliès films, not yours.

For those interested in Melies I recommend two DVDs: George Melies: First Wizard of Cinema and Melies Encore. Fantastic DVDs to own, the first one contain close to one hundred of his films and the second own contains over twenty of some of his rarer stuff. A quick search on Amazon will reveal many different Melies collections. 
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