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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to write about items gathered during a walk. In my house, I latched onto a nearby globe and decided to write about the planet at large, even though the film is more about disaster than discovery.)

What ancient cartographer could have imagined
A world as small as this?
Back then, the maps ended without a true edge
In blurry oblivion. One would allege
A brand new discovery, and they would wedge
The new land upon the abyss.

And now we know everything, satellite-view;
No land is left to miss.
But now we look upward and see a frontier,
More blurry oblivion. Scorning the fear,
We still must endeavor to find what’s not here.
We just can’t abide an abyss.

MPA rating: TV-MA (it’s a PG-13-level movie, but the English subtitles have more F words than the original Chinese for some reason)

When you think of Chinese films, science fiction isn’t a genre that immediately comes to mind, but The Wandering Earth might change that. Based on a 2000 novella and released through Netflix outside of China, this big-budget blockbuster is like Asia’s answer to Michael Bay, a solar-system-spanning disaster flick that is just over-the-top enough to work.

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Anyone remember the Spongebob episode with the Alaskan bull worm threatening the town, where Patrick says they should just take Bikini Bottom and push it someplace else? Well, that’s the brilliant idea the future world leaders in this film came up with to escape an expanding sun. Studding the earth’s surface with enormous rocket engines, they push the planet out of its orbit toward a safer system while most of the population retreats underground to escape the freezing surface. Years into the journey, the roaming planet gets caught in Jupiter’s gravity, forcing young adult Liu Qi (Chuxiao Qu), his sister, and their accomplices to fix one of the failing engines and save the world, while his father (Jing Wu) on a space station tries to do the same.

With tiny people causing planet-level effects, everything in The Wandering Earth is on such a humongous scale that even its semi-plausible elements seem utterly ridiculous, yet the earnestness of the characters and coolness of the visuals make the suspension of disbelief possible. In creating China’s first big sci-fi movie, the filmmakers certainly went all out with their emulation of similar Hollywood blockbusters: collapsing ice towers, a single-minded AI to fight, huge explosions, questions about saving the many vs. the few, last-minute heroics and touching sacrifices.

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There’s a reason it made $700 million, making it the third highest-grossing non-English film ever. (Netflix has an English dub, but I’d only watch it if you absolutely can’t stand subtitles or want fewer obscenities.) I don’t know how the current pandemic will affect China’s film industry, but The Wandering Earth is proof that it can compete with Hollywood on special-effects extravaganzas. I wouldn’t say it’s better than films like Armageddon or Sunshine, but it’s certainly bigger.


Rank: List Runner-Up


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