The Wandering Earth, directed by Frant Gwo was the unexpected box office juggernaut of the first part of this year, bringing in over $700,000,000 million dollars. It recently debut on Netflix without any fanfare. Why such unceremonious dumping? The fact that of that huge box office, haul $690,994,017 was from China should be a clue. For all it’s appeal in its home country it didn’t travel well, and there’s a reason for that.
Based on a short story by China’s best-known science fiction writer Liu Cixin, The Wandering Earth tells of a plan to save humanity when the sun is about to wipe out life on Earth. The plan? Build 10,000 giant “Earth Engines” and push the planet into space using Jupiter’s gravitational field to boost it to an inhabitable star. Things get hairy when the effects of Jupiter’s gravitation prove stronger than intended and start causing the engines to malfunction and threaten to turn Earth into a giant meteorite.
If you think the plot sounds like bad a bad Japanese TV anime show you’re not alone. The entire premise is ludicrous. The fact that all the countries of Earth agree to merge into one government is by itself unbelievable. Never mind building the huge underground cities, (half the population will still be left on the surface to die). Or any of the physics concerning turning a planet into a comet.
Not that a lack of science has ever stopped a science fiction film from being popular, just think Armageddon or any of the Transformers franchise. But the film’s immediate concern, the restarting of the Earth engines is handled in such a heavy-handed and manipulative, not to mention cliched, manner it can’t distract from the stupidity of it all.
This just has to happen on the day Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing, Wolf Warrior 1&2, SPL: Kill Zone) is supposed to return to Earth from the space station that guides Earth’s travels. he’s been there for years. His son Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao) and adopted daughter Han Doudou (Zhao Jinmai) live with their grandfather (Ng Man-tat, Shaolin Soccer). Mom is, of course, dead. They manage to con their way to the surface to meet him only to be caught in the chaos. And of course, they, along with an assortment of other misfits, end up having to save humanity.
The much-vaunted effects are at times spectacular. But, as with all CGI heavy films, there are some obvious moments too. Many of the large scale scenes of cities, etc aren’t that convincing. Add the kind of propaganda Chinese films are well known for and the reasons for its international failure is obvious.
China has learned to clone the spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster. Now they need to learn to come up with a story that will sell everywhere. Though given the international appeal of the Transformers that’s a pretty low bar.