‘The Wandering Earth’ Review: Planetary Disaster Goes Global

“The Wandering Earth,” directed by Frant Gwo, arrived with stratospheric anticipation. Described as China’s first space blockbuster, it is already a hit in its home country and, on a more limited scale, in the United States, where it opened earlier this month. It certainly proves that the Chinese film industry can hold its own at the multiplex: It is just as awash in murky computer imagery, stupefying exposition and manipulative sentimentality as the average Hollywood tentpole.

Although the film is based on a story by Liu Cixin, it draws on a barely digested stew of planetary-cataclysm movies, with the eco-catastrophe and invasion films of Roland Emmerich serving as the most obvious spiritual guides. (Even a Chinese New Year setting correlates to the July 4 timing of Emmerich’s “Independence Day.”)

In this case, the disaster — the first one, anyway — is that the sun is going to engulf the planet, so the multilingual United Earth Government has concocted a plan to send Earth out of the solar system using 10,000 propulsive engines, with Jupiter’s gravity providing the final oomph. But a slightly incorrect trajectory could cause a collision and end civilization, a crisis that is well underway. (Humans live in underground cities, having survived by lottery, and Earth’s surface is frozen.)

Those affected include all of humanity, but in particular a brash young man (Qu Chuxiao) raised by his grandfather (Ng Man-tat) after his father (Wu Jing) left to help navigate from an international space station controlled by a heartless HAL-esque computer. As the calamities — earthquakes, rescues, communication failures and a last-minute celestial chemistry experiment — compound, the only shock of the new is that it’s the same as the old.

The Wandering Earth

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The Wandering Earth
Not rated. In Mandarin, English, Russian, French, Japanese and Korean, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes.

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