The Wandering Earth Settles Into Familiar Territory

27 Feb

Image result for the wandering earthBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

  • Coming Soon to Netflix

The Wandering Earth is China’s choice of hailing in the Lunar New Year and for some, the celebration is still ongoing. Technically, the two-week celebration is over, but I do not want to take down the decorations. It serves to remind me what’s good about life, and know the future is bright. I gotta wear shades because the idea behind this film is cool.

The science behind setting the planet loose to be adrift in the cosmos is bang on. More than half of the citizens are dead or in accidental cryonic suspension when it came time. The reason for leaving the solar system is that the life cycle of the sun includes becoming a red giant. when that day comes, mankind better have a plan to escape; the government’s idea is to mount nuclear-powered thrusters on one side of the planet and turn it into a spaceship. To help navigate the dangers of space, the ISS gets a major redesign and co-pilots the planet. It houses humanity’s greatest minds to deal with course corrections and be the safe house for Plan B if there is one.

I saw a passing similarity to Armageddon (1998) and inspirations from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The logo design is straight out of Yamato (aka Star Blazers), so I cannot help but think there’s a slight connection there. If sequels are going to happen, I suspect the next film will turn into some variation of Battlestar Galactica. The idea here is to make it to Alpha Centauri so it can orbit a new star. The concept is far-fetched, and thankfully this work does not deal with all that techno mumble-jumble and instead focuses on the Liu family. The bridging narrative concerns Peiqiang (Jing Wu) hoping to one day make it home (he’s stationed at the ISS) to see son Qi (Chuxio Qu) and adopted daughter Duoduo Han (Jinmai Zhao). He would have if the plan to get a gravity assist from the planet Jupiter to their new home did not go awry.

This movie is a shining example of what a Chinese-made film can look like with Weta Workshop involved. If there were any green screening, it was kept to a minimum and a lot of money was most likely spent on practical sets and effects. The tale is adapted from the novella of the same name by Liu Cixin, the simple message of keeping hope alive is key in this film. Another theme from the book is humanity’s distrust of scientists, and I thought not enough of this idea was expressed.

The film clocks in at a little more than two hours, perhaps too long, as the climactic moments tend to drag a touch longer than it needs to be. While these scenes get overdramatic, I can not say it’s no different than some Hollywood films. It works, given the situation, but at least Wandering Earth shows what can happen when they farm out some production work out of the country.

One nitpick I have to warn about is with future theatrical screenings. The subtitles are tiny; the idea is to not ruin the beautiful set design and skyscapes with larger than normal text. I’m fairly sure the upcoming Netflix release will have better subtitle design to make readability better. Some pivotal moments are lost in translation when the snowy backgrounds blended with the text in the briefest of moments, and when you are dealing with a planet adrift, all the help it can find is needed if it to find a new star to orbit. There’s no sequel in both the original treatment and nor do I believe there are plans. As much as I like to hear about the next generation, this saga feels unneeded. We know that the planet is off to destinations unknown, and humanity will rebuild. That’s all we need to know.

4 Stars out of 5

 

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