Sunday, 21 December 2014

Britain's first ever sci-fi film 'Message from Mars' restored



Britain's first ever sci-fi film 'Message from Mars' restored

You could be forgiven for thinking I had decamped to Mars myself, such has been the silence emanating from this blog over the past 6 weeks.  Exile to the Red Planet would be no less than I deserve for neglecting this place for so long; once again I find that work (plus the ubiquitous Christmas Cold, which struck last weekend but thankfully had worked its way through me by the Monday) has taken up more of my time than I realised.  Devoting more time to Eclectic Ephemera will definitely be a New Year's resolution, methinks!

Anyway, all these Martian metaphors are the result of this latest vintage news item - the completion of six months' restoration work on an historic British film:  this country's first full-length science fiction adventure!

The turn of the 20th century saw the birth of modern science fiction as we know it today; with the likes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells leading the way, whose novels and short stories have passed into literary history, taking their place as written masterpieces of the genre still enjoyed and adapted by people today.  Its should be no surprise that, with moving pictures emerging during the same period (a real-life example of science fiction becoming science fact!), these wondrous new stories should be acted out on screen by the pioneering cinematographers - the Lumière Brothers, Georges Méliès and others.

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It took until 1913 for Britain to get in on the act with the hour-long feature film A Message from Mars.  Adapted from a 1903 New Zealand stage play, which itself had successful runs in the U.K. and the Antipodes for 30-odd years, it was in fact the second dramatisation - the first was a 20-minute short film made in New Zealand in 1903 (and actually New Zealand's first ever movie - now sadly considered lost).  The British version of ten years later starred the famous actor-manager of the time, Charles Hawtrey (no relation to the later Carry On actor, who was born George Hartree and took the same stage name), and the story is remarkable for two reasons other than its science fiction bent.  It is rather Dickensian in its plot for a start (quite suitable for this festive season, eh?), with a miserly old codger being shown the error of his ways (except with a Martian replacing the Spirits!) and the alien being benign and helpful - a noticeable contrast to the likes of Wells' War of the Worlds or Méliès' Le Voyage dans la Lune

For decades the film languished in the vaults of the British Film Institute, existing in two parts - the latter damaged and incomplete.  This year, however, sterling work was undertaken by the Institute's restoration team to bring A Message From Mars back to its original condition, thanks in part to another print in the archives of the New York Museum of Modern Art.  The process of copying, repairing and retouching has obviously been a painstaking one but the result is magnificent.  You can see for yourselves, in fact, as the BFI - in conjunction with B.B.C. Arts - made the entire film available to watch for free on their respective websites.



Now this important milestone in British and science fiction film history can once again be seen just as it would have appeared on release one hundred and one years ago, ready to be enjoyed by [movie] history buffs and sci-fi fans old and new.  I take my hat off to the BFI for this and all the other hard work they undertake to preserve and restore our nations cinematographic history, as I sit down to watch the fantastic A Message from Mars.

2 comments:

  1. I was very excited to see the restoration of this one. If only it were at the cinema!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love it when film is restored, there really is something magical about it.

    ReplyDelete

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