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In 1895, a stage magician named Georges Méliès witnessed how the
Lumière brothers changed the history of entertainment when he attended
the first public screening of their projected motion pictures, and was
marveled at the idea of moving images. Seven years and dozens of short
films later, Méliès was a successful filmmaker on his own account,
releasing a movie that would become legendary, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune"
("A Trip to the Moon"), a monumental achievement in which he would
finally prove that cinema was more than documentaries and "gimmick
films", and that there was something that the Lumières couldn't see:
that it was a natural medium for telling stories. So, after having
great success with "Le Voyage Dans La Lune", Méliès prepared his next
major project as another adaptation of a Jules Verne story: "Le Voyage
à Travers l'impossible", or "The Voyage Through the Impossible".
Better known as "The Impossible Voyage", "Le Voyage à Travers l'impossible" is the story of a geographic society (presumably French), which decides to make the ultimate trip. As one can imagine, this won't be a normal voyage, as they will use every vehicle they can use in an attempt to travel across every corner of the world. So, with this in mind, they prepare a train at the Swiss Alps with their advanced machinery and begin their journey. However, first they must arrive to the train, so they use "The Impossible Carriage" to get across the mountains, and after several difficulties, manage to get to the train. With their specially equipped train, the group manages to fly high in the sky, and are literally swallowed by the Sun. The group will face more difficulties, as their voyage will take them to many fantastic places, from the Sun to even the bottom of the Ocean.
The film's source, "Le Voyage à Travers l'impossible", was a play written collaboratively by Jules Verne and French dramatist Adolphe d'Ennery in 1882, in which the writers adapted to stage the style and themes that Verne had been used in his popular novels. Naturally, Méliès' adaptation lacks the benefits of having dialogs, but his version of "The Impossible Voyage" does keep the same atmosphere of Jules Verne's literary work, capturing the spirit of science fiction in each act of the film and mixing it with that magical fantasy and charmingly whimsical humor that Méliès used to employ in each one of his films. With a runtime of only 24 minutes (something unheard of at the time of its release), "The Impossible Voyage" shows a progression of what Méliès did in "A Trip to the Moon", as the narrative is built in a tighter way (despite the similarities with that previous masterpiece).
As usual in a film by Georges Méliès, the real magic of the movie lays in the extremely clever and detailed way in which Méliès creates his special effects, and in the beautiful art direction he uses to make his fantasy come alive. The world of "The Impossible Voyage" seems like a more detailed trip to the same universe of "A Trip to the Moon", where insanely courageous scientists and inventors use their wonderful and crazy machines to conquer the limits of their fantastic world. In this there's a difference with Verne, as while in the writer's novels there's always a certain factuality in his devices, Méliès versions have more of magical than scientific, which goes perfectly with the comedic tone he uses in his adventure films. A magician until the end, Méliès creates wonderful special effects using every single photographic trick he had discovery at the time (there's a wonderful use of miniatures in the movie).
While the legendary classic "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" is certainly an iconic masterpiece (it'll always be Méliès' most famous work), personally I found "Le Voyage à Travers l'impossible" to be a superior film. Maybe it was that I saw it hand-tinted (which gives it an even more beautiful look) or the fact that it gave me the feeling that in this movie Méliès just let his creativity run completely free, but I just enjoyed this one (a bit) more. True, it's a bit tacky for our standards, but even today it holds up surprisingly well and remains as fun as when it was originally done, more than a century ago. "Le Voyage à Travers l'impossible", or "The Impossible Voyage", definitely makes a perfect companion piece to "Le Voyage Dans La Lune", and it's a nice introduction to the magic of Georges Méliès, the Cinemagician.
What an interesting and unusual little feature this is - the combination of
Méliès and Jules Verne always produces something worth seeing, and this one
is based on one of Verne's most fantastical ideas. It follows a group of
scientists and scholars on a very fanciful trip that uses every imaginable
form of conveyance, and the story gives Méliès all kinds of opportunities
for his trademark visual effects.
Each scene is packed with details, so much so that you cannot even catch it all in one viewing. It is also color-tinted in many places, which adds even more to the effect. The story is just wild, and is less plausible than many Verne stories, but that does not detract from it as entertainment. Méliès even tosses in a little slapstick, which is not too bad for its time. It is similar to, and just a cut below, his film of Verne's "Trip to the Moon", and anyone who enjoyed that classic should also like this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As many others have noted, "The Impossible Voyage" essentially follows
the same adventure structure as Méliès's earlier and most popular film,
"Le Voyage dans la lune" (1902). They are, after all, both based on
works by Jules Verne and Adolphe Dennery. "The Impossible Voyage",
however, is more elaborate and nearly or about twice as
long--especially with the additional couple minutes that were available
as an extended ending to exhibitors at extra cost (this ending hasn't
been included on the Image Entertainment and Kino releases, but has
been recently rediscovered and may be released on the upcoming Flicker
Alley release). According to historian John Frazer, it cost 37,500
francs ($7,500) to make. "The Impossible Voyage" is also more chaotic,
or anarchic--lampooning science and the adventures of science fiction
to far greater extent. Whereas in "Le Voyage dans la lune", there was a
clear journey executed in a rather concise manner, "The Impossible
Voyage", instead, follows a group from The Institute of Incoherent
Geography, led by an engineer Mabouloff (which translates as
"Scatterbrains" and is played by Méliès), and the journey is, indeed,
incoherent at times and certainly not concisely executed. On their
trip, they crash their automobile (and there seems to be no reason they
were even using it) in the mountains and spend some time in a hospital.
They also become frozen inside a refrigerator while on the Sun.
Furthermore, a journey to the Sun is obviously absurd in itself, unlike
that to the moon, which wasn't too far-fetched to the imagination even
The overall result of this is mixed. On the one hand, it's an ambitious and entertaining film for 1904; on the other hand, the increased emphasis on chaos and satire here over that in "Le Voyage dans la lune" dissolves some of the narrative structure and continuity, especially in how it elongates the picture. Additionally, I can only appreciate the theatrical shot-scene, tableau style of Méliès's narratives in limited amounts. The fallacy of attempting to make cinema an extension of theatre, which was one of Méliès's stated goals, was fully exposed as a travesty with the early feature-length films (for example, "Queen Elizabeth" (Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth) (1912)) that were theatrical dramas rather than fantasies with spectacular theatrical effects. It's also not often acknowledged that filmmaker contemporaries of Méliès were already introducing and experimenting with the cinematic techniques of scene dissection, continuity editing and different camera positions. George Albert Smith, whom Méliès had even had correspondence with, was probably at the forefront of early pioneers in this respect, but also by the mid to late 1900s, the Vitagraph and Pathé companies were already employing crosscutting. Later, Méliès was also a contemporary of D.W. Griffith. Thus, I can't give Méliès a total pass because of his era. Yet, for its time and for what it is, "The Impossible Voyage" remains a somewhat entertaining and amusing film to this day, although I rank it lower than "Le Voyage dans la lune" and even some of his other fantasies, such as "Bluebeard" (1901) and "Kingdom of the Fairies" (1903).
On a further note, at this time--in the era of fairground exhibition of cinema--extra-filmic lecturers, or narrators, would aid audiences in following these new complex narrative films, or provide supplemental information to them. Méliès wrote narration to his story films, such as "The Impossible Voyage", for this purpose. Méliès also offered most of his films in hand-colored versions, for which exhibitors would have to pay an extra price (to give some credit, a team of women headed by a Mrs. Thullier hand colored most of them). Fortunately, and unlike some of his other films, "The Impossible Voyage" is generally available today in a hand-colored version with narration. It's helpful, and it works against some of the other limits of the film. Of the narration, however, it's also another example of the primitiveness of Méliès's films; it may be seen as an admission of their lack of cinematic storytelling and self-contained narration (or, as historian Noël Burch would say, it's "non-closed").
Director Georges Méliès was an absolutely brilliant early filmmaker and
innovator. His camera tricks, use of a complex plot and sets, and
fun-loving fantasy elements in his films made him the greatest film
maker of his day. While I recently read that THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY
(from Edison Inc.) was the "first full-length film", this simply isn't
true, as Méliès' LE VOYAGE DANS LE LUNE (1902) preceded it and was a
much more complex film--featuring amazing sets and lots of laughs as a
group of scientists take a trip to the moon and meet the evil moon men!
Only a year later, in an attempt to outdo his previous success, Méliès
made this film about another group of wacky scientists who take a trip
to the Sun as well as under the sea!! And, while the original film was
a very long 14 minutes (that WAS full-length in its day), this one is
20--making it probably the longest film of its day.
While the new film is obviously strongly derived from the previous Méliès epic, compared to all other films of the day it is still brilliant and not even close to being matched. BUT, my score of 9 is more a way to indicate that it isn't quite as good as his film about the Moon. But, it is still very, very watchable and cute even today (something that can't be said of most other films of the age).
If you want to see this film online, go to Google and type in "Méliès" and then click the video button for a long list of his films that are viewable without special software.
Having produced a blockbuster in 1903 in which a group of scientists journeyed to the moon, Melies tried to outdo himself the following year by having another group of manic scientists travel to the sun. He made this film longer and stencilled it in colour, and the outcome is quite astounding. To think that Melies was producing lengthy masterpieces like this while contemporary filmmakers were still experimenting with one-shot narratives goes to show how far ahead of his time Melies really was - which makes his downfall less than a decade later all the sadder. Melies fills the screen with colour with sets sometimes similar to the expressionist sets of the German masterpieces of the late teens and 20s, and fills it also with movement. Not one moment passes when there isn't something to look at. Although this film is not as widely known as Le Voyage dans la lune for my money it surpasses it in terms of exuberance and imagination.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Released in 1904, cinematic magician Georges Méliès' 'Le Voyage à
travers l'impossible / The Impossible Voyage' often stands in the
shadow of the filmmaker's earlier success 'Le Voyage dans la lune / A
Trip to the Moon (1902),' which has long-since earned itself the label
of a cinematic classic. In many ways, however, 'Le Voyage à travers
l'impossible' is a superior film, brimming with stunning set and
model-work, creative visual effects, an exciting around-the-world
journey and no shortage of imagination!
At 24 minutes in length (which was almost unheard of at the time), 'Le Voyage à travers l'impossible' was no doubt heavily inspired by its more famous predecessor, as well as Jules Verne and Adolphe d'Ennery's play of the same name. The version of the film most commonly viewed nowadays (featured on the "Landmarks of Early Film Volume 2" DVD) features a hand-coloured print, supplemented with narration penned by Méliès himself.
Like most of Méliès' films, the narrative is played out like a stage play, with the story usually divided into various distinct one-take scenes, the camera settled at a distance from the action. The first few minutes of the film are concerned with organising this "impossible voyage," which will entail the use of every known means of locomotion including trains, automobiles, dirigible balloons, submarines and boats. An engineer (played, I believe, by the director himself) explains his extraordinary plans to the members of a geographic society, who meet his proposal with wholehearted enthusiasm. The voyage itself is an unparalleled triumph of early visual effects. The members of the expedition are first whisked away in a fast-moving train, which is particularly significant in that, at the time, the train was seen as an invention that could take you anywhere. 'Le Voyage à travers l'impossible' takes this idea to the literal extreme, symbolic of the ever-expanding possibilities of the era.
That iconic image of the scientists' rocket piercing the eye of the Man on the Moon has permanently become engrained in the minds of film-goers. In this film, we meet the Sun, who unexpectedly comes face-to-face with a flying locomotive. The gradual emergence of the Sun from behind the shifting clouds is a genuinely beautiful sight, and the face which comprises it is infinitely more pleasant than the nasty, ugly brute from a later Méliès film, 'L' Éclipse du soleil en pleine lune / The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon (1907).' Letting out a wide yawn to welcome in the new day, the Sun is understandably startled when the expedition's soaring train enters its outstretched mouth, and he proceeds to cough trails of flame.
On the surface of the Sun, the engineer and his band of fellow travellers set out to explore this strange new landscape, before the rising of the Sun precipitates a drastic rise in temperature (sounds unusual, but you'll have to suspend belief with this dubious logic). As all the explorers clamber into a specially-made icebox to cool down, all but the engineer are frozen into a block of solid ice. Rescued from a frosty fate by the leader of the expedition (who shrewdly decides to light a fire), the team tumbles into their only remaining means of travel a submarine and launch themselves off the face of the Sun and into the depths of the ocean.
Some viewers may find it difficult to accept this film's questionable take on science and logic, but this all adds to the charm of it. Méliès a master of magician's tricks, puffs of smoke and impossible disappearances was never concerned with reality, but with transporting his audiences into a world quite unlike their own. In an era where so many directors were neither daring nor imaginative enough to make the impossible happen on screen, 'Le Voyage à travers l'impossible' is the pinnacle of early film-making.
I suppose you could consider this film as a spiritual follow up to A
Trip to the Moon. The latter remains George Méliès most famous and
iconic film; probably for good reason considering its ambition and
imagination. An Impossible Voyage explores similar territory and is
certainly a worthy companion-piece as an example of early cinematic
In this one a group of scientists don't go to the moon, they head further afield to the sun. Perhaps this illustrates Méliès reaching out further too. Certainly this is another example of him developing the idea of what cinema could be. Unlike most of his peers, he was taking the medium into the story-telling sphere. Films like this were in this sense the beginnings of modern cinema as we know it.
The film features a nice colour tint that adds a great deal to the fantastical look. It contains a number of hand painted sets that gives it all a highly stylised look. The scientists' adventure not only takes them to the sun but also across the mountains of Switzerland, which Méliès also depicts like an alien landscape. The travellers end up in the bottom of the ocean completing their amazing journey. All in all this is an entertaining and highly imaginative work, well worth catching.
Impossible Voyage, The (1904)
*** (out of 4)
Melies attempt to pass his landmark A TRIP TO THE MOON doesn't quite come close to that but this here is still an entertaining little film. Running 20-minutes, this tells the story of a Geographic Society who build a special ship that will take them through the sky, to the sun and then under the sea. That's pretty much the only type of plot we get here as the master Frenchman really makes for an inter sting film that has more going on for it visually than anything story wise. I must admit that I found what little story we have here to be quite boring as none of the human characters are all that interesting (not too uncommon for 1904) but the places they visit really aren't that interesting either. The look of all the locations is what makes this film worth seeing as there's no doubt Melies put a lot of imagination into everything we're seeing. I really loved the hand-colored stuff as this too had imagination behind it and it wasn't just a scribbled mess. The underwater sequence is a good one but the highlight would have to be when the ship goes into the mouth of the sun.
This is a very important subject. What we are looking at here is one of the first epics. It's long for a Georges Melies film (24 minutes even), but it's a good watch. An Impossible Voyage is about a group of geographers who travel across the world in an assortment of vehicles to plot the world. The vehicles that they come up with are out there and unique, which only adds to the charm. It really has to be seen, to be believed. I always marvel at the amounts of effort gone into these films and An Impossible Voyage is just an amplification of that. This one, as I said, is long for a Melies film but it's really worth a watch. As a film, this is better than the 1 or 2 minute shorts that you will usually see. A Trip to the Moon, maybe the only Melies film as good as this one. I say, definitely give it a watch. It's fun and mesmerizing.
While other film makers were out on location filming locomotives and
fire engines or exotic climes, Georges Méliès stayed in his studio in
suburban Montreuil, creating ever more elaborate fantasy worlds, more
like paintings come to life than moving photographs. In Le voyage à
travers l'impossible, trains, submarines and factories are represented
by life sized cardboard cutouts. By 1904, audiences must have been
aware of the artifice, but it didn't matter, as the events depicted
were sheer comic fantasy with little reason to appeal to 'realism'.
Mainstream cinema today aspires to making even obvious fantasy, even the anthropomorphised cute animals of animated features, as realistically textured as 'real life', with vast amounts of computer power dedicated to that end. The obviously confected world that glories in its own artifice is a marked, if refreshing, rarity, especially in the commercial cinema some of Terry Gilliam's films, or Moulin Rouge!, for example.
As I checked details of Le voyage à travers l'impossible on IMDb, a CGI dragon flew around the banner advertisement above, not even promoting a film but a smartphone. Terrabytes of memory were no doubt engaged in ensuring that every scale looked authentically reptilian, and each was correctly rendered frame by frame to give a convincing three dimensional effect within the background 'plate'. I doubt audiences are any more convinced by the results than they were by Méliès' painted backdrops and cardboard cutout models. What matters is how good these things look, and how appropriate they are to the storytelling and emotional engagement, not their success at achieving photorealism.
As you might guess from the title, this film is in many ways an attempt to repeat the success of Le voyage dans la lune and retreads numerous elements of the earlier film. This time the destination is the sun, and the squabbling explorers are geographers, including a highly strung fat lady who has to be squeezed into confined spaces, not an especially flattering reflection of the small but growing presence of women in academia and the sciences.
The geographers' attempt to drive to the sun in a wacky motor coach ends in disaster, so they use a train supported by giant balloons that runs right up the side of (a cardboard cutout of) the Jungfrau and on at the same angle into the sky, an even less likely method of space travel than the ballistic capsule Méliès sent to the moon. The sun turns out to be personified by the gurning face of the director himself, of course; its mouth opens to swallow the train and then it belches solar flares. After some business involving boiling and freezing the party returns in a submarine with a little undersea exploration for good measure before an explosion catapults them ashore.
The film persists with the use of long shot tableaux, comprising 26 shots running about 20 minutes, with an additional refinement: the interiors of the train and the sub are revealed by literally removing the fourth wall, using cutaway sets as might be seen on stage. Again there's a lot to take in: in the sub sequence we're expected to keep our eyes on the action in both the engine room and the cabin simultaneously.
In terms of the creative control he exercised, Méliès was a true auteur to an extent that has rarely been repeated since. He not only wrote, produced, directed and acted in the films but also took direct responsibility for set and costume design, special effects, lighting and camera. This film finds him at the peak of his powers. Of his own films, Méliès himself was most proud of his historical epic La civilisation à travers les âges (1908) but that film is sadly lost, so Le voyage à travers l'impossible arguably stands as his greatest surviving masterpiece.
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