It never ceases to amaze me how much is available in the public domain. Volume alone is enough to be a topic of discussion, but some of the actual works are themselves part of the respective canons. Do not fear the public domain! It is your friend.
It’s also a fantastic place for entertainment and inspiration. Take for example the silent science-fiction film Le Voyage Dans la Lun (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès (1902). It is firmly in the public domain, and available via numerous websites. (Embedded below for your convenience.)
The story of the film is that a group of scientists, that look suspiciously like wizards, launch themselves to the moon in a giant bullet, explore the terrain, fight some aliens, and then go home. What’s not to love?
Since there’s no sound you can imagine the actors saying whatever you want. I would love to run a “Caption this!” campaign for this movie, and I suspect the submissions would be fantastic. Overall, it’s only twelve minutes long, but well worth your time, especially if you like genre fiction. After seeing the movie in it’s entirety, it’s hard not to see influences and references to this classic piece of cinema all over the place.
It’s place in history is cemented, but as a piece of art it’s easy to see how old it is. The whole time I watched it, I had the impression I was watching a piece of theatre. Everything was always facing the camera. The sets and special effects look to have been made as if they were for a stage production, but not film as we would imagine it being in our current day and age. Don’t forget, that movie is over 100 years old. Cinema was brand new back then, and it was essentially a completely new and innovative way of telling a story. Everyone was still habituated to live theatre, but it was clear that there was an understanding that film was a new way of telling a story.
Personally, I think this is great stuff. It’s easy to understand the story and has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Cinema as a medium has clearly evolved beyond this, but it’s hard not to appreciate the influence something like this had. What’s more, it’s a quality production. They made an effort to create this film. Even contemporary B-movies can look low budget compared to Le Voyage dans la Lune. The creativity is great, and most importantly, you get the sense that the people involved were having fun.
For gamers, this is a story that could easily be used at the gaming table, probably even beyond just a one-shot. With D&D releasing Spelljammer for 5e, an old film like this is the kind of “old ways meets new mays” that would serve a science-fantasy campaign well. This classic piece of film is just one more reason to consider turning to the forgotten gems of yesteryear.
It really isn’t easy to take inspiration from something like this. Imagine how people felt when they were inventing the first airplane, or first realized international communication was possible. The prospects for something like that are immense. Take a moment and reflect on the immense joy someone might feel after successfully flying to an extraterrestrial body such as the moon or Mars. The sheer euphoria of actually being able yo say, ” I did it!” must be incredible. Meeting alien lifeforms? Fleeing captivity and a successful return voyage home? All of it is great stuff. Creators in any medium can draw upon this absurd old sci-fi movie and themselves dreaming up ideas for their own new works. At least that’s how I feel.
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