The Impossible Voyage

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(10/10) In a nutshell: Pioneering film maker Georges Méliès’ 1904 follow-up to the groundbreaking A Trip to the Moon dazzles the audience with sets and effects, but lacks in heart and imagination.

The Impossible Voyage, 1904, France. Directed, produced by Georges Méliès. Written by Méliès and Victor de Cottens. Starring: Georges Méliès. IMDb Score: 7.7

Lifted off to the sun in The Impossible Voyage.

Lifted off to the sun in The Impossible Voyage.

Following his international success in 1902 with the film A Trip to the Moon (review), French writer/producer/director/actor/special effects supervisor/art director Georges Méliès made at least one highly ambitious film a year up until he partially withdrew from the film business in 1912. In 1903 his smash hit was Kingdom of the Fairies, a féerie/fairy tale/fantasy film made with a large budget. Even more lavish was the 1904 film The Impossbile Voyage (Le Voyage à travers l’Impossible). It cost 37 000 francs to make – almost four times as much as A Trip to the Moon, which was at the time of its making considered an incredibly expensive movie.

In A Trip to the Moon the main attraction, apart from Méliès’ brilliant special effects, had been the lavish moving set pieces. Since then he had had the time to hone this craft on films like the aforementioned féerie, as well as adaptations of Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe and The Oracle of Delfi. If going to the moon had seemed ambitious, this time Méliès’ party goes through the mountains by train, over the Alps by car, up in the sky by air ships, landing on the sun, and ultimately plunge into the depths in a submarine. Once again the film was made in Méliès’ studio in Montreuil, and the director creates astonishingly vast landscapes that are constantly flying by the camera by means of movable set pieces, in this cramped studio space.

The sets in the film are dazzling.

The sets in the film are dazzling.

The film was 20 minutes long – the longest of Méliès films at that time, and it was technically superior to anything he had then made, in part thanks to the huge budget and a seasoned crew. There are sets moving, machines pumping, steam billowing, smoke puffing, fire crackling in almost every scene of the film. This makes for a dynamic and fast-paced film, but because Méliès also insists on often cramming the sets full of people, it also becomes highly erratic and often quite hard to follow. As A Trip to the Moon, this film is also based on a Jules Verne-text, this time the theatre play A Journey Through the Impossible (Voyage à travers l’impossible, 1882) – a sort of Leaugue of Extraordinary Gentlemen of the 19th century, where many of Verne’s most famous characters meet up for an epic trip.

Although technically superior and with more slick production values, the film nonetheless lacks some of the sense of wonder and imagination that made A Trip to the Moon such an enjoyable film. Here it does look a bit like Méliès wants to show off his skills rather than tell a compelling story. Even though he takes us through snowy mountains and into the sun, there are hardly any new ideas in The Impossible Voyage, and it feels very derivative of its predecessor. The miniatures, models, cutouts, sets and effects are a joy to behold, but they do seem to anticipate the Michael Bay-productions where explosions and CGI put the characters and plot in the back seat. The film shows a movie maker in his prime, but adds little new to the mix.

The Impossible Voyage (Le Voyage à travers l’Impossible), 1904, France. Directed, produced, designed and edited by Georges Méliès. Written by Méliès and Victor de Cottens. Starring: Georges Méliès.
Produced by Star Film Company.
Based (uncredited) on Jules Verne’s play Journey Through the Impossible.

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