There's not much to say about 'A trip to the Moon' that hasn't been said before, but I'll try my best! And I'll even make it slightly personal, as I once was in Paris and saw some fantastic artifacts from the film...and more!
This silent short is based on a combination of Jules Verne's story 'From the Earth to the Moon' and H.G. Well's 'The First Men in the Moon.' Though, at least visually, it's fully the product of Melies and his fantastic mind. This film is the first science fiction film ever! That is staggering!
It begins with a group of astronomers wearing great pointy hats and robes. I saw one of these robes at the Paris cInematheque and it was a wondrous thing: Super colorful and full of detailing. It's a pity most prints of the film are in black and white as the colors on this costume truly popped. Some tinted versions do exist though, so if your appetite is whetted by seeing the black and white one, do hunt down a colored version!
At the astronomical meeting the leader declares he wants to go on a trip the moon! A team is organized and they construct a bullet shaped spaceship. Once the bullet is finished the dapperly dressed astronomers are merrily waved off...The bullet is launched from a hysterically long telescopic tube, courtesy of a fantastically forced perspective painted backdrop and away it flies!
This leads to the film's most iconic image, and what is possible the single most recognizable film image of all time: The moon flying towards camera, circled by cosmic clouds.... As the moon nears the camera it's smirking face is revealed, only to suddenly get hit in the eye by the bullet ship! The moon grumpily waggles its tongue around at this, thus finishing one of the greatest filmic shots ever made.
Once on the moon the astronomers go on to fight hopping moon monsters with their umbrellas, and in doing so, influence pop culture for years to come (Just see the Smashing Pumpkins music video for 'Tonight, Tonight' for instance!)
It is truly a great work of art. Melies was a Mastermind. When in Paris I visited his grave. His grave contains a full scale stone bust of his mustachioed head. Staring at the stone head felt like locking eyes with the ghost of a great genius indeed.