A Trip to Jupiter

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(5/10) In a nutshell: One of a a large host of films imitating Georges Méliès’ pioneering 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, this short film from 1909 by Spanish director Segundo de Chomón has some clever camera effects, beautiful hand colouring and a good dose of fun. 

A Trip to Jupiter. 1909, France. Directed by Segundo de Chomón. Produced for Pathé.  IMDb score: 6.1

The king climbing to Jupiter.

The king climbing to Jupiter.

After French pioneer special effects film maker Georges Méliès became an international star with his sci-fi comedy A Trip to the Moon (reviewin 1902 he was widely imitated, often by people with less skill, sometimes with bigger budgets. One of these imitators was Spanish Segundo de Chomón, based in Paris after working for the first few years of his career in Barcelona.

Some critics have asked why de Chomón has never been as acclaimed a film pioneer as for example Méliès, the Lumière Brothers, Thomas Edison or Robert W. Paul. One answer is that he simply wasn’t. Edison and his employee William Dickson made their first test films as early as 1891, the Lumière Brothers unveiled their revolutionary cinematograph in 1895 and by 1896 Méliès was already making narrative special effects films. When Méliès made the ambitious, nearly 14 minutes long A Trip to the Moon in 1902, de Chomón had barely started making documentary shorts. It wasn’t until 1907 he rose to fame with lavish special effects fantasies such as The Red Spectre and Kiri-Kis.

Another reason is that he was often highly derivative of other directors. One of the films where this is most obvious is in the 1908 film Excursion to the Moon (Excursion dans la lune), which is a complete carbon copy of Méliès moon travel film. For this reason alone, I won’t give the film a separate review. Interesting though, that de Chomón was allowed to rip off Méliès to such an extent, as they were both working for the same company, Pathé, the biggest film studio in Europe at the time.

Battling the king of Jupiter.

Battling the king of Jupiter.

This is not to say he was not a good film maker – in fact he was a brilliant film maker, as can be seen in his even more lavish space fantasy A Trip to Jupiter (Le voyage sur Jupiter, 1909). The film is 9 minutes long and depicts a king walking around his castle and being shown different celestial bodies through his astronomer’s telescope – each of them inhabited by a corresponding god or goddess. The king goes to bed and dreams of a ladder reaching up to the heavens, which he climbs, passing the planets he saw earlier, until he makes a leap for Jupiter, and falls flailing through space. He lands on the planet, encounters the royal guard, and fights off a few of them with his sword (they disappear in puffs of flame), but is eventually overpowered. He is then taken to the king of Jupiter, whom he fights, loses, and gets thrown off the planet, and lands back on the ladder, which is then cut by the goddess of Saturn (with a giant pair of scissors. The king falls back to Earth and awakes in his bed.

An encounter with the lady in the moon.

An encounter with the lady in the moon.

de Chomòn uses more traditional sets than the two-dimensional almost surrealistic façades and matte paintings that Méliès used during the making of his legendary space films (although at this point in time, Méliès had also began using more three-dimensional sets), and they are all extremely beautifully designed, as are all the props and costumes. The hand colouring of the prints in this film is also exquisitely made. There is also a bit of camera genius when de Chomón describes the ladder to Jupiter. The climbing is all made in two single shots, with the camera moving upwards with the king for long stretches. This was achieved by laying out the stars and planets as large cutouts on the floor, the gods and goddesses looking like they are standing or sitting, but actually lying on their backs, and the king crawling vertically on the floor with the ”ladder” suspended beneath him. The camera is actually suspended from the ceiling and filming straight down, The effect is completely obvious, but clever nonetheless.

de Chomón infuses the film with a wonderful sense of fun and adds a few cheeky details. The story is of course very derivative of Méliès’ 1898 film The Astronomer’s Dream (in fact, for some years it was mistaken for that film), combined with A Trip to the Moon, but de Chomón adds enough flavour to make this one stand out on its own. Not an artistic or technical milestone by far in 1909, but good enough to earn de Chomón a mentioning on my list.

A Trip to Jupiter. 1909, France. Directed by Segundo de Chomón. Produced for Pathé.

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