May 30, 2019
500 Episodes? Is that correct? It is even possible? A huge thanks to everyone for their support this past year and a half. We have more subscribers than ever, and our team of critics here continues to grow and expand. And don’t worry, we’ll have 500 more episodes to come!
To celebrate, we’re taking a quick break from Netflix Originals to look at a Netflix exclusive distribution. At the time of recording this introduction, today’s film is the third highest grossing film internationally for 2019, and likely a film you haven’t heard about. The great news is that you can catch it on Netflix. The bad news is that finding it on a larger screen will be more challenging. For a few other films from the Chinese film scene, check out “Manhunt” (Episode #133), “Us and Them” (Episode #178), “Duck Duck Goose” (Episode #210), “Flavours of Youth” (Episode #224), and “Next Gen” (Episode #252).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “The Wandering Earth”, the Chinese science fiction action film directed by Frant Gwo, and written for the screen in collaboration with Gong Geer, Junce Ye, Yan Dongxu, Yang Zhixue, and Ruchang Ye, based on a story by Cixin Liu. The film follows the efforts of the human race in the wake of our Sun beginning to expand, soon to engulf the orbit of our planet. Major countries have united to construct giant engines to move the planet towards another star 4.5 light years away. However, as they attempt to use Jupiter’s gravity as an assist for the planet, they find themselves stuck in its gravitational field, and humanity must come together to save the planet from disintegrating into Jupiter.
I don’t think enough people pay attention to the international box office. Sure, it’s convenient when we’re playing comparison games with the multiple Hollywood projects that continue to net billions domestically and overseas. But when I got back into movies, I was curious to see what films were the moneymakers, and as expected, more than one Chinese film is in the top 20 every year, most of which never see wide release in the United States. In 2016, “Mei Ren Yu” made $554M at the international box office. In 2017, there was “Wolf Warrior 2” which made $858M. And in 2018, there was “Operation Red Sea” ($576M), “Detective Chinatown 2” ($544M), and “Wo Bi Shi Yao Shen” ($451M). All of these films received very minimal releases in the United States, in any screens, and I think we’re all worse off because of it. And it’s especially troubling for “The Wandering Earth”, which has made an impressive $700M so far this year, which absolutely deserves to be seen on a big screen.
“The Wandering Earth” is a meditation on how humanity might unite in the face of larger dangers to our species. In today’s film, the natural disaster we’re facing is the death of our star, the process of which begins by expanding in size and cooling to a relatively lower temperature, and which scientists believe will engulf our orbit, and which the movie’s scientists state will engulf the entire solar system. Either way, this cosmic natural disaster can easily be a metaphor for today’s fight against climate collapse, which will require the same kind of scale and cooperation as building giant engines to move the planet to another star. Rather than the last chance, alpha male heroes of “Armageddon”, in “The Wandering Earth” we get a company of protagonists thrown together by circumstance, and representing a small slice of a similar story playing out across the planet as it nears Jupiter. No one person is essential, and each person has a piece of the puzzle to saving humanity, and a role to play in that solution.
I really enjoy these kinds of collectivist narratives, not just because they provide a counterpoint to the hyper-individualist, star-driven narratives of Hollywood, but also because they tap into some deeply entrenched ideas of community and cooperation that seems all but gone from the United States. Individualists often adopt a speculative either/or thinking when they consider collectivist narratives, believing that being part of something greater than ourselves necessarily removes our individual identities, or exists within some impossible utopia, but today’s film also gives us a glimpse into how a collectivist society might operate, outside of the need for immediate collective action.
“The Wandering Earth” is definitely a space epic, told on a truly cosmic scale. I don’t think I’ve seen a science-fiction film on this kind of scale for quite some time. I haven’t seen a story that considers moving an entire planet-size object since the That’s-No-Moon Death Star of the “Star Wars” franchise, and haven’t read anything in print since Larry Niven’s Puppeteers from his “Fleet of Worlds” and “Ringworld” sagas. And as you might expect, there are incredible scenes of cinematography that are shown absolutely no justice on my meager home screen. It’s my major complaint about the film, but it’s an issue with the technology on my end, not with the creation or skills on the filmmaker’s end.
My other complaint, although it could satiated by any number of prequels or sequels, is that the world which gets developed is much bigger than the story being told. I was completely enamored with all the visuals and the action, and was left wanting more of every aspect of this story. I wanted prequels that tell and show more than the introductory montage or the relatively few flashbacks we’re given. I wanted to see how other countries were faring in their regions. I wanted to see the dark side of the Earth, and more of the space station. All great for exciting an audience, but also a struggle for the content hungry. I’ll definitely be picking up the original written works, that’s for sure.
“The Wandering Earth” is a truly epic and unique science-fiction thriller, that considers a collectivist response to a global cosmic threat. While the film is widely available on Netflix, it deserves to be seen on a large screen, or with high resolution, to appreciate the impressive detail added to all aspects of the film. Science fiction fans, and fans of collectivist responses to common problems, should definitely check out this film. On as large a screen as possible. Everyone else, if you don’t mind subtitles, then you’ll love this multi-lingual film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
One Movie Punch: 8.6/10
“The Wandering Earth” (2019) is rated TV-MA and is currently playing on Netflix.