Released: February 6, 2012
In 1902, French film pioneer Georges Méliès released the groundbreaking science fiction short Le Voyage dans la Lune, known in English as A Trip to the Moon. This is the source of the famous clip where the man in the moon is hit in the eye by a rocket. Taken in its time, it is a brilliant work, but now seems somewhat quaint due to advances in both filmmaking and science. Those of us who never knew the moon before the 1969 actual trip there have been somewhat robbed of its magic and mystery. As Eric Severeid said, “The moon was always measured in terms of hope and reassurance and the heart pangs of youth on such a night as this; it is now measured in terms of mileage and foot-pounds of rocket thrust. Children sent sharp, sweet wishes to the moon; now they dream of bluntnosed missiles.”
As it turns out, more than just the moon’s magic was lost when it comes to this film. At the time, both black and white and hand-colorized versions of films were produced. All instances of the latter we believed lost for a little over 90 years when a severely damaged copy appeared in 1993. Between 1999 and 2011, the colorized version was restored in a miracle of care and patience. That left only one thing: music. “Silent” is a bit of a misnomer as pre-“talkie” films usually had what was essentially mood music played in the theatre during showings. The music that accompanied Le Voyage dans la Lune, as expected, remains unknown.
As if the film restoration were not brilliant enough, the producers did something else amazing. Rather than trying to reproduce a plausible 1902 silent film accompaniment, they brought in French electronic duo Air to write and record a modern soundtrack. Air are no strangers to soundtrack work, but it is hard to imagine that writing a soundtrack for a 16 minute, 110 year-old silent film is quite the same as other film work. The resulting album (twice as long as the film) is as bold as the ambitious idea behind the film and its restoration. Air manages to make a very modern record that is easy to imagine might have fit just as perfectly in 1902. It fits in ways that are in a sense too perfect to even explain and the resulting magic helps just a bit to understand the magic of the film when public eyes were first laid on it over a century ago.
The album itself stands on its own for those with a taste for the electronic avant guard or an appreciation for music coaxed out of something that does not seem, well, musical. Along with the film, the music shines forth as part of a larger whole that is breathtaking, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The film and music together return to us at least a bit of the magic of the moon mourned by Severeid.