Voyage dans la Lune, Le/A Trip to the Moon (France, 1902), the screen's first science fiction story, was a 14 minute masterpiece (nearly one reel in length (about 825 feet)), created by imaginative French director and master magician Georges Melies (1861-1938) in his version of the Jules Verne story. The silent film's plot, a light-hearted satire criticizing the conservative scientific community of its time, was inspired by Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and H. G. Wells' First Men in the Moon (1901).
This film, Melies' 400th and most notable film, was made on an astronomical budget for the time of 10,000 Francs - risky, but worthwhile since it was hugely successful. Its popularity also led to it being illegally copied, released under others' names, and pirated (including one stolen by Edison's film technicians and distributed throughout the US). [For example, an illegal duplicate of the film was available in the USA from Siegmund Lubin under the title A Trip to Mars.]
Melies wrote the whimsical script, acted in the film in the lead role, designed the sets and costumes, directed, photographed, and produced the film! He hired acrobats from the Folies Bergere to play the lunar inhabitants named Selenites, and the scantily dressed assistants (or pages) who launched the cannon were dancers from the Châtelet ballet. The image of the lunar capsule landing in the eye of the moon is a memorable sight and widely-recognized in cinematic history.
As a film pioneer and producer of over 500 short films, Melies made up and invented the film medium as he directed. He developed the art of special effects in earlier films, including double exposure, actors performing with themselves over split screens, and use of the dissolve and fade. He also pioneered the art of film editing. The sets or scenery backdrops in the film are simple, painted flats. It has all the elements that characterize the science-fiction genre: adventurous scientists, a futuristic space voyage, special effects such as superimpositions, and strange aliens in a far-off place.
[Episode 12 of host/narrator Tom Hanks' and HBO's 12-part docudrama mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (1998) focused on the making of the iconic film La Voyage Dans la Lune (in Italian with English subtitles), with Tchéky Karyo playing Melies and Hanks playing Melies' fictional assistant and camera operator Jean-Luc Despont, with an older Despont (also Hanks) being "interviewed" about the events. The Melies story of man's first moon landing was interwoven with the final Apollo 17 moon mission.]