The Chinese science-fiction mega-hit “The Wandering Earth” is quite the movie. It’s a massive visual spectacle that stands as China’s second highest grossing film of all time. Just as impressive, it sits among the top 25 highest grossing science-fiction films ever made. That’s quite an accomplishment for director Frant Gwo. Now Netflix has picked up the global streaming rights making it accessible to a broader audience around the world.
“The Wandering Earth” is based on the 2000 short story by Liu Cixin. It’s set in 2061 and follows the desperate attempt of mankind to avoid having the earth incinerated by an aged and overactive sun. Scientists declare the catastrophe unavoidable and estimate the Earth will be gone in 100 years, the entire solar system in 300. Needless to say the situation is pretty grave.
So what do the citizens of earth do? Every nation joins together to initiate The Wandering Earth project. The idea is to build a huge network of massive thrusters (called Earth Engines) along the planet’s surface to essentially push the earth away from the sun and eventually out of the solar system before its all destroyed. Large underground cities are built to house a portion of the world’s population. Many of the rest die from cataclysmic tides and freezing cold, a result of the earth ceasing to rotate and pulling away from the sun.
All of that is basically the setup for the film’s story and as you can probably tell your first and unquestionably biggest challenge will be getting past the preposterous central conceit. Let’s be honest, it’s utterly ridiculous. But Gwo and his team of seven (yes seven) writers do something kind of amazing. They make this batty and fairly basic disaster movie idea into something exciting and thoroughly entertaining.
The story is told from two different locations. The first is aboard a navigational space station where an international collection of scientists and astronauts monitor the earth’s progress as it pushes across space. Liu Peiqiang (played by Jing Wu) has been on the station for 17 years and nearing the end of his stint. His hopes are to head back to earth and pick up his relationship with his son Liu Qi who was 4-years-old when his father left on his mission.
On earth an irreverent Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao) and his adopted sister Han Duoduo (Zhao Jinmai) sneak their way to the surface by using their grandfather’s security clearance. Their mischievous antics lead to them being arrested and thrown into jail. Then things really take a bad turn.
As the earth approaches Jupiter scientists plan using the gravitational pull of the bigger planet to propel ours past it and beyond. But when Jupiter experiences a gravitational spike, it throws off calculations and begins pulling the planets together. Earthquakes break out across the earth’s surface resulting in numerous malfunctioning earth engines. Humanity on both the space station and earth scramble to reignite the engines to avoid a catastrophic collision.
The film features several things that are easy to pick apart – tons of information dumps, cheesy rah-rah moments, a garden variety of typical disaster movie characters. Yet somehow, despite routinely treading on familiar ground, “A Wandering Earth” never feels like a rip-off or becomes a punchline. It clearly and unashamedly borrows ideas from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Gravity”, and even Michael Bay’s “Armageddon”. But it’s pacing is so snappy you never have time to dwell on it, only to enjoy the ride.
And then there are the digital effects. I don’t know if there is ever a scene where I wasn’t in some way wow’d by what I was seeing. It’s literally one scene after another of digitally rendered locations and set pieces all of which look absolutely stunning. This may be the biggest reason the movie works. It sucks you into its world through the sheer strength of its visuals.
“A Wandering Earth” is both ludicrous and routine yet I had an absolute blast with it. It’s truly a wacky concoction that’s hard to even describe. It’s impossible not to mention the familiar tropes and second-hand characters. But this is science-fiction escapism at its very best and can easily get behind the fun and craziness this movie provides.
VERDICT – 4 STARS