A Trip to Mars

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(5/10) In a nutshell: A scientist floats to Mars and is captured by Martians in this early American short film. Not a masterpiece, but a well made and intriguing little film.

A Trip to Mars. USA, 1910. Silent short. Directed by Ashley Miller. Loosely based on H.G. Wells’ novel The First Men in the Moon. Produced by the Edison Company. IMDb Score: 6.2 Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

A famous shot from the film, of the Martian creating a snowball around the scientist.

A famous shot from the film, of the Martian creating a snowball around the scientist.

Along with the Edison’s 10 minute rendition of Frankenstein (review), A Trip to Mars was one of USA’s first science fiction films, and perhaps the first all-out sci-fi. It was also one of the very first films about a trip to Mars – in any country. Both these films were released in 1910, and both were produced by Thomas Edison’s powerful conglomerate. Before this film there had apparently been made a version of Jules Verne’s book 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Seas in 1905, but that appears to have been lost.

A Trip to Mars is, as were quite a few early short sci-fi films, a more or less blatant ripoff of French pioneer Georges Méliès’ groundbreaking masterpiece A Trip to the Moon (1902, review) – a film that within its subgenre has never really been bested. At 4 minuted in length, A Trip to Mars is a lot less ambitious than Méliès’ 13 minute mini-epic – the sets are mostly nondescript and there isn’t much of a plot. The film takes its cue from H.G. Wells’ 1901 book The First Men in the Moon, inasmuch as a scientist creates a substance that reverses the effect of gravity – and makes a chair float in the air to test it. But here is really were the similarities end. In he film, the scientist throws some powder in himself, and floats up to Mars. Here he walks through a sinister forest of gigantic Martian tree-like beings who finally captures him. One of the giants hold him in the palm of his hand and breathes freezing air on him, until he is encapsuled in a giant snowball. The Martian then heats the snowball over a flame until it explodes, and the scientist tumbles back to Earth. Furious, he throws the remaining powder on the floor, and the whole house starts to shake and tilt. The End.

Flying ... erh, lying on the floor ... to Mars.

Flying … erh, lying on the floor … to Mars.

The costume and makeup designs of the Martians are fairly impressive – the Martian forest is actually quite imposing. The trick filming isn’t at all bad either – with the exception of the scenes where the scientist is supposed to be flying through the air. It is obvious that the actor is lying on his back on the floor, flailing his arms and legs. Here for example Spanish director Segundo de Chomón was a lot more inventive in his 1909 film A Trip to Jupiter (review). Exactly why the Martian chooses to create a snowball out of the poor scientist and then melt him is unclear, and no title cards are inserted for any explanation. Overall, the absence of explanations give the film something of a psychedelic feel, and although not very ambitious, it has s strange draw. The superimposition shots used to make he Martians appear huge are very well done, even though trick film of this kind was a bit archaic when they were used just for the effect even at this time.

The Martian forest.

The Martian forest.

A Trip to Mars was directed Ashley Miller, who also created another sci-fi short called Sky Splitter in 1923. Miller directed a few dozen films even after the Edison Company had more or less withdrawn from movie making when directors like D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille championed a more serious, realistic style of filmmaking in early Hollywood. No other production credits survive, but just as with Frankenstein, there is little proof that inventor-business man Thomas Edison had much to do with the actual production of the film.

Janne Wass

A Trip to Mars. USA, 1910. Silent short. Directed by Ashley Miller. Loosely based on H.G. Wells’ novel The First Men in the Moon. Produced by the Edison Company.

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