The Wandering Earth (2019)

Director: Frant Gwo

Writer: Gong Geer, Junce Ye, Yan Dongxy, Frant Gwo, Yang Zhixue, Cixin Liu, Ruchang Ye Starring: Jing Wu, Chuxiao Qu, Guangjie Li, Man-Tat Ng, Jin Mai Jhao, Mike Kai Sui, Haoya Yang

Cert: 15

The vibrant genre which is science-fiction has graced audiences around the world with many films depicting a catastrophic end to our little blue planet, and a plucky band of heroes who embark on an often dangerous and often ludicrous mission to prevent the imminent global catastrophe. Few of these films, however, can boast a story line as gleefully bonkers and ambitious as the one provided to us by The Wandering Earth, the 2019 Chinese blockbuster which has dominated the Chinese box office. Brought to us by director Frant Gwo, The Wandering Earth centres around a world-ending dilemma occurring in the early stages of a monumental journey across space.

This film's synopsis is one that speaks for itself, and is the simplest way of helping you to understand what exactly you are in for. Sometime in the future, in order to outrun the now expanding Sun which would inevitably engulf the Earth as it grows, the newly formed United Earth Government begins an extraordinary task of pushing the Earth out of our Solar System and into another many light years away, with the use of thousands of thruster engines spread out across one side of the globe. In the underground cities where the 3.5 billion survivors now live, a young man waits for his father to return home after 17 years on board the giant space station which is following and supporting the planet on its 2,500 year journey across space. However, when the thrusters begin to fail and Earth starts to become trapped by the gravity of Jupiter, those on Earth and in space must begin the dangerous task of restarting the engines and saving our planet from crashing into the gigantic gas giant.

The Wandering Earth, evidently, is not short on ambition, and the sheer audacity of this mind-boggling plot is one of the film's greatest and most endearing assets. It truly is a science-fiction film of epic proportions and, despite a few missteps, is a generally well made and thrilling piece of cinema.

Admittedly, the film doesn't start off strong, with its opening minutes consisting of an awkward sequence of exposition, provided to us in the form of a monologue which explains to us the reasons behind 'The Wandering Earth Project'. It is arguably a necessity, given the complicated nature of the plot and the point at which we join it, but this doesn't stop the initial scenes feeling overly laden with drawn-out explanations of governmental projects and the scientific workings of technologies which could have been better introduced gradually and organically within the film's narrative. Luckily, however, once the film's story has been established, The Wandering Earth accelerates to a much more thrilling pace, becoming a taut and driven action film with marvellous set-pieces, fluid plot development and brilliantly tense and exhilarating final act.

The visuals are a mixed bag if there ever was one. Any shot of the space station's interior, or the gloomy low-ceilinged and labyrinthine underground cities are fantastically detailed and dynamic, showing a real contrast between the advanced technology of the future and the more run-down and deprived refugee camps below the Earth's crust. On the surface, however, the ambition clearly outweighs the quality, as the huge transporters and frozen cityscapes are jarring to an almost comical degree. Further out, the external images of the space station are definitely passable if you don't look too closely, while some stunning wide shots of the Earth passing through Jupiter's orbit are beautifully artful and mesmeric. This film's effects certainly sit along a lengthy spectrum, and you can easily pinpoint exactly how and where the film's budget has been divided... but considering the scale on which The Wandering Earth is set, both physically and imaginatively, it is easy to feel forgiving.

This is not a film without emotion, however, and its committed cast are the main grounding force for this film, preventing it from spilling out into nonsense. Love and loss are both running themes, as are despair and determination, and the film's protagonists explore these concepts as deftly as is possible in a film of this type, leaving just enough room for a little melodrama to bleed through. Jing Wu and Chuxiao Qu - playing father and son, respectively - are the standouts, Wu as the committed but regretful father desperate to reunite with his son, and Qu as the angry and headstrong son whose anger towards his father is suddenly overshadowed by a much larger threat. Both deliver superb performances along with the rest of the cast who are each likeable and distinct, as well as being accessible to all viewers while still retaining a distinct East Asian style.

Brimming with imagination and undeniable enthusiasm, Frant Gwo's epic space adventure is one of the most spirited and bonkers disaster films of recent years. Some of the effects are questionable and the science may be a little fuzzy, but overall this grand action film offers a fantastic cast and a story line which will continue to shock and surprise you till the end.

In one line: The Wandering Earth successfully marries a preposterous plot line with affecting human stories, despite lacking some of the quality effects normally found in successful blockbusters of this type.

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