The Wandering Earth aka I heard you like expansive life-affirming hard sci-fi

I saw this film the other night and it’s slowly infesting my brain. It’s based on a novel by Cixin Liu (author of Three Body Problem, which won the Hugo a few years ago) and the premise is that the sun is becoming a red giant that will consume the Earth within a few hundred years. In response, all the countries of Earth collaborate on an enormous plan to use rockets to physically move the entire planet 4.2 light years away to a different solar system with a non-exploding sun. I know it sounds like a crack sci-fi premise but it’s treated with such gravity and care that I find that it works.

Humanity moves into giant underground cities that are arrayed to support the tens of thousands of Giant Rocket Engines needed to accelerate the planet to 5% of the speed of light. The film takes place in year 17 of the 3500 year journey during which Earth approaches Jupiter for the gravity assist on Lunar New Year (is that still a thing? I think they left the moon behind). It goes a little bad. Ok, a lot bad.

There are powered exoskeletons. There’s a genial AI who follows the United Earth Government’s directives. There are multiple perfectly executed Chekhov’s guns. There’s a touching story between a father who joins the mission on the satellite platform tasked with navigating the planet through space and his son who he left behind, which provides the emotional core to the film. On the Mohs scale of science fiction hardness, I’d put it at quartz or above. There are so many individual choices that I appreciate about this film that I don’t want to spoil.

Even though it’s a Chinese language film, it’s surprisingly playing with subtitles in the US right now and I can’t recommend it enough. The CG is well made, on par with a B+ tier Hollywood movie—it gets the job done without drawing attention to its flaws. There is a shocking dearth of rah-rah Chinese nationalism in the plot. If you’ve ever read Three Body, you’ll know that Cixin Liu is an imaginative sci-fi writer who can really sell you on the premise and this film is no different.

I’m not worried about this movie not doing well; it’s already world #1 at the box office from Lunar New Year sales and I suspect its US release is purely dick-waving on the part of its investors to say they could. But it does give American audiences a window into what the future of mainstream non-Hollywood films might look like. I won’t call it the best film of the year or anything but I was riveted from start to finish and fully invested in the characters by the end.

P.S. Oof this ended up longer than I expected. Go see it before it leaves theaters! I think it’s worth the price of admission.

4 Likes

FYI - Netflix has picked this up for U.S. and international distribution.

They haven’t officially announced their distribution plans, but Netflix almost never releases their films theatrically for anything more than a token qualifying run (i.e. one week in LA, or NY to qualify for Oscars, a la Roma), so it seems like this will be streaming sooner rather than later.

I’m pretty excited for this. Even though I thought The Three Body Problem’s secret MMO plot was awkward and bizarre, it’s still one of the smartest sci-fi books I’ve read in years, and doesn’t go off the rails the way Seveneves, The Passage or The Expanse do. (Although I haven’t read the rest of the trilogy yet, so I suppose it could.)

I should try again with The Three Body Problem then: I tried reading it last year, when admittedly I wasn’t in the best mental space, and bounced completely off of it in the first chapter, which is really unusual for me.

I should note that The Wandering Earth is very different from Three Body. It trades plodding global conspiracy for a disaster movie sense of urgency.

RE: Netflix picking it up. Cool! Glad it can get to a wider audience. No clue how limited its current theatrical is.

2 Likes

… doesn’t go off the rails the way Seveneves , The Passage or The Expanse do. (Although I haven’t read the rest of the trilogy yet, so I suppose it could.)

The rest of the trilogy doesn’t go off the rails, but the rails go places. Along the way it never felt like “we space magic now!” to me - the technology might get fantastical but not in a fundamentally different way to the first book (which had supercomputer protons).

I haven’t seen the movie but I did I just finished the three body problem and one real nice thing have to say about it is that The Trisolarans as described in the book are one of imaginative well drawn sentient alien lifeforms I’ve ever seen in a piece of fiction.

1 Like

It came out on Netflix this week! https://www.slashfilm.com/the-wandering-earth-netflix-release/?fbclid=IwAR3ggnjCTnvZ21BN_mh3lk0TAu7z3xkIeyrHGWWD1nUhRQeGaWZ0IspjJuY

Apparently it wasn’t listed on the regular new release list? That’s weird.

2 Likes

I will definitely be checking it out this weekend, but yeah. Netflix’s treatment of it is more than a little puzzling.

I just finished watching this. It owns.

I’m super excited to watch this. I’m reading Three Body Problem now and it’s the first book in a while that I’ve actually liked. This is dope!

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this. I loved Three Body. Excited to watch it!

So, after watching the film, which I loved, I wanted to read some articles about it and found that uh… western media outlets have been calling it propaganda or have been really dismissive.

This piece gets into that stuff and explains it well: What Western Media Got Wrong About China’s Blockbuster ‘The Wandering Earth’

Was the film funded by any Chinese government body? Genuinely curious.

I ask because the last big Chinese blockbuster everyone went gaga for (The Great Wall) was actual literal Chinese propaganda.

Something about The Wandering Earth has been setting off an alarm in my brain and I can’t really nail down why. I think the alarm may just be getting set off by the constant news stories that is the current Chinese national horror show (literal concentration camps for muslims, social media turned into a method of civilian self-policing that rewards obedience, the current head of state imprisoning political opposition and having melt downs over a cartoon bear that his nationalist cult is weaponizing, ect).

I think The Wandering Earth worries me for the same reason background trends in American blockbusters worry me. Those with the big dollars to fund these works tend to also be the same sort who fall in line with fascist rule, which is how you get Captain Marvel, a film beloved for its overtly feminist themes and message, that also doubles as paid for air force propaganda.

At least if it does fall under the umbrella I think it does, it’s more murky in the darker intents and is more focused on positive messages about hope and working together, which can be spun in a non-nationalist way.

Now if you want truly horrific nationalist propaganda, you go to Japan! Do not even get me started on G.A.T.E.

3 Likes

I didn’t read much Western media output on The Wandering Earth at the time but none of this surprises me. It’s so prevalent and predictable that I barely noticed. I suppose that means the model minority head-down work-hard don’t-talk-back attitude is working on me.

You know, I really don’t know who funded it. That’s a legitimately good question that might lead me to recontextualize how I feel about the film.

As it stands, I agree with the films thesis—that climate change is something everyone on earth needs to collectively deal with.

I also enjoyed the spectacle of the film, even with its somewhat dated and sometimes bad looking visuals.

Seems like I found what I’ll be watching tonight! This looks interesting, thanks for the tip.

I mean to be fair plenty of American movies are pretty damn rah-rah nationalistic, we’re just so accustomed to it by this point it doesn’t stand out as much. Independence Day, Armageddon, even a lot of the Marvel and DC superhero movies with their massive military funding. Although I haven’t watched any Chinese movies, so they may be immeasurably worse for all I know.

1 Like

I don’t know if any of them are actual government bodies, but there’s a whole lot of “Beijing Culture” and “China Film Co.” all over the credits (plus our old buddy Tencent). If it’s propaganda, it’s propaganda in the exact same way Independence Day is propaganda.

Anyway, all that aside, it is a big sci-fi extravaganza that is stupid in all the appropriate ways. It’s emotionally manipulative and plays rousing scores over improbably dumb plans to save the entire world. It’s fucking great.

P.S. as much as I am not one to complain “that’s not how science works” as long as it’s in service of a good story. I was screaming at my TV in the first five minutes. The moon is gravitationally locked to Earth. If we slowly accelerated, it would slowly accelerate with us. The moon would come with us. But there’s a shot in the opening where Earth starts moving and the moon just, like, sits there. Come on.

2 Likes

I watched this last night, and I gotta admit, I wasn’t a big fan of it. I generally like sci-fi, and Star Trek is one thing I’m unabashedly a fan of. But this movie fell really flat to me.

I didn’t care for any of the characters and when some died I just kinda felt nothing. A lot of the big action shots, music scores and directing style seemed ripped right from other bigger more popular Hollywood movies. Just a little bit worse done.

I’ve been seeing a lot of complaints about the realism of the flick, and a lot of people were really down about that. I can’t really speak for it’s authenticity, but I will say that I’ve long given up on scientific accuracy in movies, and have a pretty wide berth for my suspension of disbelief.

As for the Chinese propaganda angle- I’ve not worked in movies, but I did work for a company that released a game in China. Many many things had to be changed or renamed to better “fit with China’s socialist values” and other such things so it could be approved by the government. I’ve heard of a similar sorts of councils for other cultural media, domestic and imported, but I can’t say for certain if that’s truth or just another form of insidious western propaganda.

For a movie with fortyeleven different productions studios it sure felt really B at times. Laughed when they did the slow-mo bass note seven times in a row. Poorly written too (although having ten writers is usually not a good sign), strange uneven message. Could’ve had a stronger tone of “sacrifice yourself for the greater good” I think. I think it still managed to be pretty enjoyable at times.