Recently I have really enjoyed getting into some of the big blockbuster films from China. I particularly enjoyed Stephen Chow’s film The Mermaid (2016). Now we get the massive interstellar disaster movie The Wandering Earth directed by Frant Gwo which scored $300 million in China during its opening week alone. To my surprise my local AMC was screening it so I decided to give it a watch, and I’m glad I did.
The Wandering Earth is big, loud, spectacle entertainment if I’ve ever seen it. It’s definitely convoluted and over-the-top but it embraces all these elements in an old-fashioned exuberance that made me smile. The style and special effects may not be as glossy as something like Geostorm (although it can be quite stunning in sequences) but all the choices they made gave it a charm and earnestness, which was very appealing.
The story is based on a novella by Liu Cixin and it is set in a future society where the sun has aged and the Earth is in danger of losing its axis and source of light and power. In response the nations of the Earth band together to create United Earth Government and cities exist underground where oxygen and temperature can be monitored. They create a plan to use giant rockets on the earth to boost it out of orbit and move it over 2,500 years to a new galaxy with a new sun. A scientist at the beginning of the film named Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing) goes up into space to lead the International Space station which is now responsible for navigating the Earth on its journey to the new galaxy.
As you can imagine this plan is fraught with peril and Liu’s son Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao), father-in-law Han Zi’ang (Ng Man-tat), and adopted daughter Han Duoduo (Zhao Jinmai) are left behind to try and run the rockets systems down on Earth. Unfortunately as the Earth passes by Jupiter it gets caught in the planet’s gravity and it starts to get sucked causing all kinds of problems they must solve.
I could totally understand someone finding The Wandering Earth to be exhausting and frustrating. They throw a lot at you including a lot of characters, tons of destruction, loud music and big action set-pieces. They even have a portion where the artificial intelligence on the International Space Station turns into HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and tries to thwart the will of astronaut Liu. The subtitles are also very fast so you are not going to get everything and will have to fill in some of the blanks using your imagination.
All that said, I’ve seen this type of spectacle entertainment done so poorly by the Roland Emmerichs and Michael Bays of the world that I found myself really enjoying this unbounded exuberant scifi film. It felt fresh by its unabashed insanity and enthusiasm. There’s just some time when you can tell that everyone behind a movie is trying really hard to make something great and it’s infectious. It kind of reminds me of the joy I felt watching the Baahubali films in 2017. It’s true spectacle entertainment, and I think that’s great!
If you have any palate for big over-the-top scifi blockbusters I think you will really enjoy The Wandering Earth. Who knows? You might even find yourself cheering the Chinese on as they save the Earth from literal destruction at the hands of Jupiter!
8 out of 10