The Wandering Earth (2019)
February 10, 2019 3:00 PM - Subscribe

IMDB: "The sun is dying out. The earth will soon be engulfed by the inflating sun. To save the human civilization, scientists draw up an escape plan that will bring the whole human race from danger. With the help of thousands of infusion powered engines, the planet earth will leave the solar system and embark on a 2,500 year journey to the orbit of a star 4.5 light years away." This Chinese blockbuster has been released in AMC theaters in the US with English subtitles. Review from the Verge.
posted by Countess Elena (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I hadn't had any idea about this movie before I browsed Fandango and decided to check it out. I'm still not sure how quote-unquote good it is, but it was an absolute ride, and it's worth checking out.

An equivalent American blockbuster would have had a single marquee action hero, a romance subplot, and a menacing human villain. The Wandering Earth has none of these. There are two male action-star leads, one limited by his youth and inexperience and one limited by the fact that he is millions of miles away from the center of the action on Earth. The lead role in the movie's many action sequences is often taken by one of the secondary characters. There is a lot going on here, and I suspect I might have understood it better if I read the book. I was often exhausted and confused by all the yelling and running, especially since the characters spend a lot of time in helmets and identical protective suits.

The English subtitles could have been better handled. There were a lot of editing errors and misspellings, plus clumsy translation. I don't speak Chinese, but I do know how English is and isn't spoken, and I felt the translation could have used a punch-up from a fluent speaker. A few times, I could tell that the Chinese-speaking audience was laughing at jokes I had completely missed, but that was fine; it didn't seem to make any difference to comprehension. Possibly the script is a little lighter to a native speaker. Some of the reviews called the movie "sappy," but the premise is so grim and the body count so high that the level of sentiment was just fine with me.

The movie never gave me the sense that my intelligence was being insulted, which is the reason I avoid most big-budget disasterpiece movies. Although I can't find a thinkpiece about whether or not the science behind the plot is real, I'm going to go ahead and assume that it isn't. But it's feasible while you're there.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:16 PM on February 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

Interesting! This is definitely going on my "to watch" list; Liu Cixin is a really interesting author - The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) and following books are Grand-Idea types of stories, will have to try to find an English translation of 'The Wandering Earth.'
posted by porpoise at 6:32 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

If that movie is successful, we may finally get an adaptation of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, which has been postponed indefinitely. All we have now is a Minecraft version...
posted by elgilito at 4:23 AM on February 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am interested in checking this out. The basic premise is so bonkers I am intrigued by it -- Travelling 1 lightyear away already calls for some some creative abuse of the laws of physics, usually manageable with the appropriate scifi-magic applied. Travelling multiple lightyears in a passenger ship of some kind necessitates even more scifi rigging to work... I can't fathom what they did to _move the planet_ 4.5 lightyears anywhere. My understanding of our planet's precarious environment is that moving it out of orbit even just a bit out of the standard range will result in basically everything everywhere dying, and that's just accepting there is some way to massively shift a planet's orbit somehow without massive damage in the movement process. 2,500 years for a planet outside of its native stars goldilocks range... I just really need to see how they decided to handle that one. Presumably the people involved do not get to live to be thousands of years old either.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:24 PM on February 13, 2019

This film was a bit of a hot mess to me, but I admit my expectations were miscalibrated from expecting something more like Sunshine, District 9, or even Snowpiercer as those were all non-American sci-fi's that I've really liked.

Wandering Earth comes across more like Armageddon or Emmerich disaster films, but with a little more thought in some parts. The parts that really worked for me were the montages in the beginning setting up the situation on Earth and a little bit the montage in the end showing the people across the world attempting to restore/repair the engines. Some of the scenes with Jupiter were also beautiful.

Things that were really a miss for me were honestly most or all of the characters. It was kind of hard to relate to any of the characters and I felt the film missed opportunities to build these moments that would have made the sacrifices and actions later on have more impact.

Being nitpicky (as always) some things could have also been setup better. For example, it felt like a jarring dark turn when everyone on Earth just gives up after being told they're doomed, which could have been easily fixed early on with more about how everyone on Earth is facing trauma and depression because of terrible disasters, being forced to live underground, and having a planet-wide eternal winter on the surface. I also think where the movie eventually goes with the "Helios" plan, there's an unexplored plot element (maybe intentionally so because of the CPC generally discouraging movies that create "disharmony") where there could be some sort of resentment at the space station astro/cosmo/spatio/taiko-nauts that seem to live in relative comfort, while the folks on Earth are forced to bunker up and literally eat worms.

Another nitpick: Why is a rescue unit so well-armed? When watching the movie I had two suspicions: (1) That later in the story there were going to reveal that not everyone on Earth lives underground and there are marauders or bandits that attack travelers, or (2) that the guns were to keep the workers in line (once again, I thought this was less likely because I don't think the CPC wants this kind of message). Neither theory was proved right, so I'm left with the same question.

Finally, I speak Mandarin Chinese, but I'm not from the Mainland. My main difficulty with the dialogue was there's a lot of science/sci-fi jargon that I don't use in everyday conversation, so I had to rely on subtitles more than usual.
posted by FJT at 10:37 AM on February 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Stanley Schmidt took a crack at moving the Earth back in the 70's, in the Lifeboat Earth series. He left the mechanics to alien tech (they showed up to help us move the planet), but he did spend a lot of time on "deep-space-proofing" the Earth at the individual level.
posted by Mogur at 11:22 AM on February 14, 2019

Oh! Almost forgot A Pail of Air, Fritz Leiber's take on the daily routine on an Earth that got moved into deep space.

(link goes to full text on, and I highly recommend it).
posted by Mogur at 11:24 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Keeping in mind, I haven't been able to see this yet (come on Regal, the nearest AMC is a half day's drive away!) or read it (it's impossible to find).

Things that were really a miss for me were honestly most or all of the characters. It was kind of hard to relate to any of the characters and I felt the film missed opportunities to build these moments that would have made the sacrifices and actions later on have more impact.

Being nitpicky (as always) some things could have also been setup better. For example, it felt like a jarring dark turn when everyone on Earth just gives up after being told they're doomed

That sounds right in line with Liu Cixin's other writings! At first I chalked it up to a cultural divide, either in the style it's written, or in how Liu wants to present his culture. I thoroughly enjoyed the Remembrance of Earth's Past and have very few qualms with it, but almost none of the characters were engaging or life like or memorable. I felt nothing for them, individually.

On the other hand, the books evoked a lot of emotions for how I felt about the human race as a whole. While the story focused on a number of individuals throughout, the real main character was Humanity and its fight for survival. By removing the individual impact Liu put greater focus on how we respond as a people.

Whether that's the case for Wandering Earth, or whether that shone through in a 2 hour action blockbuster, I can't say yet. But the way you described it could be a word for word excerpt from my initial review of RoEP.
posted by 2ht at 7:05 AM on February 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I watched it tonight. I loved that they got down to business quickly, and the audacious scale of everything.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:13 AM on March 12, 2019

It's on Netflix streaming now. I found it worth the watch.
posted by XMLicious at 5:58 PM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

This isn't science fiction, this is a future-genre fantasy.

Comparable to 'The 5th Element' or even 'Immortel, ad vitam' spliced with 'The Day After Tomorrow.'

Once I got that aside, I enjoyed it a lot. But it was a little generic and maybe some subtle CCCP cultural manipulation? Looking forward to reading the (translated) original material. I enjoyed the 3BP trilogy, many similar cultural difference feelings.

Ok, one little thing that I did like was that a critical system required high-level access in order to login - everyone with that access level are unavailable and the only remaining people able to use that critical system have to hack it in order to prevent a catastrophe.

As a "big budget" popcorn spectacle, it does a fine job.

The 'crazy Russian cosmonaut' thing felt really out of place. They should have left that with 'Armageddon.'

I don't know enough to know if it's homegrown convergent evolution but the cgi had strong (Japanese) anime flavour to it. The cg isn't good technically, but stylistically I absolutely loved the lived in and highly greebled sets. Lots of great detail, the day-after-tomorrow (as a sci-fi genre, not the movie) look is really believable, but it's too entirely linear. I would have expected more "crisis mode" inspired design decisions or something unexpected. But still, gorgeous TDAT design.

Countess Elena, I think you give too little credence to bad-assed grandpa! Man-Tat Ng, iirc, had lots of gross idiot and/or dickbag uncle roles in HK cinema so it's a little incongruous (but gloriful!) to see him in a heroic role. I have a feeling that the "old people rock" is one that the party really likes.

Mike Kai Sui uncannily reminded me of Tom Green. I hope better things are in the future for him.

As for how much armament was around - just the necessities of a required authoritarian governance, I guess.
posted by porpoise at 10:41 PM on July 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Watched this on Netflix, appreciated the choice of English dub or Mandarin with English subs. I took the latter and the subtitles were fine; maybe improved from what Countess Elena saw?

It's a big dumb action movie. Felt much like Armageddon or maybe The Day After Tomorrow. Totally implausible physics, lots of set pieces, loud music, explosions. Big dumb fun!

Except that it's Chinese. There's been a lot written about what that might mean geopolitically, this article was on my mind. I think to a first approximation the nationality doesn't really mean anything. This isn't some analogy to The Long March or something. I can definitely read in specific cultural details, and enjoyed how some of those contrasted with the American version of this kind of movie. But really this movie is so heavily influenced by American action movies I'm not sure it's necessary.

(Now off to watch Wolf Warrior 2; that's a different story with the national identity.)
posted by Nelson at 10:34 AM on July 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I like the ambitious scale, but other than that, it's a pretty bad movie. There is SO much gratuitous peril, and it's not shot very well shot either, so it's kind of confusing and exhausting and boring a lot of the time.
posted by fleacircus at 12:01 AM on August 26, 2019

Just watched this a few days ago. And HOLY SHIT IT IS FUCKING BONKERS Y'ALL. Ok so we needed to move the planet so we banded together and built 10,000 giant thrust engines into the planet itself and now we're gonna slingshot the Earth around Jupiter but there's a problem because of gravity and it is fucking absurd. And it is so well done, the actors are playing it totally straight, they spend plenty of time on backstory but it's interesting and unexpected, and the scale is massive. Sure, there's plenty of scenery chewing and DRAMA, the effects are uneven at times, and the physics just don't add up, but if you presume the existence of a level of technology to where we could actually move our planet, then you can forget about the specifics. And there's no technobabble beyond the bare minimum ("the engines work like this because narrative convenience" and everyone gets it and moves on).

It's the first tentpole film I've seen in a long time that held my interest. As much fun as the Marvel universe was, there weren't any surprises at all, and I never thought for a minute that they'd let all those characters stay gone. Here, I couldn't immediately tell what would happen: would we get trapped in Jupiter's gravity well, or would we solve the problem one more time? I'm sure a large part of that is a lack of understanding of the language; it wouldn't surprise me to hear that this is the Chinese cultural equivalent of Armageddon, and taikonauts watch this as examples of bad physics. But for me, it was something novel that made me remember what it was like to be 6 years old and see Star Wars with no preconceived notion of what it would be, and to get my 6 year old brain's ass kicked.
posted by disconnect at 6:50 PM on April 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

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