À la conquête du pôle (1912)
À la conquête du pôle (1912)
Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Georges Méliès, Fernande Albany
Synopsis: A scientific expedition travels to the top of the world, and encounters an ice monster.
Conquest of the Pole was one of the last throws of the dice from Georges Méliès’ ailing Star-Films. By 1912, Méliès, the pioneering special effects wizard who had once been cinema’s premier filmmaker, had lost touch with developments in the industry, and although his films were longer and more elaborate than their predecessors, little else about them had changed. Audiences had grown bored of his movies, and by the time A la conquete du pole was released, Méliès’ business was on its knees.
The fact that À la conquête du pôle follows the same basic format as Le voyage dans la lune, a film he made ten years earlier, demonstrates just how little Méliès had adapted since the early days of cinema. It opens with a meeting of the world’s top scientists during which they throw their arms around as they discuss the most appropriate mode of transport for their proposed expedition to the South Pole. For some reason, their conference seems to have inflamed the Suffragettes, who storm the meeting and, later, launch their own expedition. However, once the hall is cleared of troublesome women, Professor Maboul (Méliès) unveils plans for the contraption that will be built to transport an international delegation to the top of the world.
A race against time ensues, as the suffragettes – and various other factions – build their own machines in an attempt to be the first to reach the pole. Up until now, À la conquête du pôle has been reasonably engaging, with some nice comic touches. It’s strangely reminiscent of sprawling, big-budget race movies like Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines or The Great Race. But once the race to the pole actually begins we see just how much Méliès was relying on the same old special effects. The shots of the scientists’ plane flying through clouds and various unlikely obstacles goes on forever and contains nothing that we haven’t already seen in countless other Méliès films.
The final third of the film takes place at the South Pole, where the scientists encounter a pipe-smoking ice giant with rolling eyes and a voracious appetite for cold scientists which isn’t discouraged by being pelted with snowballs. The model is actually quite impressive, even though we only see its head and a pair of arms, but, as with most of the scenes, it goes on too long. In fact the 33-minute film only has about fifteen minute of story at most, with the rest being padding presumably designed to dazzle us with effects that were already over-familiar in 1912. If you’d never seen a Méliès’ film before you would probably be impressed, but taken in context it all feels rather flat
(Reviewed 15th April 1915)