When George Méliès released Le Voyage Dans La Lune in 1902, audiences had never seen anything like it. A fantastical caper in which a band of astronomers build a rocket, prang the man in the moon right in the eye, battle aliens and fall back to earth in 14 minutes flat, it saw its maker hailed as a cinémagicien, weaving spells on celluloid. Sci-fi cinema was born.
For Air to accept a commission to score Méliès’ film is, of course, rather less monumental. Few contemporary directors are likely to be paying close attention, and nor will Méliès himself be seeking out Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel to pen a trip-hop score for his next blockbuster, given he perished in 1938.
The soundtrack, extended here to 11 tracks and 31 minutes, works in places. At its best, it offers a sort of steampunk take on the sci-fi score: ‘Cosmic Trip’ and the freakbeat-tinged ‘Sonic Armada’ are powered along on wheezing Moog and piston-like drums, the latter featuring a guitar solo that sounds like the Clangers jamming. But hopes for a track of the calibre of, say, ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ slowly vaporise. We come closest on ‘Seven Stars’, a cooed serenade by Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, backed by electronics that glimmer like distant nebulae. But in general, we get percussive propulsion or songcraft, never both at once – and on tracks like the languid ‘Moon Fever’, Godin and Dunkel appear to have their phasers set to snooze.
Retrofuturism can be a dangerous game: in trying to summon up the wonder of the past dreaming of the future, sometimes you end up with BacoFoil spacesuits and robots built out of cardboard boxes. But on ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’, Air do something worse. They risk making a trip to the stars sound almost boring – and that is something Méliès would never have countenanced.