*The Wandering Earth* (big spoilers here, but not suspenseful in any case)

I can’t say this is a good movie.  It has a nonsensical plot (you really can’t get that far from the sun…cold is not the only problem!), unmemorable characters, and mediocre dialog.  Still, it is interesting.  You see two hours of the Chinese building all sorts of big infrastructure, and imagining their future as world leader.  They show Shanghai in ruins, for the first time ever in a Chinese movie.  You see that even Chinese directors have been influenced by the 1969 Hollywood movie Marooned, a sign that Chinese world leadership is a bit further away than they may like to think.  On the brighter side, it has many more striking visual shots than you would find in almost any Hollywood movie today.  It is one of the biggest grossing films in Chinese history.

The movie is basically a retelling of some of the earlier parts of Genesis.  The Chinese do in fact succeed in building the Tower of Babel, both physically and linguistically.  They survive that which is analogous to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  They thwart the Noah’s Ark plan, reject the notion of their own intrinsic sinfulness, and save the remainder of humanity.  It is the Chinese Christ figure who sacrifices himself to achieve the happy ending, thereby overturning what might be understood to be the will of God.  By the end of the movie the Chinese can indeed “do anything.”

How’s that for thinking big?


You gave fair warning but I noticed you had spoilers in your post only after I finished reading the post. Dangers of not reading the title though I think a "spoiler here" tag right before the reveal would work better. Anyway I've been wanting to see this movie and will give it go when it screens nearby.

The rockets clearly are phalic references

Very honorable Kim Jong Un has the biggest rockets, the biggest. Putin's gonna get some big ones since I told him to rip up the old deal. And the Saudis, I'm still thinking about giving them nukes. Gotta love the Saudis. I'm the best with the world's dictators. The best.

Brazilians already live in the greatest place in the universe there is no need for us to explore space. Americans, on be other hand, are desperate to escape the USA.

If Brazil is so awesome, then why are Brazilians taking over the rental homes and failing churches my zip code as well as filling up the empty shopping plazas with their little stores, tasty restaurants, and delicious bakeries? Seems like they'd want to stay home and keep the intoxicating smells of their churrasco to themselves.

It is a lie

That is an impersonator.

You say that the movie is nonsensical, unmemorable, and mediocre and then you say its like the stories from the Christian Bible. Someone with too much time on their hands might take that the wrong way.

Genesis is from the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) not the Christian Bible (NT).

Genesis is not in the Christian Bible? Big if true.

The "Jewish Bible" is the Old Testament. The "Christian Bible" is the Old plus New Testaments so Genesis is in it.

sorry state of education these days.

Take the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, it's mediocre. That doesn't the source material is mediocre too.

Does any stupid adaptation of Shakespeare make him stupid too?

The most resonant homages that I noticed in this film were to 2001: a space odyssey (HAL), Independence Day (reference to the lunar new year as a day for family reunion rather than July 4th as symbol of freedom), and Armageddon(Honestly this is the closest).

Prof. Cowen, movies are audiovisual media. Any insights on the soundtrack/sound design?

I just listened to two songs on youtube. One is a bland ballad and the other is some soulless electro mash-up. Both of them are cleanly produced to match the shiny surfaces or rockets and space suits. Everything is clean as if cleanliness equals hope, militarized hope.

'equals hope, militarized hope'

Lots of movie productions over the last couple of decades have demonstrated this effect - why are there so many armed soldiers running around Shatterdome in Pacific Rim? Basically, like the wonderfully misnamed reality shows, this is a cheap way to fill the screen and provide some sort of visual activity.

And of course, this has nothing to do with how real militaries operate, but it seems to swell the hearts of militarists.

"why are there so many armed soldiers running around Shatterdome in Pacific Rim? "

You mean just like there were armed soldier running around every ship and station in Star Wars? Or really in almost every military base in any Hollywood movie?

"And of course, this has nothing to do with how real militaries operate, but it seems to swell the hearts of militarists."

By militarists, you must mean Hollywood directors, producers, choreographers, etc. Since those are the people making the decisions.

The movie was good at capturing the feeling of epic scale and nerdiness that you get from reading Cixin Liu’s books. Three-Body Problem also has a nonsensical plot, unmemorable characters, and mediocre dialog, but it was still a delight to read and won many awards because of the sheer sense of epic scale and imaginativeness.

"Three-Body Problem also has a nonsensical plot, unmemorable characters, and mediocre dialog,.."


"but it was still a delight to read"

Yeah, I disagree. I thought it was a good, solid work. And certainly a decent piece of hard sci fi.

"and won many awards because of the sheer sense of epic scale and imaginativeness."

This kind of seems silly. There are plenty of sci fi novels produced every year with a far more epic scale than this novel and with more imaginativeness.

It won because it's a relatively new (to the west) novelist and it's from China. It's a trendy novel and a good one, but not a great one. If David Weber or John Scalzi had cranked out the same book, it wouldn't have won any awards. It might have been nominated.

I read a lot of science fiction, and the Three Body Problem series was a really unique story in the genre. There are "plenty" of sci fi novels produced each year which tell the story of the entire universe for the rest of time? Most novels are FAR more limited in scope.

The Three Body Problem didn't tell "the story of the entire universe for the rest of time".

You just moved the goal post by including two additional books. The Three Body problem itself doesn't have an epic scale. It had a start in the Mao cultural revolution and then it jumped forward to the Present. All the action takes place on Earth.

"It has a nonsensical plot (you really can’t get that far from the sun ...": but if it's based on any important bit of the Old Testament it's almost bound to have a nonsensical plot.

"I can’t say this is a good movie."

Here's what I can say. This was the worst sci-fi movie I've ever seen, and among the 5 worst movies of all types. There isn't a single scene in the film that is not incompetently directed. Watching it is like being beaten with a rubber hose for 2 hours.

+1, Tyler's sentence would have gotten a red mark in my English class for passive language.

Scott's comment is not passive.

So you're basically saying its a modern PRC movie then*?

It's a shame, because this should be their peak period for making big movies with a domestic audience - reasonably wealthy, and peak youth and hence peak cinema attendance. Domestic market's only gonna shrink from here on out, as the Chinese age and follow the curve of every country where aging populations don't go. But they won't have any "Star Wars" or similarly great blockbusters to show for it in 10 or 20 years, only junk movies.

*Honorable exclusion for Jia Zhangke of course...

I haven't seen enough modern PRC movies to know if this is typical. Most that I've seen range from mediocre to excellent good (such and Jia Zhangke). This was awful.

Any other excellent recent ones spring to mind? My experience is an unending litany of almost laughably dull and poorly put together stuff, increasingly so since the turn of the '10s. Other than the aforementioned Zhangke and a few fairly noirs (unmemorable apart from the late 20th-early 21st PRC setting placing them apart from the normal run of the mill in the genre).

If there's good stuff that I'm missing, I genuinely would like to know.

So, what you're saying is, dress appropriately and bring all your masochist friends.

It has nothing to do with the Bible. Maybe there's an indirect link because other movies influced by Bible influence this movie. It is interesting that you would interpret everything using the material and philosophy that you are familiar with which is not bad, e.g., you intrepret the main character is a "Chinese Christ".... The story does not emphasize on character development for a reason. For most things in life, there isn't and shouldn't be a main character. Everyone is both important and unimportant and life is full of randomness. I wish you can see that.

Tyler's description plus the trailer make the movie sound intriguing, if nothing else as a cultural artifact of how some Chinese filmmakers portray China's place in the world.

Scott Sumner's description, which I can also imagine being valid, makes me want to not see the movie.

Rotten Tomatoes has no review at all, I guess I'll wait to see what other people say about it.

"They show Shanghai in ruins, for the first time ever in a Chinese movie."

I would've expected that somebody would've made a movie that featured Japan's bombing and conquest of Shanghai by now. If nothing else for some Gone With the Wind Fall of Atlanta type scenes. Aspects of the Sino-Japanese War have already been portrayed in movies such as Red Sorghum.

Professor Cowen, your analysis of the movie completely misses the mark and ironically fails to grasp the very basic essence of the movie.

First to address your points. The only way the movie appears nonsensical is if you force fit it into Christian or Abrahamic tropes. First, unlike movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Day After Tomorrow, or Noah's Ark; humanity did not sow the seeds of its own doom because of its flawed nature of greed, violence, and over-industrialization. Due to no fault of humanity, the Sun simply underwent unexpected, albeit natural expansion that made it necessary to push Earth out of orbit. The fact that Shanghai is depicted in ruins is not prophesying global warming, but simply the situation caused by the Sun. There's no message here other than survival has become difficult. Any comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah or Noah's Ark would be very off-mark and does not grasp that this is simply a story of survival, with fictional science and a plot no more non-sensical or convoluted than that seen in Black Panther.

Additionally, in the story of the Tower of Babel, humanity had first decided to build a tower to spite God by attempting to demonstrate that they could be larger than God himself. God's response to this arrogance was to curse them with confusion which resulted in the origins of languages which then divided humanity. This would explain The Wandering Earth if you watched the movie backwards. Humanity was divided to begin with linguistically, but decided to come together only AFTER Jupiter's wrath (ie. gravitation pull) compelled them to do so.

Finally, was the father a Christ-like figure? Absolutely not. At no point did he actually talk about the need to save humanity, in fact his selfish actions were entirely motivated by his urge to save his kin, a deeply Chinese mentality that is contrary to universalist Christian ideals. His conversations with his Russian friend were dominated by the topic of their children stuck on Earth and how they must continue living for the next thousand generations. The survival of humanity was already guaranteed but he essentially pursued an option with a near zero collective expected value, but was his only option as he considered only the expected value of his kin. Based on his personality, I highly doubt he would have kamikaze'd if his kin were onboard the space ship rather than Earth.

On whether this movie depicts Chinese leadership, I strongly disagree. China is portrayed as an active and collaborative member of the international community (therefore held in higher esteem than today), but it is clearly not a leader. First, the United Earth Government (whose leader speaks French despite the largest demographic on Earth being presumably Chinese or Indian) is never repudiated and must authorize every action the astronaut takes; from messaging Earth to his kamikaze maneuver.

There was no thought leadership when the Chinese team came up with the plane to shoot the concentrated beam to Jupiter. It was revealed that an Israeli team had already developed that plan and the UEG analyzed its feasibility long before they even first thought of it. The Chinese team was not technological superior, it was shown that even Indonesians and Indians had the same equipment and technology. While the Chinese team was the focus, they were depicted as being part of a larger international effort spanning many teams who were all trying to save the Earth. In fact, the Chinese team was not doing anything exclusive as even during the attempt to beam up Jupiter, it was shown that other engines were attempting to do the same. The only exclusive action that the Chinese could take credit for was the astronaut's kamikaze maneuver, but that was very last minute and received the authorization of the UEG.

The more appropriate way to understand the political tones of the movie is to understand the mentality shaped by a "Century of Humiliation" that China has supposedly suffered and the desire to see China no longer humiliated on the international stage.

Yeah, I was wondering about this, but not having seen the movie couldn't say one way or the other. But Tyler's interpretation of the movie using Christian themes seems ... surprising at best, dubious at worst, given that China is not a particularly Christian nation.

Maybe the filmmakers were seeking a large international audience who would respond to Christian symbols? But this post offers what sounds like a more plausible interpretation (plausible based on hearsay, I haven't seen the movie).

No.Actually the director himself made it abundantly clear that Chinese audience are his priority, and said "the film is not for international market or international audience. I belived we have not reach that stage(quality of production) yet" in an interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_t4SD8Pr9o). That's why the translation of the subtitles was so bad.
I agree with Ian's review wholeheartedly and he should made the comment as his own review on the movie.

One of the messages, if any, of this movie trying to deliver, is that you are just one of many.

That's quite an interesting interview, it's almost as if the director was anticipating Tyler's comments and correcting them.

Also interesting that he says that "we have not reached that stage yet". From his next few sentences I think he is referring specifically to Chinese cinema special effects and CGI? As opposed to Chinese cinema in general, where there have been a decent number of Chinese movies that have been well-received by audiences outside of China -- i.e. no lack of quality in that regard.

Ian: "Fictional science and a plot no more nonsensical or convoluted than that seen in Black Panther"

Comparing what is in theory and through aesthetics modern, 'serious sci fi' (Liu Cixin's work supposedly consider 'hard sci fi') to psychedelic superhero comic strips dreamed by in the 1970s seems almost like an admission of defeat in and of itself?

Richard Donner's Superman, in which Superman reverses time by flying around the sun, is not wholly defeated by the fact that this is complete and utter nonsense. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar absolutely would be.

By nonsensical, I do not mean failing to be realistic or scientifically plausible. I mean that there is internal logic within the confines of the fictional universe the plot is set in. Assuming that the Earth could be pushed out of orbit by ultra-powerful engines and the population can be sent underground, it makes sense that humanity ops to do this when the Sun begins dying. Its a straight forward plot.

Contrast that to the Black Panther, where a single nation has the monopoly on vibranium which is essentially magic. I have no issue with this despite being more-or-less realistic than the Wandering Earth. Where I find the nonsensical in Black Panther is that despite being a highly advanced society, not a single Wakanda spills the beans on Wakanda for thousands of years. There isn't even rumours circulating about life within Wakanda. Additionally, the form of government remains extraordinarily primitive, where hereditary Kings can be dethroned by simply losing a duel. The actions and decision-making in a universe where vibranium exists is difficult to comprehend even if we assume vibranium and its uses are 100% plausible. Within a Wandering Earth, the audience must also make similar concessions, but the decision-making that follows are in my opinion more coherent than the world of Wakanda.

The plot of the film (and book) are grander version of that of "Gorath", a Japanese film (1962). In this low-budget but inspiring film, giant fusion engines are built in Antartica to move the Earth away from Gorath - an object from outside the solar system. For a brief review see:


Interesting and perhaps like _Wandering Earth_ it is not a good film but is an interesting one. And along with the interpretations offered in some of the other comments, this sounds like a more plausible inspiration for _Wandering Earth_ than the biblical sources that Tyler cites.

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