Tom Hanks, whose expertise certainly includes the space program and moviemaking, credits Georges Melies with providing a blueprint to the stars and moon in 1902.
"His voyage to the moon was the first draft of the Apollo space program. How do we do it? Well, he built a big cannon, we built a big rocket," he says in the documentary "The Extraordinary Voyage" (3 stars), opening Monday at the Regent Square Theater. Melies' fictional rocket splashed into the water after its moon mission, just as real-life capsules would.
In Melies' world, astronomers-turned-space travelers needed no protective suits or bubble helmets although they did carry umbrellas and encountered aliens who temporarily held them captive and tried to trail along on the frantic return trip.
The documentary and the landmark 16-minute "A Trip to the Moon" (its original title in French, "Le Voyage dans La Lune") celebrate Melies, the filmmaker brought to life in Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" by actor Ben Kingsley.
The Parisian (1861-1938) was a magician who transferred his conjuring tricks to the camera, retained a childlike sense of imagination and wonder and created evocative, hand-tinted films that recent Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist") calls "naive, innocent and really beautiful ... bursting with poetry."
The hourlong film provides a primer on Melies, allows other directors such as Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Costa-Gavras to weigh in and gives a detailed account of how a hand-colored nitrate print of "Trip to the Moon" was discovered in 1993. Although marked "decomposed," it was resurrected with a years-long combination of skill, devotion and determination.
As someone says of the task of photographing 13,795 images and then reconstructing them, "It's madness, and that's what's so nice."
"The Extraordinary Voyage," in French and English with subtitles, and "A Trip to the Moon" will screen at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the Regent Square Theater.