No. 2920: THE MOON'S EYE

by Haleh Ardebili

Click here for audio of Episode 2920

Today, the first sci-fi film. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

It's 1902. The motion picture technology is in its early years. It wasn't long before, in the 1890s, when the Lumière brothers, Thomas Edison and Georges Méliès made their first short films. However, this particular year of 1902, the French illusionist and filmmaker Georges Méliès made something special. He produced the first science fiction film: A Trip to the Moon. And it's from this film that a famous iconic image emerges: A space ship lands in the moon's eye. This was 57 years before the first unmanned landing on the moon and 67 years before the first human touched the Lunar soil.

The film is silent and runs for about 14 minutes. It starts with a group of scientists, professors and astronomers gathering in a large hall. They wear long robes and pointed hats. They discuss how to travel to the moon and eventually find a way to do it. They insert a space capsule inside a giant cannon and shoot it into space.

Georges Méliès was born on December 8th, 1861 in Paris. He had a strong artistic passion from an early age as he enjoyed sketching people and places and made cardboard theatres. After his education, he purchased a theatre in Paris and began writing and directing illusion shows. He eventually entered the field of filmmaking.

Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès (1861-1938), French filmmaker and cinematographer [Wikipedia]

In his film A Trip to the Moon, we get to see the space traveler's point of view. The moon has a person's face and it magnifies, as the space capsule gets closer. When it lands, we see the iconic image of the bullet-shaped capsule stuck in the moon's eye. We see the planets and stars in the sky with their faces and identities, watching over the Earthling visitors. A celestial connection can be felt. We also see the image of the earth from the moon's horizon — eerily similar to another iconic image, the actual photo taken by NASA many years later.

man in the moon image from the film
The iconic image from "A Trip to the Moon"

Méliès' trip to the moon is a story of humanity's long-time dream of space exploration. It displays elements of dream and fantasy, with the suggestion of the science that would make it happen. We can feel the magic and excitement of discovery. Perhaps the same feeling that we had when Armstrong walked on the moon or when the first rover landed on Mars.

We search for something new, surprising and powerful that can transform our lives forever. For the first time, Georges Méliès conveyed this through a motion picture.

I'm Haleh Ardebili at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)


A Trip to the Moon with music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold & Laurence Rosenthal:

This episode first aired on January 9, 2014.