Promoted as China’s first interstellar epic, the Wandering Earth (流浪地球) visually impresses but is dragged down by insipid characterisations.
The Wandering Earth Synopsis
In the near future, the transformation of the Sun into a red giant threatens all life on Earth. To save humanity, the United Earth Government implements a drastic and audacious plan. Through the use of several thousand thrusters positioned worldwide, they break Earth out of its solar orbit and propel the planet towards the Alpha Centauri star system. Despite the catastrophic disasters that ensures, the plan is largely successful, with mankind also relocating to underground cities beneath the thrusters as Earth’s surface freezes over. However, a gravity spike from Jupiter as Earth passes by simultaneously disables multiple thrusters. Trapped in Jupiter’s powerful pull, Earth plunges towards the gas giant in destructive collision.
I was really excited after watching the trailer for this Asian movie on Netflix last week.
I mean, we all know what China is capable of when she puts her mind and $$$$$ into something. Yes? As a Chinese, albeit one living several thousand miles away from China, I was also deeply curious as to how the PRC would approach the science fiction genre. It’s like, my ancestral land is renowned for artsy films, wuxia sagas, and imperial court bitch dramas. But Hollywood-style disaster stories? Intergalactic space operas? Would it just be a case of lavish visuals but lacklustre storytelling?
First of all, I have to say the visuals do not disappoint. It’s a little game-like at times, and personally, I’d have appreciated more scenes in the dystopian cities. But overall, the effects do impress.
So does the restrain, for that matter. By that, I mean there’s no open dissing of the West in the story. Ugly as it is to say, I was greatly concerned as to whether the producers would script current trade war tensions into the story; an act that to me would have unnecessarily politicised the movie. I’m glad to say that apart from a curiously minimal American presence, the story consistently reflects a united Earth. It borders on the politically impossible, but it is still refreshing to see the world saved by joined effort, instead of by one nation.
On the flipside, characterisation definitely has room for improvement. A LOT of room for improvement. While watching, I was reminded of Philip Dick’s weaker works, as in those in which a parade of characters just breezes past without so much as an effort to leave a mark. (And thus, you don’t give a shit what happens to them) In fact, after 2 hours of watching, I still didn’t feel anything at all for the lead, or even the comic relief, the latter pretty much underutilised. All things considered, I think The Wandering Earth exhibits China’s capabilities in the SF genre but also reveals the long road ahead. I’m looking forward to the next such production. But for the moment, I know I shouldn’t expect too much, yet.
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