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Air revisits Georges Méliès' 'Le Voyage Dans la Lune'

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

First women on the moon — a still from Le Voyage Dans la Lune.

Photo: , License: N/A

Sixty-seven years before Americans set foot on the moon, French filmmaker/magician George Méliès imagined the final frontier in 1902 with the premier of Le Voyage Dans la Lune. Based on the novels of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the 14-minute silent classic that enjoyed a starring role in the hit film Hugo last year was the first sci-fi film in history. On February 7, French duo Air released a new score for the movie.

Originally a black and white film, Méliès also distributed a hand-painted version, but no color copy was known to have survived until Filmoteca de Catalunya discovered a much-damaged version in 1993. France's Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, Technicolor Foundation for Heritage, and Lobster Films committed to restoring the colorized version in 1999. After the tedious process of piecing together the classic and a digital restoration at Technicolor Lab in L.A., the colorized version of the film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim.

Besides restoring the colorized version of the film, Lobster Films approached fellow Parisians Air to compose a new score (Spanish composer Octavio Vázquez wrote a score in 1995 for the black-and-white version). Air's Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin swung into action, locking themselves in a studio, watching the film repeatedly, and taking less than 20 days to write and record the new score.

The color-corrected version and the new score bridge two centuries, turning the original copy into a cinematic phantom. While silence can be golden, music has always played a key role in so-called "silent" films. And I can't image any other contemporary musician doing this film justice. The daring, psychedelic score floats underneath the frame-by-frame action in counterpoint to the film's rhythm.

Air's soundtrack is an exciting emotional trip in its own right. Quirky "Astronomical Club" presents itself as vaudevillian spectacle, while "Moon Fever" begins as a contemplative track with layers of synthesizers over timid drums. Au Revoir Simone is featured on "Who Am I Now?" and Beach House's Victoria Legrands lends her tenuous vocals on "Seven Stars" and takes listeners on a lunar journey, from ominous piano notes to a countdown concluding with her breathy vocals.

As expected, Le Voyage Dans la Lune, the album, is less pop-oriented and more experimental than Air's earlier trip to the moon, 1995's Moon Safari.

"Le Voyage Dans la Lune is undoubtedly more organic than most of our past projects," Godin said in a band press release. "We wanted it to sound handmade, knocked together, a bit like Méliès' special effects. Everything is played live. Like Méliès' film, our soundtrack is nourished by living art."

In addition to the album, a special limited-edition version (70,000 copies) will be released with a bonus DVD of the newly restored film. •

★★★ ½ (out of 5 stars)

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