Creator / Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès (1861–1938), a French magician-turned-filmmaker, pioneered the concept of telling stories on screen. In doing so, he either invented
pretty much all of the Special Effects
ever used in film up until the dawn of CGI
—and even these are essentially more advanced versions of the stop motion, multiple exposure, and matte painting techniques he pioneered. (For instance, modern green-screen techniques are modeled after his technique of filming actors or objects in front of a black background, then using a second exposure to record the background. In one film, he played all seven members of a band
using this method!)
His most famous work is A Trip to the Moon
, but he made about 500 other short films in his 1896–1913 career, including the early biopic Joan of Arc
The Martin Scorsese
is a Sidelong Glance Biopic
of Méliès, starring Ben Kingsley
as the filmmaker himself.
Georges Méliès's works display examples of:
- Artistic License: Gobs and gobs of examples, all suggesting that Méliès's universe consistently runs on Rule of Cool rather than on any known scientific laws:
- Artistic License – Astronomy: The Interplanetary Voyages in The Merry Frolics of Satan, The Impossible Voyage, The Conquest of the Pole, and A Trip to the Moon (not to mention the Dream Ballets The Astronomer's Dream and The Eclipse) reveal that planets and stars usually have faces, that Greco-Roman gods and goddesses hang around or live in the constellations and planets named for them, that the Sun and Moon have romantic flings during eclipses, and so on.
- Artistic License – Geography: The Oracle of Delphi, about the famous oracle from ancient Greece, is set in ancient... Egypt. Also, see the "Everything's Better with Penguins" entry below.
- Artistic License – Physics: According to The Impossible Voyage, you can drive a train up a mountain in the Alps so fast that the train will shoot into space and end up on the surface of the sun... and it just gets more improbable from there. Lampshaded in that the movie is called The Impossible Voyage.
- Bio Pic: He may have invented this genre with his 1900 film Joan of Arc.
- Bold Explorer: Teams of them are featured in The Impossible Voyage, The Conquest of the Pole, and of course A Trip to the Moon.
- Cool Airship, Cool Car, Cool Train: See The Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship, The Adventurous Automobile Trip, and The Impossible Voyage, respectively.
- Creator Cameo: Played straight in many films. Taken Up to Eleven in many others, in which Méliès plays the main (or even the only) character. Hey, there's a lot to be said for directing yourself.
- The Dead Can Dance: Dancing often features in Melies's Hell; see also the Fire and Brimstone Hell and A Hell of a Time entries. Heck (no pun intended)—the short film The Infernal Cake Walk (1903), with assorted demons cheerfully tripping the light satanic with the titular dance, is completely devoted to this trope.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Méliès's first few films had none of his pioneering special effects or camerawork. Playing Cards and Post No Bills, his two earliest surviving works, are a simple slice-of-life scene and a straightforward comedy skit, respectively. A Terrible Night has a giant bug prop, but that's it. The Vanishing Lady and The Haunted Castle are his first works (or at least, his first surviving works) to tinker with his revolutionary camera effects.
- In general, Méliès's films are this to the whole medium of film and special effects. His movies were staged and shot like live theatre, since the ideas of film language had yet to come about. And his camera special effects, which are now considered ubiquitous filmmaking tools, were considered revolutionary for their time.
- Early Films: Given his importance in the field and the memorable nature of his films, Méliès may well be this trope's Patron Saint.
- Everything's Better with Penguins: A rejoicing crowd of cutout penguins wave to our heroes in The Conquest of the Pole. What these penguins are doing at the North Pole is less than clear...
- Excuse Plot: Méliès's films were always built on simplistic plots and setups to accommodate the films, which used imagination and the groundbreaking special effects as their centerpieces. The Astronomer's Dream is one such example, and the entire plot is summed up in the title.
- Fanservice: Méliès's films often used the dancers from the Folies Bergère in his films for decorative effect.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: Méliès clearly loved playing Satan, and a fiery grotto with gleeful (often dancing) demons occurs time and again in his works. See The Merry Frolics of Satan, or any of his several adaptations of Faust, or pretty much any Méliès film with the word "Infernal" in the title.
- A Hell of a Time: In general, life is good if you're a demon in a Méliès film.
- In-Name-Only: Méliès did this kind of adaptation every now and then:
- Baron Munchausen's Dream features a baron, but he has no obvious similarities to the one The Munchausen is named after.
- The Impossible Voyage, in French, has the same title as a play by Jules Verne (Voyage à travers l'Impossible, literally Journey Through the Impossible). And both works are about traveling crazy places, including into space and underwater, in ways that are highly reminiscent of Verne's books. That's where the similarities end, though.
- The Mysterious Island has nothing to do with the book of that name; it's actually based loosely on The Odyssey.
- Under the Seas is sometimes called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it takes only two things from the book: the submarine and the fish. (No, seriously. The cutout fish Méliès made for the movie were closely based on the original book illustrations; The Other Wiki says so.)
- Interplanetary Voyage: See Artistic License – Astronomy.
- Kaiju: The Snow Giant in The Conquest of the Pole is the first known film example.
- Lady of Adventure: There are quite a few at the Institute of Incoherent Geography in The Impossible Voyage.
- Losing Your Head: Méliès takes off his head a surprising number of times. An identical one almost always reappears on his shoulders immediately, however, allowing him to pull off all sorts of multi-head stunts: just take a look at The Four Troublesome Heads and The Melomaniac.
- Mechanical Horse: Bizarrely cool mechanical horses pull carriages in The Merry Frolics of Satan and Off to Bloomingdale Asylum.
- Polar Bears and Penguins: See the "Everything's Better with Penguins" entry above.
- The Professor: The Engineer Crazyloff in The Impossible Voyage and The Conquest of the Pole. (Also Professor Barbenfouillis in A Trip to the Moon, but that has its own page of tropes.)
- Rule of Cool: See Artistic License above.
- Scenery Porn: Méliès's films are often remembered for having stylized, layered backgrounds, which often utilized forced perspective, as part of his sets, all of which were lavishly illustrative.
- Slice of Life: Early in his career, Méliès experimented with the "actuality" genre codified by his compatriots, the Lumière brothers. These actuality films are just moments of real life (or staged real life) presented for the camera, and as such are dramatically different from the fantasies that made Méliès famous.
- Spiritual Successor:
- Multiple academic articles have been written about how Méliès's films are the spiritual successors of the féerie, a spectacular theatrical genre popular in 19th-century Paris.
- And hardly any film theorist has been able to talk about the work of the mid-20th-century filmmaker Karel Zeman without either implying, or flat-out stating, that Zeman is the spiritual successor of Méliès.
- Stop Trick: The first unique-to-the-camera special effect Méliès discovered, and almost certainly the one he called into play the most.
- Vanity Plate: In 1897 Méliès registered a trademark for his film studio, featuring a simple star logo and the words "Star Film" (yes, in English). In an attempt to protect his films from being illegally copied, he often put the trademark somewhere on the film set in an important scene in the film, so that it would be considerably harder for film pirates to hide where they had stolen it from.
- Your Head A Splode: The Man with the Rubber Head provides a classically oddball example—Méliès makes a living clone of his own head by means that remain unexplained and blows it up to ginormous dimensions, only to see it literally blow up. And this was made in 1901!