Netflix's The Wandering Earth Review

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Roland Emmerich better watch out, there's a new player in town.

by Casimir Harlow May 3, 2019 at 1:19 PM

  • Like some monolithic blend of Armageddon and Interstellar, China's epic blockbuster adaptation of The Wandering Earth goes BIG on Sci-fi.

    Annihilating the Chinese Box Office with a staggering profit of over ten times its $50 million budget, The Wandering Earth may not have received much of a theatrical release in the West - instead, landing this week with little fanfare on Netflix - but its reception, and impact, may well change such treatment going forward. This is a serious contender in terms of blockbuster impact. It may not go big on characterisation, or even story - beyond its high concept premise - but it delivers in wildly imaginative, visually epic disaster spectacle, hitting hard like Armageddon on overdrive.

    This is a serious contender in terms of blockbuster impact

    The premise sees a future where the sun is turning into a Red Giant, threatening to destroy life on Earth and across much of the Solar System, forcing scientists to embark on a seemingly impossible project - to move the Earth. Driving the planet using giant fusion engines, the climate change caused by the journey sees life forced underground, for an arduous voyage that may not escape further disasters along the way.

    The Wandering Earth (2019)
    Based on an Award-winning Chinese novella, The Wandering Earth certainly isn't afraid of going big, turning the Earth into one giant post-apocalyptic mess, cratered by impossibly big fusion engines, beneath which the last remnants of mankind reside in order to stay warm. Hundreds of space ships join a super-sized space station designed to guide the planet on its maiden voyage, whilst giant trucks - the width of roads - travel the frozen landscape.

    It's the epic vision that drives the jaw-dropping visuals of the feature - not wholly unlike the Ark in Emmerich's 2012, only dialled up to 11. The story requires a blend of a number of different ideas across the planet and in space, echoing elements of Interstellar, the recent Geostorm, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon, Deep Impact, 2012, Sunshine, and countless other blockbuster disaster movies. And whilst this leaves individual scenes often feeling like nothing new, the sheer scale and ambition of the project set it apart, beating you into submission until you find it hard to dispute that there's likely been nothing quite like this film before.

    Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos in the original Mandarin (note that Netflix playback defaults to a cloying English dub), go some way towards enhancing the piece. Netflix still haven't quite nailed Atmos, but they are closing in on getting Dolby Vision right, with the eye-popping visuals looking utterly spectacular here, and dark sequences never even close to that too dark look that they used to favour. The cool blues - and fiery oranges - of the fusion engines, as well as the futuristic lighting that peppers the frozen landscape helps gives this a very impressive visual presentation.

    It may not go big on characterisation but it delivers in wildly imaginative, visually epic disaster spectacle, hitting hard like Armageddon on overdrive

    Of course, the distinctive Chinese angle clearly contributes towards this epic vision (not wholly unlike - at least for those who remember - what the Japanese did with Gerry Anderson's classic TV series which was rebooted as a super-sized Thunderbirds 2086), and the film, perhaps like South Korea's epic zombie flick, Train to Busan, further shows a kink in the Hollywood armour which will hopefully lead to a more diverse selection of blockbuster movies (rather than just Chinese-driven - and often deleted in the US - scenes with unnecessary characters injected into Hollywood movies just to appeal to the wallets of this massive foreign market).

    That said, the answer could still come in the right combo, with silly but modestly entertaining outlandish fare like The Meg showing that there is room for the best of both worlds going forward. Certainly one thing is for sure: China is not only a serious player when it comes to determining the Box Office fate of Hollywood Blockbusters; they are also a serious contender in terms of making them themselves.

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