By Dave B.
The Wandering Earth (currently on Netflix) is a Mandarin-language, sci-fi epic, based on the award winning novel by Liu Cixin about humanity’s attempt to move the entire Earth to another solar system due to the sun beginning its final stages of existence several billion years before expected. People have moved to underground cities beneath 10,000 engines that propel the planet through the solar system on its way to the Alpha Centauri solar system. While attempting a slingshot maneuver around Jupiter, a course miscalculation leads half of the Earth’s engines to malfunction. Both on the frozen surface and in a massive space station that guides the way for the planet, people struggle to repair the engines before Jupiter’s gravity causes Earth to collide with the gas giant.
Two points before I begin: This review is of the dubbed version of The Wandering Earth and I’ve never read the book, so I’ll make no comparisons to it. That said, it’s understandable why The Wandering Earth has made of $700M dollars worldwide, thus far. From a special effects and setting perspective, it’s without doubt the most advanced movie ever created by the Chinese film industry. It’s clear that its budget of $50M is used to good technical effect. The production quality of this film is nearly on par with comparable Hollywood sci-fi movies with similar budgets. It’s space scenes are breathtaking and it’s practical CGI is solid. Overall, the movie looks pretty darn good. This movie sets a new bar for technical achievement in Chinese filmmaking and that is something that the Chinese people should be proud of.
That said, this movie is straight up bad. Bad as in its runtime is a bit over two hours and it feels more like four. Humor from cultures that aren’t one’s own can always be a little hit and miss, as most non-physical humor is largely culture-specific. But even setting the humor aside, every bit of dialogue in this film is terrible, and not just because of the dubbing (which was technically proficient and not distracting). The problem is that the writing for the film is just…not precisely juvenile, but certainly not mature. Even when one ignores the absolutely horrid physics used in the movie (which is a prerequisite to being able to watch this film at all) the characters behave in incomprehensibly illogical ways. Further, the character development displayed in The Wandering Earth ranges from atrocious to nonexistent. Frankly, I find it hard to conceive that anyone will care much about the fate of any of the characters, which significantly diminishes any tension that the movie is able to generate.
In short, The Wandering Earth is comparable to a bad Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. In and of itself, that’s an achievement, of sorts. Hollywood has been churning out movies like this for decades and China is just starting to. However, a noteworthy achievement and blockbuster-like success are not sufficient qualifications for a movie to be considered good. I don’t recommend The Wandering Earth on its own merits, particularly if you have access to American cinema. But those who are interested in the advancement of the film industry in China may find some things in the movie to spark their interest a bit. Occasionally. Perhaps.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.