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Kino on Video presents
The Magic of Méliès (1904-08)

"I do not hesitate to say that in cinematography it is today possible to realise the most impossible and the most improbable things."
- Georges Méliès

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: May 15, 2008

Director: Georges Méliès

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nothing objectionable
Run Time: 01h:41m:08s
Release Date: April 22, 2008
UPC: 738329058821
Genre: compilation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B+ B-

DVD Review

The images produced by Georges Méliès remain some of the most indelible in cinema history. His work in the early silent era still retains the power to enchant and entertain. The DVD era has seen a few releases of his work, with the latest from Kino on Video coming at the same time as a massive five disc box set from silent specialists Flicker Alley. I'll be upfront about this, right here: if you have the money and the interest in Méliès, don't bother with this Kino release. The Flicker Alley set is a true labor of love, with a thick booklet to accompany the discs. This Kino disc is simply a port (with altered menus and minus a bonus film) of the Méliès disc from the earlier (and essential) The Movies Begin box set. So if you already own that set, you also have no need to get this. All that said, however, if you want a simple, one-disc introduction to Méliès and his work, this will serve you well.

Georges Méliès is quite properly regarded as one of the major pioneers of the cinema, both in storytelling technique and in special effects. Trained in stage magic, Méliès quickly seized upon the motion picture camera and its capabilities for providing a magical experience not possible on any stage. This disc includes fifteen of Méliès' later works, after the major success of A Trip to the Moon.

Many of these shorts are a shade on the repetitive side; there comes a point where one tires of seeing countless double exposures and dissolves. However, taken in small doses, the films of Méliès can still astonish and amuse. Many of these pictures take the form of a magic show, such as Tchin-Chao, the Chinese Conjurer, The Mermaid, The Living Playing Cards and The Enchanted Sedan Chair. Others involve pictures that come to life (as does The Living Playing Cards), such as The Hilarious Posters and Long Distance Wireless Photography, an incredibly early satire on television.

Fantasy is still one of Méliès' strong points, noted in the lengthy (20m:36s) The Impossible Voyage (1904). Unfortunately, this short suffers from the same incomprehensible narrator as A Trip to the Moon. The Eclipse features a blatantly erotic encounter between the sun and the moon, before bogging down into an endless parade of girls enacting stars, planets and comets. The Black Imp features one of the many demonic impersonations that Méliès favored throughout his early films (no others shown here). Ever the good showman, however, Méliès was not above knockdown farce, anticipating endlessly reused Three Stooges schtick in Good Glue Sticks (1907).

All in all, anyone with an interest in the silent era owes it to themselves to have some representation of Méliès' work in their collection, given his standing as a pioneer of the effects work that has become such an integral part of cinema as we know it now. This disc, in lieu of other more comprehensive efforts, doesn't include all his best work, but it features enough to satisfy the novice.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The films are going to show their age on occasion, but otherwise these look quite fine, with the documentary clips showing that the films here display a huge jump in quality from earlier versions.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0music onlyno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 music track is pleasing to the ear and features no problems that I could hear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The main extra is the 1978 documentary, Georges Méliès: Cinema Magician (21m:10s). Although somewhat informative, this biography unfortunately relies too heavily on clips from shorts in this collection. It too tends to give short shrift to his earlier works, and gives a misleading impression by showing the 1907 Good Glue Sticks and discusses its farcical aspects as if it were an early Méliès picture, when it's actually a fairly late one. The biography seems to end abruptly, and without concluding credits. This could have been done better, I'm afraid. As noted above, the clips are generally poor in quality and overly-contrasted, but this certainly points up the excellent presentation of the films on the disc. The original Movies Begin disc included Edison's 1901 Another Job For the Undertaker, which resembled Méliès' The Black Imp; it is not included here.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

For those who are already silent fans, this disc probably won't add much to one's collection, but for novices or those otherwise unwilling to seek out more comprehensive collections, this will serve quite well, despite the odd drawback here and there.


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