Technology and infinite patience form the alchemist’s stone that turns celluloid dross into cinematic gold in “The Extraordinary Voyage,” Serge Bromberg’s and Eric Lange’s tale of preservation magic. The 12-year restoration of a color version of George Melies’ seminal 1902 masterpiece “A Trip to the Moon” involved long, slow, tedious processes, but Bromberg’s docu, liberally sprinkled with fanciful excerpts from Melies’ surviving works, never bogs down in scientific detail as bits get reassembled and enhanced, frame by frame, fragment by fragment. Skedded to tour worldwide in tandem with the gorgeous new “Moon,” this docu makes a worthy satellite for the main attraction.
Though it chronicles the transference of images in great detail, the docu’s biggest impact lies in the fantastical power of the hand-painted imagery itself and the passion of those committed to its phoenix-like resuscitation. Talking-head duties are assumed by Melies-philes Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michel Gondry, Michel Hazanavicius and, surprisingly, Costa-Gavras. Co-helmer Eric Lange, appearing in front of the camera, emerges as the print’s obsessed, monomaniacal savior, softening and unspooling badly decomposed silver-nitrate stock in minuscule increments. But fittingly, it is Melies himself, the unsurpassed impresario, who steals the show.