Director Ashley Miller made over 100 short films, many for Edison’s company, eventually working in different productions with Frankenstein alumni Augustus Phillips, Mary Fuller and Charles Ogle (in a film intriguingly called Van Bibber’s Experiment (1911). A Trip to Mars was no doubt inspired by Georges Méliès’ wildly successful A Trip to the Moon of 1902, still influential after nearly a decade. A Trip to Mars, however, is not a copy of the earlier film. Its Martian tableaus are whimsical, but its photographic tricks are not nearly as elaborate or magical as those staged by Méliès.
The obvious shared prop is a laboratory skeleton. It is prominent in Frankenstein, providing a touch of the macabre, sitting like a long forgotten guest in the foreground, in front of the witches’ cabinet where the scientist boils up his Monster. The same skeleton, with its distinctive ribcage and flat pelvis, hangs decoratively on the back wall of the Mars Voyager’s lab. Probably papier-mâché, it resembles a Dia de Muertos figure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this skeleton used in other films as a standard prop for experimental labs and doctor’s offices.
On Mars, the Voyager encounters fantastical sights. One short scene has him stumbling through a forest of grotesque, giant Ent-like living trees. They sway and waved their claw-like hands in mild menace. On the left-hand side, highlighted here in a screen cap, one of the tree giants has long, branch-like fingers that are strikingly similar to the Frankenstein Monster’s bizarre hands. Note the shape and length of the fingers, and the curiously bent thumb. Are these the Frankenstein Monster’s hands?
Both films were shot close together, this much is certain. Kinetograph films were routinely shot, edited and in release within a few short weeks. Frankenstein lensed in January, but I could not find any shooting details for A Trip to Mars. Mars was released before Frankenstein, suggesting but not proving that it was made before Frankenstein. The question, of course, is which film came first, providing ready-made props for the other.