[First Published 8 October 2008; Updated 12 February 2009; 10 June 2010; 24 February 2012; 27 March 2012]
[I’ve been adding to this post occasionally since I first published it on 8th October 2008. I tagged it as a work in progress, but now that I’ve commented a little on every shot, I thought I’d publish the updates (it has more than doubled in length since it first appeared) and declare it (almost) finished. I will continue to update it every once in a while, but I hope you find it interesting and informative in its present form. I still invite comments or further information from anyone who’d like to add to the essay, or who has links or bibliographic references to recommend.]
For the benefit of anyone who is studying this film or just fascinated by it, I’m going to attempt a shot-by-shot commentary on Georges Méliès‘ A Trip to the Moon, released in France on 1st September 1902. It might start out rudimentary and descriptive, but as I add to and re-edit it from time to time it will be embellished with notes garnered from further reading and visitors’ commentaries (feel free to add your observations at the bottom of this post), to see if we can gather together some useful critical annotations for each shot of the film. I’ve included lots of links, some of which expand upon a key point, while others offer a surprising but interesting digression, I hope.
Am I allowed to use a trailer as my ‘Picture of the Week‘? Of course, I am. It’s my blog, and nobody’s checking. Yesterday, American viewers of Iron Man 2 were treated to a “surprise” trailer for J.J. Abrams forthcoming collaboration with Steven Spielberg, entitled Super 8. Despite rumours that this was the teaser for a Cloverfield prequel, echoing the way that film had been unveiled without warning in an untitled ad preceding the far less interesting Transformers movie, this has proven not to be the case. Abrams gave away enough before screenings to confirm that this was not the case. But it might as well be. Although it gives away more than the Cloverfield trailer did (the first one didn’t even have a title on it), Abrams is still messing around with monsters and mystery. The trailer shows a pick-up truck causing an apparently deliberate derailment of a train carrying materials seized at “Area 51”. The use of that phrase immediately clues you in to a film about aliens (I kind of wish they hadn’t said anything so obvious indicative of the finished product). The final image is off something thumping at the walls from inside one of the carriages, about to escape and reveal itself.
I’m hoping it will be more interesting than another tale of alien cover-ups in Nevada – Spielberg has covered that extensively in Taken, and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) releases his own Area 51 later this year, about a group of teenagers uncovering the government conspiracy to conceal the evidence of alien visitors. Rumour has it that Super 8 will also be told from the point of view of teenagers who accidentally capture an alien on film while playing in the woods with a cine-camera.
Slashfilm has a fairly comprehensive list of stuff that is known about the film so far, most notably that the trailer was shot a month ago, independently of the film (the Cloverfield trailer was also shot before any of the rest of the film), under the pretense that the special effects were for Abrams’ forthcoming TV show, Undercovers (also prepping Star Trek 2, and having just overseen the completion of Lost, he’s obviously a busy guy).
Do you feel like the game has changed? Are we in a new age of spectacular cinema, freed from technological limits? That’s what was promised, but has Avatar rescued us from our humdrum lives of everyday movies with everyday special effects? My initial verdict is, well … sort of.
First things first (and here’s where you’ll find the greatest concentration of potential poster-quotes) Avatar looks astonishing. Really. It has wondrous moments when you momentarily accept the tangibility of the lanky blue folk on the screen, and it makes perfect sense that these are couched in a narrative about a man exploring a new world via a new body: Cameron meshes together the diegetic events and the experience of their spectacles perfectly, so the spectator’s exploratory view of Pandora (where the film takes place) can be focused on discoveries of plants and species that are, at the same time, discoveries of CGI novelties. It means you don’t have to feel bad about stopping and staring: it makes gawping at stuff feel like a plot point. But the plot is so stale that it might even be seen as a deliberate strategy to choke off any sense of suspense or complexity and force the audience to focus on the immediate splendour of the present moment: don’t worry about what’s going to happen, just check how good it looks as it’s happening.