Review of The Wandering Earth (2019)

Moving picture, 125 minutes

Seen in 2019.

Inexplicably, the Sun is swelling up five billion years ahead of schedule. Inexplicably, humankind responds by trying to slingshot the Earth around Jupiter to move the entire planet to another star: A 2500-year process peaking at half the speed of light. Inexplicably, Jupiter’s gravity fluctuates too much for this plan. Inexplicably, heroic Chinese juvenile delinquents blow up the planets’ combined atmospheres. Inexplicably, this saves the day.

A soft-SF spectacle doing violence to The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). At age 10, I would have thought this was great: Constant action, huge machinery, high stakes and no love story. At one point the main hero is attempting to dislodge an atomic spark plug inside a giant metal press, by kicking it, which is stupid and awesome. At age 36 I am bored with the lazy scene transitions, incompetent pacing, childish fantasy physics, boring music and flat characters, but I am fascinated by the portrayal of the “United Earth” government, a successor to the United Nations for unknown reasons.

At first, United Earth is cast as a generic US-future-dystopian-style evil world government, most clearly characterized by a faceless classmate defining hope with a regime-friendly platitude similar to mainland-Chinese state-communist rhetoric. Through several twists involving MOSS, an inconsistently characterized cross between HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and CASE of Interstellar (2014), the image of the United Earth government gradually shifts from this state of opposition to align with Chinese propaganda: The state is actually benevolent, Israeli scientists came up with the rescue plan before the heroes did, and the heroes ultimately use the faceless classmate’s metaphor for hope to turn things around. The script also emphasizes that individuals are important and the main characters’ rebellion is ultimately vindicated, but the governmental heel-face turn is the only thing that separates the writing from an imitation of Hollywood. The rest is The Day After Tomorrow (2004) mashed up with Transformers (2007). There’s even a racially charged sidekick, an Australian-Chinese Jar Jar Binks named Tim: A clown and likely rapist. I expected no less.

References here: Shanghai Fortress (2019).

fiction moving picture