Special Effects: C+
I don’t usually have much interest in Chinese films, and The Wandering Earth did nothing to remedy that. This is basically China’s answer to Geostorm, a special effects extravaganza offering occasionally compelling imagery, featuring an incomprehensible story. (More like The Wandering Script, amirite??)
Had bad the editing is in this film can’t really be overstated. Not one thing that happens — and far too many things are happening — is given any time whatsoever to breathe. This is basically a 125-minute music video, except instead of pop music, we’re subjected to an action-movie score pretty typical of western blockbuster disaster movies.
I guess I’ll give The Wandering Earth this much: it is better than Geostorm — barely. Its broad plot, involving an expanding sun necessitating the construction of worldwide propulsive engines to relocate the planet to a new solar system, might have been sort of compelling if it made any sense. Instead, the script is packed with incomprehensible techno-babble that’s rendered even more meaningless as it gets lost in the nonstop action.
The central conflict doesn’t even involve getting the Earth removed from orbit. Most of this story takes place well after that, after half the world has been annihilated by tsunamis caused by stopping the Earth’s rotation (how does one do that, exactly? — this movie fails to offer any real explanation) and the other half is forced to live in underground cities through the generations it will take before reaching this new location in another solar system more than four light years away. People go to the surface in “thermal suits” to work on maintaining this hundreds of giant engines that effectively turned the world into a planet-sized space ship.
The real problem is the gravitational pull of Jupiter as Earth passes by. Can humanity’s “United Earth Government” find a way to pull away and keep the planet on course? The suspense is killing me! I’m kidding about that suspense part; The Wandering Earth couldn’t manage suspense if its life depended on it. Which, really, it kind of does. Anyway I was thinking about how dreadfully bored I was before this movie was half over.
It’s all just so jaw-droppingly preposterous, there’s no reason to be emotionally invested in anything going on — not even the inter-generational conflicts of a middle-aged widower (Jing Wu) stationed on the Space Station serving as Earth’s navigation system and his family still on earth: his father (Man-tat Ng) and his young adult son (Chuxiao Qu) and teenage daughter (Jin Mai Jaho). And although these actors all appear competent generally speaking, this movie demands nothing more of them than to phone in their uniformly ridiculous lines. Many of the lines are distractingly obvious in their post-production over-dubbing. The line readings not syncing up with lip movements is obvious even to those of us who don’t speak Mandarin.
The special effects are all over the place. Many of the exterior shots in outer space, showing the Space Station or the planets, are actually pretty impressively rendered. But, those don’t require as much detail as exterior shots of the frozen surface of the planet, the sweeping camera movements making the images strangely jerky, as though someone did a half-assed job in their computer program. Very few of these surface shots are visually convincing in any way.
Not that it would matter much even if they were, the very concepts of this movie being as dumb as they are. And to make matters worse, our heroes make narrow escapes over and over again, constantly getting missed by, say, gigantic debris falling from cliffs in a huge earthquake as techtonic plates shift. It’s like watching the old G.I. Joe cartoons, except instead of villains with terminally terrible aim, it’s giant hunks of earth with terrible aim.
I do like the idea of giant cities like Beijing or Shanghai buried in ice, the tips of their skyscrapers poking out of the surface. That made for some kind of cool images. Such things get overshadowed by a complete disregard for basic physics, like when brother and sister are falling through the air and brother somehow catches up with her by falling faster. That is not how gravity works!
I mean, really, that’s not how anything works in this movie, which has the distinction of being easily the stupidest thing I have watched in at least two years.