You may not have heard of it but The Wandering Earth is an important film. Endgame might be dominating the cinematic conversation right now but it isn’t overstating it to say that this could be the bigger game changer.
The Wandering Earth comes from China and represents a country prepared to move beyond expectations and boldly challenge the normal rules of world cinema. The Chinese film industry has produced many epic fantasy adventures but here they have made their first big sci-fi spectacular, which is a genre typically dominated by Hollywood because who can compete? The Chinese market has long been important to international box office and American cinema often plays specifically to this audience but with The Wandering Earth they have played the US at there own game.
A similar thing happened a couple of years ago when Russia made a superhero film called Guardians. The difference though is that Guardians bombed and this film hasn’t. The Wandering Earth has become the second highest earning foreign language film of all time and it has the third highest box office of this year across the whole world with only Captain Marvel and Endgame beating it. For the first time the US has lost some grip on its monopoly on special effects and action cinema.
What is really surprising is that with all that was hoped for with the film, they let a group of six year olds write it. I mean, I don’t know this to be true but I’m assuming this to be the case from watching it.
Seriously, The Wandering Earth is terrible. The music, effects, sets and props are all great; more than strong enough to stand up against bigger budget American movies, but the performances are weak and the script is awful. The lines and delivery are corny and cliched in the extreme. Part of this is in the dub, I’d have preferred to have seen the film with subtitles, but actually the story is ridiculous too. The whole conceit is that The Earth is under threat of annihilation due to The Sun expanding so they build a whole load of rocket engines around the Eastern Hemisphere and propel the planet out of our universe and toward a safer one. This is all going quite well despite the trillion reasons why this is scientifically ludicrous but then it goes slightly off course and they have to stop it colliding with Jupiter. To say the plot is unsophisticated doesn’t even come close and I fail to see how any adult mind has had anything to do with it.
I’ll tell you what it’s like; it’s like that scene at the start of Toy Story 3 where you see the game from Andy’s childish imagination playing out on an epic scale. Force field dogs and dinosaurs that eat force field dogs are no more nonsensical than what happens in The Wandering Earth.
The thing about that Russian film Guardians is that while it was also really bad, it worked if you watched it as a parody. Intentionally or otherwise that movie was really funny and highly entertaining. Unfortunately The Wandering Earth doesn’t even work on that level. Watching it is actually quite an effort. I was quite prepared to give up half way through, which is something I so rarely do with films, but I thought something might happen at the end that explained why the movie had been so successful. As it is nothing happens at the end, in the middle or at the start to justify the amount of money this film has made.
In the end though the reason why The Wandering Earth has done so well is because of that massive Chinese audience. The movie has made $700 million and 693 million of that was in China (the highest grossing non English language film, Wolf Warrior 2, is also Chinese).
Of course I totally get and celebrate the popularity of any film that shows people other than white men reflections of themselves on screen. It is a shame that The Wandering Earth is not a better movie but it will have paved the way for better movies to follow it and that, unlike the acting, the dialogue and the plot, is a good thing.
The Wandering Earth is on Netflix