Voyage to the Center of the Earth: Georges Méliès and the Chilean Miners’ Rescue

When it looked pretty certain that all the miners would be rescued, I began to notice details—irresistibly, the clunky, even comical details. Like the rescue rig. Twenty-first century technology had been necessary to contact the trapped and nearly starving men, to calculate and prepare the “rescue diet” that brought them back to health and sustained them for 52 more days, to drill the rescue shaft and, finally, to enable all of us to watch the entire rescue operation both above and below ground. Yet, from the outside, the rescue itself seemed to be carried out with, basically, 19th-century technology: a metal cage, a winch and a lot of steel cable. Although probably the steel cable would be 20th-century. But the basic principles, I think, go back to Archimedes and his lever:

The rig looks like an illustration out of an old physics book: Build a scaffolding, attach a wheel at the top and run a cable—from far enough away for leverage—over the wheel and down to the object—in this case, the steel rescue capsule—to be let down and pulled up again.

And then, there was Georges Méliès. His 8-minute, pioneering 1902 film, The Voyage to the Moon (Le voyage dans la Lune), is a classic.

And, clearly, a hoot.

Just as clearly, the rescue of the miners was not. Yet, somehow, as the operation became routine, the sight of the occupied rescue capsule beginning its ascent from the rock cave where the other miners waited

reminded me of Méliès’ improbable moon rocket and lunar landscape,

with the whole thing working in reverse. (Look closely and you will see the man in the capsule in both pictures.)

In Méliès’ film, the rocket is loaded into a giant cannon by a bevy of bathing beauties in skintight shorts and jaunty, military-themed tops and hats.

In the Chilean footage, the capsule is loaded into the tube by a clutch of hardhats in jaunty orange vests and jackets.

(The first rescue worker starts his descent.)

Of course, it turns out that, inside, the capsule and the ascending miners were chockablock with 21st-century technology:

Yet this wonderful diagram is itself completely 20th-century.

And, I thought, we were back in the 19th century when it came to the food delivery system that supplied the miners waiting for the rescue shaft to reach them. Food

and drink

were introduced into a tube and whisked down to the mine. Again irresistibly, I was reminded of the wonderful system of pneumatic tubes that once whisked receipts and messages from department to department and floor to floor of the great department stores in New York, London and Paris. At one point, New York even had a pneumatic-tube postal system between Manhattan and Brooklyn!

And then I found out that Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island, a small town in the big city, today sends its garbage to Queens via pneumatic tubes. And a new town in Sweden has a more sophisticated pneumatic-tube-waste-disposal system that includes compost, recycling, and burning garbage and sewage for energy!

Everything old is new again.

View the film, The Voyage to the Moon


Chilean rescue photos from multiple sources (many of which carried duplicate or near-duplicate images), including BBC, Sunday Monitor, Mail Online (Daily Mail) and Gulf News, among others.

Diagram Source: Mail Online (Daily Mail)

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4 Responses to “Voyage to the Center of the Earth: Georges Méliès and the Chilean Miners’ Rescue”

  1. Abby Robinson Says:

    Really great to have Beyond the Zeitgeist back on line. Your unique insights have been missed.

  2. Kenneth Milford Says:

    Great blog. Would have been nice if they could have beamed everybody up or down a la Star Trek. I can hear Scotty re the rig on top — “she’ll shake herself to pieces!”

    Incidentally, I zoomed in on the images so i could see them better, and it made the whole blog so much more authoritative,

  3. Malachi Says:

    Dear Signe,

    I see your Geist is having a whale of a Zeit!

    Re The Chilean Elevation –My favorite comment from the whole overdone mishegoss was from a perky young commentator on Fox who remarked as the Elevation was in progress:
    “Bringing them up to Terra Firma”
    Something inside me registered: “There’s something off about that…”
    Then it dawned: “Yes. Terra Firma! That was The Problem –lots of Terra, that was way too Firma.”
    I enjoy your writing,
    By the way, you can catch excerpts from my almost finished book about Liam Lynch & my mother on my blog at

  4. Malachi Says:

    PS to my above comment –It was great to catch the whole story. All very real, and –so far– a Happy Ending! WE are so immersed in the toxic sludge that is our overdone, overdrawn-out pre-election, that the gripping real good news from Chile made a very stark contrast with the poverty of ideation north of the border…

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