The Wandering Earth | Frant Gwo | February 6, 2019
The Wandering Earth is the biggest box office hit of the year so far but chances are you wouldn’t know that unless you’re living in China or keep a firm eye on international box office results. The film was released on the first day of the Chinese New Year and has gone on to gross over $600 million since then, already good enough to make it the second highest-grossing film of all time in China, not even a month after its release. So it’s safe to say that the film has captured the attention of the Chinese film-going audience who don’t typically venture into big Hollywood-esque sci-fi blockbuster territory.
Directed by Frant Gwo, the story is based off a novella of the same name by Hugo Award-winning author Liu Cixin. In this futuristic story, the sun is about to turn into a red giant, threatening to end not only life on Earth but also the existence of many planets in the solar system. Being a sci-fi epic, world leaders put their differences aside, form the United Earth Government, and come up with the lofty plan to use strategically built high-powered thrusters to literally move the Earth out of the solar system so it can find a new one to call home before it’s too late. While life on Earth won’t be possible for all, a lucky few are chosen to live in underground cities safety bunkered beneath the thrusters.
It’s the sort of sci-fi concept that would probably give Neil deGrasse Tyson agita, but in terms of big filmmaking, it allows Frant Gwo to play with some pretty epic ideas that you just have to embrace to get the most out of this experience.
The heart of the film lays in the relationships between the family that we are introduced to. Chinese astronaut Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing) is about to leave for a 15-year mission that will take him far away from his son Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao), leaving him with his father-in-law Han Zi’ang (Ng Man-tat). We catch up with Qi 15 years later as a bitter young adult who resents his father for leaving him and abandoning his mother. He and his sister Han Duoduo (Zhao Jinmai) have a plan to sneak onto the now frosty surface of the earth. Their timing couldn’t be worse, as the failure of the thrusters puts Earth on a collision course towards Jupiter and they find themselves in the middle of a chaotic time for the surface world, getting involved with military figures and scientists who need their help in saving their planet.
The dynamic that Liu Qi shared with his dad and grandpa has enough heart and soul to help keep you invested even when the film gets a bit too nutty for its own good. Like a mix of Armageddon, 2012, Deep Impact, and any other Roland Emmerich-helmed the production, The Wandering Earth works best when you don’t overthink it and just roll with the crazy adventure that it so desperately wants to take you on.
Although the film gets bogged down by some sloppy plotting and thinly-written supporting characters, there are enough high-octane and visually stunning action setpieces here that handily do the trick. Just when I thought that its wild climatic third act was about to unravel at the seams, the story turns back to the core familial relationship and finds a way to be surprisingly emotional, even though it’s something that is telegraphed a mile away if you’ve ever seen one of these films before. It has problems, but the film did its job as a piece of popcorn entertainment and had me entertained despite its flaws.
If you want to watch a well-made and well-intentioned sci-fi film that takes its craft seriously while also embracing the sillier aspects of the genre and giving you a chance to enjoy this genre with what I assume will be a fresh-faced cast, try to find a theater that is currently playing The Wandering Earth and embrace its world for two hours on the biggest screen that you can find.