When film critics report on the highest-grossing releases for 2019, and those films’ successful directors, thus far, they mention Marvel/Disney’s Avengers: Endgame (by Joe/Anthony Russo; $858 million) and Captain Marvel (Ann Boden/Ryan Fleck; $426 million). Then there’s Pixar’s Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley; $432 million), then Disney, once again, with The Lion King (Jon Favreau; $530 million).
Then there’s Frant Gwo, whose film grossed $700 million in box office.
“Frant who?” you ask.
An experienced filmmaker in his native homeland, Gwo’s a novice in comparison to the Hollywood-mainstream heavy hitters behind this year’s blockbusters of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Aladdin, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Gwo’s adaptation of the Hugo Award winning novel of the same name (written by multiple Galaxy, Hugo, Lotus, and Nebula winner, Liu Cixin), produced for $48 million, grossed $700,000,000; it’s only Gwo’s third film in an eight-year career. The Wandering Earth is currently China’s third highest-grossing film of all time, the year’s eighth highest-grossing film worldwide, the second highest grossing non-English film to date, and it’s logged into the Top 20 highest-grossing science fiction films to date. But don’t bother looking for any articles or listings that praise-include The Wandering Earth in their rankings.
In the end, not a bad day’s day work for a guy who wasn’t even on the China Film Group’s shortlist of experienced science-fiction directors pitched to helm the film: Luc Beeson (The Fifth Element), James Cameron (Aliens, Avatar), and Alfonso Cuaròn (Gravity). All would have certainly knocked it out of the park. And if they did it, you’d be reading a completely different review right now. And you’d probably end up watching something that resembled Geostorm—with an exploding-sun-raining-down-destruction boondoggle, instead of a man-made-weather-satellite-grid boondoggle.
Yep. The Wandering Earth is the $700 million dollar elephant in the room that no one in the U.S knows about because none of the mainstream, Los Angeles-based studios in Hollywood made an overture to distribute this glossy masterpiece—with special effects that holds its own against Armageddon and Interstellar—domestically. Well, Hollywood made a little, tiny bit of an effort: The Wandering Earth was released on 129 screens—with no press and no promotion.
And no wonder no one heard of it. There was no opportunity to see it.
Meanwhile, the U.S film industry crapped out the falling-climate-control-satellite apocalypse turd, Geostorm (2017), which was made for $120 million, grossed an embarrassing $33 million in the U.S and $221 million worldwide—and recorded a $74 million loss. And that post-apocalyptic slop-trough was forced onto the international marketplace with dubs and subtitles to scrape up that $188 million in spare change.
And, with that, the internationally-acclaimed The Wandering Earth was dumped on Netflix.
That’s right. The cloud where critical and creative misfires and financial flops go: to not be watched—and bashed by subscribers when they are. And Netflix’s faith in the film was non-existent: the streaming service never uploaded a promotional trailer for The Wandering Earth to their official You Tube page and they failed to mention the film in its April and May 2019 release schedules. Remember the pomp and circumstance surrounding the 2018 Christmas release of Avengers: Infinity War—a film that grossed $858 million to The Wandering Earth’s $700 million?
When watching The Wandering Earth, the reference centers of science fiction film buff’s memory cores will extrapolate the plot with the UK-produced Sunshine (2007) and the Japanese-U.S co-production, Solar Crisis (1990; also based on a novel)—each which dealt with a future Earth heading into an apocalypse, courtesy of a dying sun. Older reference centers will pull up files of Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s rogue moon romp: Space: 1999.
In the year 2061, scientists determine the sun will enlarge into a red giant and engulf the Earth’s orbit in 300 years. As result, the newly formed United Earth Government initiates a multi-generational directive to transform the Earth into a celestial spaceship. They’ll accomplish this plan with a series of ten-thousand fusion-powered “Earth Engines” across the globe to migrate Earth (an actual astroenginnering theory-solution to global warming) out of the solar system on a 2,500 year-long, 100 generations journey and “relocate” in the Alpha Centauri system, 4.2 light years away.
The journey results in the usual U.S-bred, Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and San Andreas-styled catastrophes: tsunamis triggered by the Earth’s stopped rotation and the gradual freezing of the Earth as it moves away from the sun, which forces man to live in underground, post-apocalyptic cities. In addition to a failed gravity assist from Jupiter that damages the Earth Engines, a team of astronauts battle an artificial-intelligence space station—an advance exploration vessel to assist the Earth’s journey—that decides to “save itself,” instead of helping Earth.
Are there touches of the usual, Armageddon human-drama complications and hysterics? Of course there is. The Wandering Earth is a big summertime, popcorn-ball tent-pole film: only, instead of being a U.S production, it was made in China. And while the Chinese film industry, as well as other European countries, are unable to command the budgets of their American counterparts—The Wandering Earth was made for $50 million, against the $140 million for Armageddon, the $165 million for Interstellar, and the $120 million for Geostorm—The Wandering Earth is on equal with its Western counterparts.
So the next time you’re doing the bored slug-on-the-couch-surfing-channel-grazing thing (even me!), and you are tempted to wither away while watching an offering from the Syfy/Asylum combine (Collision Earth and Asteroid-a-Geddon) , log onto Netflix. And stick with the vastly superior subtitled-Mandarin version and skip the English dub—as no expense was spared in hiring the worst voice-over artists, ever.
Sure, The Wandering Earth doesn’t have the engrossing flash of the rebooted Star Trek or latest Star Wars offering for U.S audiences. Then again, how many sci-fi films have you’ve watched that are that good and well-made?
When it comes to The Wandering Earth, end user opinions vary. And this end user computes this film is worth the watch. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s majestic. And you can watch it on Netflix. We’ve also released the lots-of-fun, Chinese-produced Mad Max rip, Mad Sheila (2016). Double feature both for a great night of Asian sci-fi cinema.
Oh, and while I’ve been unkind to Geostorm, I quite liked Gerald Butler’s superior Earth apoc’er, Greenland (2020). Well, it sucked less, let’s put it that way.
Update, 2023: The Wandering Earth 2 (that’s a Wikipedia link), starring the always awesome Andy Lau, began production in October 2021 with a release on January 23, 2023. You can read more about it with this excellent article at Polygon. Just wow. If you thought the original was insane . . . this is one of those sequel-is-better-than-the-original moments.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.
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