One could claim that Geroges Milies’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) was the first major motion picture of all time, and they would be right. However, it was not the most influential, or innovative; that belongs to Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903). This 12 minute long film is just that, a film. Everything that had come before it was either a minute long clip showing audiences the magic of cinema or (as A Trip to the Moon does), brings the viewers to a spectacle of science-fiction incoherency. Take Arthur Marvin’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900) for example; a man is standing in a room when another man appears in front of him, disappears, and then reappears again. That was the milestone for special effects, which to us, is baffling in itself.
Porter’s The Great Train Robbery’s plot is as simplistic as its title. Four men, being led by Justus D. Barnes (as the last shot of the film explains), who board a train in hopes to get all the passengers off and rob them. However, to a regular film watcher this might be easy to establish, but for others – this has no dialogue; it’s completely silent except for the sound of the film reel. To watch this and see what they had to do back then, is an amazing feeling for film lovers. The Great Train Robbery was the first to achieve three of the most beneficial elements to filmmaking. The first was cross cutting, which is when the camera cuts from one action scene to the other; being such a groundbreaking find, it’s hard not to appreciate what exactly Porter achieved. It was the start of actual editing that would have to be put together like a puzzle.
Aside from the minute long video clips, even A Trip to the Moon had a camera on a tripod standing still. The Great Train Robbery has camera movement, which was also unheard of until Porter experimented with it. While only in one scene with the camera on top of a moving train, it still gave us the pinnacle for filmmaking; that is also the most memorable scene as one of our robbers beats down a man until he is on the ground, in which Porter cuts the scene having a dummy in the man’s place for the robber to beat his skull in and throw him off the train. It’s not laughable, but will make you smile.
The last innovation Porter created was on location shooting. Never had a film been outside on a real location to shoot their scenes. A couple of sequences are on a noticeable set, but everything outside, was outside. It creates a more realistic and honest approach to filmmaking that was never realized before then. This is recommended for all film buffs, even though it should be watched by everyone on a historical standpoint; what Porter does with 12 minutes is both hypnotizing and miraculous. Everything after this was thought to be simpler – It was quite the opposite.