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.