Friday, April 7, 2017

The Conquest of the Pole

À la conquête du pôle; silent fantasy short, France, 1912; D: Georges Méliès, S: Georges Méliès, Fernande Albany

At a meeting, scientists are trying to find ways how to reach and explore the North Pole, with several factions disagreeing on the methods. Professor Maboul takes his crew on a flying machine, while other expeditions fail trying to make such a long journey with cars or balloons. Finally there, Maboul and his expedition encounter a snow giant which attacks them, but they shoot it. They also discover the magnetic needle and climb onto it to spin around its axis.

1912 was the last year in which legendary pioneer of cinema, director Georges Melies, worked on before ending his movie career due to bankruptcy, and "The Conquest of the Pole" is thus one of his last achievements: slightly overlong and with obvious restructuring of the "exploration" concept from his own film, "A Trip to he Moon", with typical "static" shots where the camera doesn't move, yet it conquers the viewers with its sheer energy, charm and audacity, displaying the authors ingenuity from his best days. Though it lasts for 30 minutes, "Conquest" declines to explore the narrative or offer some better character development, instead relying only on cardboard set designs of walls and ice on the North Pole, yet it still has enough good moments that carry the film, among others thanks to its childishly-naive tone from a time when the majority of the world was still unexplored. The highlight is definitely towards the finale when the expedition encounters an "ice giant", but a one that is only shown from his chest up, emerging from a hole, grabbing some crew members with his hands, which offers interesting mise-en-scene and awe. "Conquest" is Melies "light", a film refusing to explore more of its own narrative only to explore a new world, yet it still works as an interesting cinematic artifact suitable for exploring the early days of cinema.


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