Dubbed as the first ever ‘proper’ Chinese interstellar blockbuster, Frant Gwo’s The Wandering Earth flaunts more than just an ambitious spectacle; but, the entire industry’s pride in orchestrating a cinematic milestone. Adapted from Cixin Liu’s award-winning novella, this kind of “cancelling the apocalypse” (borrowing the term from Idris Elba’s character in Pacific Rim) can only be a massive production or nothing at all. And, this adaptation opted to go the former way and, since then, it becomes a mega-hit. Before long, Netflix picked it up and The Wandering Earth really wanders to flaunt its extravagant ambitions.
The ambitious premise begins when humanity finds out that our sun is dying. Nations of the world unite and come up with the solution to ‘modify’ the Earth into a giant space-travelling planet then move to another solar system to preserve human civilization. While well-intended, the grand plan meets major drawbacks upon its realization. Majority of human populations are wiped out when the earth engine stops earth rotation triggering massive tsunamis; as the earth moves away from the sun, the temperature drops drastically, wiping out more humans. Even when the earth reaches the designated system, the whole victory feels like a Pyrrhic victory for humanity. That’s just how ambitious the premise of The Wandering Earth reflected by its own story.
Compared to the similar Hollywood’s disaster movies (the lots of Armaggedon, Independence Day or Geostorm, to name a few), The Wandering Earth is surprisingly less propagandistic. The tone is closely similar to Pacific Rim where the earth unites as one big organization whose ultimate goal is to survive; instead of a one-country effort to save the day. In terms of science, The Wandering Earth might not sound as convincing as Hollywood’s recent space tenure as in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar or Ridley Scott’s The Martian; and yet, spectacle-wise, it’s surprisingly effective in using its extravagant CGI bonanza. It even utilizes Jupiter better than just some poster background in Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending.
Chuxiao Qu and Zhao Jinmai play step-siblings that get entangled in the crucial fragments of earth’s voyage. At the same time, Jing Wu’s astronaut character is prepared to reunite with Qu’s and Jinmai’s character when the event in The Wandering Earth takes place. Senior actor Ng Man-tat (Shaolin Soccer) also contributes in one of his most iconic performances. The archetypal characters swim up a cliched yet clinical narrative adorned with production designs with enormous details. Frant Gwo confidently stages series of spectacular sci-fi spectacles in multiple scale. Given those spectacles, The Wandering Earth however opts to sacrifice the character development and focuses on catching up with the disaster portrayal. At the same time, Gwo’s decision to follow up science exposition with fast-paced action sequences makes it a little difficult to find direct coherence in the narrative.
While the premise and production value of The Wandering Earth is otherworldly stunning; the well-intended movie isn’t without flaw. However, the filmmakers wear it proudly knowing that there’s much more than that. Even when the movie isn’t explicitly propagandistic, there’s a shade of soft-propaganda about governing a global disaster the China ways. The whole movie is just that ambitious.
The Wandering Earth (2019)
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Adventure Directed by: Frant Gwo Written by: Frant Gwo, Gong Geer, Junce Ye, Yan Dongxu, Yang Zhixue based on a novel by Cixin Liu Starred by: Jing Wu, Chuxiao Qu, Guangjie Li, Ng Man-Tat, Zhao Jinmai Runtime: 125 mins