REVIEW: The Wandering Earth (2019)

Chinese Theatrical Release Poster – China Film Group Corporation

The following is a review of The Wandering Earth — Directed by Frant Gwo. Available on Netflix now.

This 2019 release is a two-hour long blockbuster film that has made close to $700 million globally at the box office. There are no superheroes in the film, it isn’t based on Marvel or DC, and it doesn’t belong to a vastly popular science-fiction or fantasy franchise. On top of that, this isn’t an English-language film. In fact, it wasn’t released widely in theaters in Europe or North America.

This is The Wandering Earth, a relentless Chinese blockbuster film that proves that glorious spectacle created outside of North America can rival the best Hollywood has to offer in disaster film — at least when it comes to incredible and unfathomably spectacular action. I’ve got plenty of issues with The Wandering Earth, but the one thing that really impressed me was the science-fiction visuals because, normally, you don’t get these astoundingly well-designed visuals without the direct influence of a major American studio.

The Wandering Earth is based on the Liu Cixin novella of the same name. This is a future-set science-fiction film about humanities fight to stay alive when the state of our sun is changing for the worse. Hoping to save the human race, the world government launches the wandering earth project, which involves the relocation of our planet using multiple giant thrusters designed to push our Earth out of our solar system.

It is a perilous project, one that rips families apart. Caught in this debacle is Liu Qi (played by Qu Chuxiao), the son of a Chinese astronaut — Liu Peiqiang (played by Wu Jing) — who left his family to depart for a navigational space station. When Liu Peiqiang, along with most of humanity, lives in these underground cities, but, as the film gets going, Liu Peiqiang leaves for the cold surface with his adopted sister Han Duoduo (played by Zhao Jinmai). Meanwhile, Liu Qi’s time on the space station is over. But before he can return to his family, disaster strikes as Jupiter’s gravity messes with Earth’s thrusters thus making a planetal collision likely.

The science of The Wandering Earth is convoluted and, most likely, not accurate. But it is a science-fiction film and many of the films in the genre that we love are based on questionable science. The sometimes silly plot of The Wandering Earth is also hard to follow, but, in a way, that is totally okay. The Wandering Earth is an unabashed spectacle over plot blockbuster film that you can turn your brain off to and get something out of all the same. The two things the film works hardest at is the science-fiction blockbuster visuals and the attempt to move audiences by having characters sacrifice themselves.

Many of the great visuals in the film reminded me of Interstellar, 2012, and Snowpiercer. The character relationships reminded me, again, of Interstellar, but also of Armageddon. There are plenty of scenes that reminded me of seeing McConaughey leave his family in Interstellar, or seeing Bruce Willis say goodbye to his daughter in Armageddon. Unfortunately, I don’t think The Wandering Earth achieves those same emotions. The melodrama is a little bit forced and sometimes the plot gets in the way of its heart-tugging moments by having flashbacks structured ineffectively. In trying to be extremely manipulative, one character’s relationship with another is not properly explained until after one of them has died.

Furthermore, I was frustrated by the overwhelming amount of exposition and the fact that the humor never landed for me. However, that may have been lost in translation. Also, there is a lot of odd voice-over moments and, generally, the dialogue re-recording is obvious and disruptive to the experience of watching the film.

Oddly structured but fast-paced and, at times, gorgeous, Frant Gwo’s The Wandering Earth is a spectacular blockbuster disaster film that could make Roland Emmerich jealous. It may not move you like the best films in the genre tend to do, but it is a fascinating testament to the fact China can contend with the blockbuster disaster films that Hollywood puts out.

4.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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