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‘The Wandering Earth’: Chinese ‘Independence Day’ with a soul

The Art of Nerding Out

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“The Wandering Earth” could never happen in today’s Hollywood, yet it feels like a tip of the hat to epic sci-fi disaster flicks. More specifically, “The Wandering Earth” feels a lot like “Independence Day,” albeit with a bit more heart and soul than Roland Emmerich’s now-classic alien invasion epic.

Loosely based on a novella by award-winning author Liu Cinxin, “The Wandering Earth” takes us into the future, to a time when the governments of the world have set aside their differences and united to save humanity. The plan involves building immense rocket engines into the planet and moving the whole Earth out of the solar system before the Sun expands and swallows everything we know and love.

Unfortunately, the gravitation of Jupiter grabs hold of Earth, and our homeworld is on a collision course with the giant gas globe. A cast of dozens of characters, including our protagonist, Liu Qi (Chuxiao Qu) and his sister, Han Duoduo (Jin Mai Jaho), must unite to save the Earth and keep the human race alive.

It’s interesting to note how much “Earth” has with “Independence Day.” Both films feature expansive casts of characters. Both films are full of scenes of destruction on an epic scale. The third act of both films includes a character giving a rousing speech. The scale and the way humanity’s fate hangs in the balance is handled in a similar way in both movies.

What’s different is that “Earth” feels like the kind of movie that couldn’t be made in Hollywood because studio executives wouldn’t be able to wrap their heads around the premise. The idea of building giant rockets into the earth to move it through the cosmos is at once a really cool idea and also somewhat cheesy. But the filmmakers on “Earth” make it work in a way that seems to settle just at the ragged edge of plausibility.

“Earth” also differs from “Independence Day” and films from that ilk in that it has some soul and emotion. The characters have quiet moments to ponder where they came from and their relationships. Where American filmmakers would undoubtedly focus on a rag-tag band of heroes blowing stuff up (and there’s nothing wrong with that approach), director Frant Gwo and his filmmaking team have chosen to give us breathers to ponder the cost, both personal and overall, if the characters fail.

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Courtesy photos

This makes “Earth” a version of the epic disaster movie with a bit more soul. Sure, the destructive scenes are awesome, but you care about the characters in “Earth” because you know what they want and can relate to them, not because they’re played by Will Smith.

Overall, “The Wandering Earth” is a solidly entertaining two hours. The world is fascinating, the visuals are epic and scenes of Earth amid the blackness of space show the scale of the proceedings in a way that’s almost painterly. The movie is currently streaming on Netflix and is dubbed in English, so you don’t need to worry about reading subtitles. This movie is worth a watch, for nothing more than to compare and contrast Chinese blockbusters with their American counterparts.

3 1/2 Indy Fedoras out of 5

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