Tuesday, 5 January 2010


Sat alone in his study, an astronomer falls into a deep sleep. In his dreams, he is paid an unwanted visit by the devil who summons an evil demon in the form of a large full moon with a grotesque face. The demon consumes the astronomer and his life’s work, before spitting him back out in a cloud of smoke. As the face retreats into the night sky, a crescent moon nears the astronomer’s window, atop of which is sat an ethereally beautiful woman. She is Phoebe, the benevolent goddess of the moon. As she pieces the astronomer back together, he tries to reach out to her, but before he can make contact, he is shaken out of his dream.

The film was one of a few early films Méliès produced that showed his keen interest in all things astrological, a fascination he would eventually become celebrated for, culminating in the all-time classic A Trip to the Moon. It might seem like a throwaway curiosity to a generation of people for whom Avatar is the apex of cinema, but The Astronomer’s Dream is a sophisticated piece of work that deserves to be remembered 112 years later. Though composed of three disparate shots, the film flows seamlessly, and Méliès employs various cinematic tricks, including some subtle animation on a chalkboard, to create a wonderfully phantasmagorical nightmare. At the risk of sounding flippant, this writer would be much more content to watch 160 minutes of Méliès’ sci-fi shorts than sit through Avatar.

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