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The Great Train Robbery and a Trip to the Moon

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When most people think of early films, they may think of traditional popular films from the ‘40s like Casablanca or It’s a Wonderful Life. Although these films are early, they did not set the standard for films today. These films do have a special place in many people’s hearts; however, these films cannot compare to the predecessors that were made in the early 20th century. The Great Train Robbery and A Trip to the Moon are regarded as the fathers of films today. The Great Train Robbery, which was released in 1903, and A Trip to the Moon, which was released in 1902, set the standard for today’s films using early editing skills, multiple camera angles, and storylines that had to explain themselves using the plot line.

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The Great Train Robbery starts with the robbers making the operator send a message to the train conductor so that they can board it. The robbers subsequently get on the train and make their way to the safe to get to the money that they were there for. They throw people off the train and take it over. You then see the robbers shoot someone and then ride away on horses. The original operator sends a message for help and then a group of men are after the robbers. In the end, the robbers are involved in a shoot-out and are killed. (The Great Train Robbery, 1903)

A Trip to the Moon does not have such a simple plotline to explain as The Great Train Robbery had. In the beginning, there is a meeting where a man wants to take a trip to the moon. He planned to send 5 people to the moon. They construct an aircraft that was fired from a cannon. The bullet-shaped aircraft hit the man in the moon in the eye. The humans land and go to sleep on the surface of the moon. The goddess that was on the moon made it snow and woke the moon-dwellers. They run to a cave where they find mushrooms. An alien appears and one of the astronauts kills it. More aliens come out and they are outnumbered. The aliens take them to their king and one of the astronauts kills him. The people run back to the aircraft and land back on Earth. The end shows a celebration for the astronauts and an alien that is being held by the humans. (A Trip to the Moon, 1902)

The Great Train Robbery is vital in history because it would be one of the earliest motion pictures that introduced the Western genre. (Barsam, 103) The enhancing that was used in The Great Train Robbery helped contribute to the plot and fully develop the story. The different angles that Porter used helped show the audience the setting in perspective that enveloped them in the film. The ending of The Great Train Robbery where the gun was fired grabbed the audience and left them thinking about the film after it was over. (Turner Classic Movies, 6th paragraph) This scene allowed the audience to sense as though they had been part of the film. This immersive tactic gives The Great Train Robbery an advantage over A Trip to the Moon.

A Trip to the Moon is also vital in history due to the early use of special effects. (Turner Classic Movies, 2nd paragraph) The use of special effects in A Trip to the Moon was very primitive but set the standard for CGI use in films today. It is apparent in A Trip to the Moon that the special effects that they used weren’t advanced compared to today’s films, but for 1903 this was revolutionary. The storyline of A Trip to the Moon was not as superior as The Great Train Robbery. The main character was hard to identify and by the end of the film, the audience was left feeling empty-handed.

A Trip to the Moon was intriguing and caught my attention due to the special effects that were almost eerie. However, I suppose that A Great Train Robbery had a better storyline that was easier to follow and had me on the edge of my seat the entire film. I can admire the early ‘sci-fi’ film that A Trip to the Moon was, however, A Great Train Robbery had my heart due to the ‘cliché’ robbers attempting to get away with money and goods. I felt myself nearly rooting for the robbers to succeed in their heist since, with most films, the bad guys never win. A Trip to the Moon was so playful in certain instances that it could not hold my attention. A Trip to the Moon also was bizarre at times, which gave off a creepy aura.

Both The Great Train Robbery and A Trip to the Moon are incredible films that set an example for films that are used today. Although raw and primitive, these films were revolutionary for their time. A Trip to the Moon was famous for its use of special effects. The Great Train Robbery was popular due to the film sparking the popularity of Western films. Overall, the films show the early use of camera angles, editing skills, and stories that can be told without using direct dialogue.   

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