H.R. MacMillan Space Centre showcases starry nights and sci-fi films

Georges Méliès’ films were meant for the silver screen — or the planetarium dome

Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon was one of the first science fiction films. Image courtesy of Image Entertainment / IntoFilm.org.

By: Marco Ovies, Staff Writer

Watching Georges Méliès’ films on the dome of the Planetarium Star Theatre at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre was an immersive experience. The backdrop of the stars behind the screening of these films, alongside the ambient electronic score by Owen Connell, created a dreamlike landscape that left everyone in the audience mesmerized. Each short film transported us all out of our seats and into the space voyage alongside the characters.

This screening is only one in a long line of similar events that the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre has hosted. The films were accompanied by commentary from film historian Michael Van Den Bos and members of the centre’s astronomy education team to explain the cosmic significance of every film. Each person gave us an elevated understanding of each film in an easy-to-understand way. It was a unique way of bringing together two very different disciplines — film and astronomy — and combining them into an enjoyable and educational experience. 

The evening opened with The Impossible Voyage, which Van Den Bos described as a “drunk adventure.” Its plot centers around a team of people who travel to the sun on a flying train and are able to walk on its surface. Though the film might seem like it was written by a crazy person, it’s important to keep in mind that Méliès was a pioneer of science fiction and had nothing to base his work off of. He paved the way for cult favourite films like Star Wars, Star Trek, Interstellar, and nearly every sci-fi film ever made. This first film was contrasted with Thomas Edison’s film A Trip to Mars, which was not-so-subtly based off of Méliès’ work. Finally, we saw the classic film A Trip to the Moon, which was the main event of the night. It featured a rocket that smashes into the eye of the moon and the astronauts’ subsequent contact with the aliens that live there. 

The commentary from both the astronomer and the film historian enhanced my experience for each film screening. It gave the films a place in history and explained the significance of each to the scientific community. While it was a bit disappointing that the films played on just a square of the dome ceiling of the planetarium, rather than taking up the entire dome, the event was both informational and extremely entertaining.

Check out the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre’s website for more space-related events, including lectures, presentations, and film screenings.