Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902) is a world-renown film adaptation of both From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells. The writer, producer, and star of the film, Georges Méliès, had a large success with its release in France. However, it is only known in black and white to many people, as the hand-colored reels were lost to time.
While the film was a success for Méliès in France, he struggled to make money off the film in the US, and eventually went broke. A major factor for this was Thomas Edison’s film company, Edison Manufacturing Company. They acquired a copy of the film (accounts vary from where) and made numerous pirated copies. By 1904, two other companies (Seigmund Lubin and Selig Polyscope Company) were making copies of the film.
In 1903, Méliès attempted to combat the illegal distribution by opening a branch of his company (the Star Film Company) in the US and copyrighting the film. However, it was already too late. The film had been sold to many theaters illegally already and with a new price standardization for film(in 1908), Le Voyage dans la Lune became much too expensive for theaters to risk their money on.
Already in financial ruins, Méliès’ offices were occupied by the French army during WWI. They took most of his film to collect silver and used the celluloid to make boot heels. His frustration with the lot given him led to a moment of anger in which he burned all his remaining film negatives. The only surviving prints being those already distributed. Though this isn’t the end of the story. 90 years after the opening of his American branch, a film archive in Spain (Cinematheque de Barcelone) was given an anonymous donation of 200 silent films. Among them, the only surviving colorized copy of Méliès’ film.
Unfortunately, the film was incredibly decomposed. After 8 years of restoration, Tom Burton (executive director of restoration services at Technicolor) commented “The film was literally in pieces. The nitrate had gone crystals, it had shattered into a puzzle.” It had shattered into 13,375 fragments! But through careful efforts, the film was rereleased in color in 2010 with music provided by the group Air. You can view its entirety below:
Though his films were destroyed during his life, and he hit many downfalls, Méliès did not end his life in ruin. He continued to work with young directors and writers, giving advice on film making. A year before his death, a very ill Méliès commented to his friends, “Laugh, my friends. Laugh with me, laugh for me, because I dream your dreams.”