|Le Voyage Dans la Lune|
While the stars may be the eventual destination of much science fiction, the first goal of two of the fathers of science fiction was closer and eminently more practical: the Moon. In their imaginations, both Jules Verne and H G Wells went there in De la Terre à la Lune and The First Men in the Moon, published in 1865 and 1901 respectively, classic works that have both been revisited in the past years, one in a new adaptation, the other in a revision of a historic work regarded as the first ever science fiction film.
It took reality until 1969 for reality to catch up with those fictional lunar excursions, and it was in the celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of the Moon landings that the BBC’s 2010 adaptation of H G Wells’ novel was commissioned, and now we have another reason to celebrate, with the release of the restored version of Le Voyage Dans la Lune, Georges Méliès’ ground breaking 1902 short film inspired by Jules Verne’s novel, with a new soundtrack supplied by the appropriately otherworldly French electronic music duo Air.
H G Wells’ The First Men in the Moon
The Wells novel was adapted by Mark Gatiss, a man well versed in genre work from his involvement with The League of Gentleman, the four episodes of Doctor Who he has written, two appearance on that show, the live 2005 performance of The Quatermass Experiment and the excellent documentary series he hosted, A History of Horror. Here he is suitably eccentric as “scientific investigator” Arthur Cavor, creator of the compound Cavorite, a material that is opaque to gravity.
His travelling companion is Rory Kinnear as aspiring playwright and failed businessman Julius Bedford, well cast in the role by simple virtue of being an English gentleman, and together they build a capsule immune to the that fundamental force of nature that will allow them to navigate to the Moon by manipulating roller blinds coated in Cavorite that seize the gravity of celestial bodies towards which they will be drawn.
The production is luxurious for the limited budget, thanks to careful preproduction planning and the largely faithful recreation of the structure of the novel, which calls for little more than barren landscapes and the capsule itself, a modest contraption of Edwardian styling. A backdrop was used to create the exterior Moonscapes, a more economical method than computer rendering, though that process was used to create the inhabitants of the Moon, the Selenites, and it is here the limitations of digitally created characters become apparent.
Unfortunately, that strict adherence to source is also the downfall of the piece, in that the novel is more thoughtful than dramatic, the narrative coming from exploration and discovery rather than postulation, an acceptable structure for a book, but the antithesis of televised drama. A framing story tying Bedford to the 1969 Moon landing is added, as is Cavor’s specific fate on the Moon, though it remains faithful to Wells’ established framework, but as the body of the story is simple and linear, while the wonder of the initial launch into space is charming, it is insufficient to last the voyage.
An interesting interlude is that which represents the chapter "Mr. Bedford in Infinite Space," where the capsule returns to Earth, its sole passenger suffering nightmares in the style of Georges Méliès, featuring Gatiss’ League of Gentleman costars Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton as celestial bodies, and it is to the original we now turn our attentions, if only to distract ourselves from Kinnear’s hideously fake beard.