The 4.6 Billion dollar film that Netflix seems to have buried
I barely use my Netflix account anymore. If not for the kid’s section, and original shows it offers, I probably would have canceled Netflix months ago. We live in an age of options. Where once Netflix was the only choice in town for on-demand video streaming, we now have more competitors than I currently have time to name. Yes, the days of Netflix being the boogeyman to video stores has long passed, and they too are now faced with the looming threat of Disney Plus. One thing that Netflix has done well over the years, however, is gathering up abandoned intellectual properties. Films that studios decided in the zero hour weren’t cinema worthy, or in some cases watchable (Cloverfield Paradox anyone?) While some of these selections have been duds, there have been quite a few home runs in their acquisitions department. We’ve mostly seen this in their foreign films section, which I’ve proudly watched grow over the years. Thanks to Netflix I’ve been able to stay informed about films I wouldn’t ordinarily have knowledge of or access to, which makes the following even more perplexing to me.
I’m sure the majority of readers here have already watched Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame. The film has been performing rather well domestically, and overseas to very little surprise. Beyond a few films on the horizon, Endgame should remain a rather uncontested blockbuster all the way through the summer. The movie is also performing well overseas, with a large portion of their box office coming from China in the form of 600 million. Amazing how powerful the Chinese box office can be. If only they were able to produce box office contenders of their own, oh wait…
“The Wandering Earth” remains the highest grossing movie of 2019 in China. A film made on a 50 million dollar budget has managed to best the giant that is Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame 628 million as of the writing of this article, with no visible signs of slowing. It should also be mentioned that Wandering Earth is managing to achieve this goal without the aid of the international box office, which is an amazing feat when weighed against how most box office totals work these days. Some could argue that it is mainly due to the almost entirely Asian cast, and support of a homegrown property, but when we weigh the success of this film against a tentpole film such as Avengers Endgame, one begins to wonder why it remains a film most have never even heard of here in the states.
Being a huge Sci-Fi fan, I jumped at the opportunity to see this film upon reading the plot of the film online earlier this year. Based on a book comprised of short stories created by Liu Cixin back in 2000, the film follows a colorful cast, as they deal with the aftermath of a catastrophic event that nearly wipes out all life on earth. With the remnants of humanity now living in subterranean cities underneath massive turbine engines, the last hope for saving our species unfolds over the course of two hours and five minutes. There are times that the film feels entirely derivative of films such as Sunshine (2007) or Deep Impact (1998), but I admire the way the story takes familiar tropes and crafts them into an original story all its own. In truth, I feel the closest film to come close to the scale of Wandering Earth would be 2000’s Titan A.E. which subsequently released the same year “The Wandering Earth” book was released.
There are elements of the film that I’d love to elaborate on for the sake of this review but feel that revealing a few of the plot points would be a disservice to the overall film. While the Sci-Fi elements of the film are sound, the very nature of the film is hidden within the title itself. I can, however, speak on some of the aspects of the movie that make it a wonderful, if not retro throwback to post-apocalyptic films of old.
As I mentioned above, there are story elements that would ultimately be ruined by drilling down into a critique of many of the action scenes in the film. I can, however, speak about one of the overarching themes of the film. That theme being survival. Due to the strain our species placed on the planet, mankind finds itself at the brink. The cataclysm forces the nations of the world to set aside their differences, as they work to create what is essentially a Hail Mary play to save the world, and it’s remaining inhabitants. Like most films along this line, it comes with great personal sacrifices, with the main focus being the separation of a father and his son. Liu Peiqiang (Jing Wu) is sent on an assignment to prep the world for the survival effort, leaving his son Liu Qi (Chuxiao Qu) to be raised by his grandfather Han (Ng Man-Fat). Left with an uncertain future, the son grows to resent his father for his leaving and another story element that you’ll have to watch to understand. I enjoyed the family dynamic, as well as the explanation for Liu’s sister, who is introduced to us in the first act. Above all else, I feel the relationship of the family is the largest driving force of the film. Being able to emotionally connect with them helped me to process some of the more fantastical elements of the movie while ramping up the tension at some rather critical scenes within the second and third acts. The remaining supporting cast was excellent in their roles, although there were a few that I’d wished we’d gotten to know a little better before the eventual fallout of act three.
I quite enjoyed the story of Wandering Earth, and especially enjoyed the rather hopeful finish the movie left us with. For a movie to do as well as it has on a 50 million dollar budget, I not only expect but demand a sequel to this film, especially with where we’re left as a viewer. This brings me back to the original point of my review of Wandering Earth, that being how it has seemingly been abandoned to the dark recesses of Netflix’s repository. I understand that it is not an American film, but I find it completely unacceptable that Netflix put ZERO effort into promoting the film once they acquired streaming rights. Sci-Fi can be a gamble, and perhaps they are still licking their wounds from the failure that was Cloverfield Paradox, but there is truly no real comparison between the two films to be made. One was destined to fail from the onset, while the other is currently beating The Avengers! As a streaming service quickly drawing closer to the endangered species list itself, I would think that Netflix would begin to treat its foreign films with a little more respect moving forward, considering it appears foreign films of this nature could be key to its own survival. While some might find the film to be generic at times, I challenge them to look beyond the tropes and see the true meaning of Wandering Earth, and the parallels it draws to the very world in which we live. There is definitely a strong message to be found within this Sci-Fi spectacle, and I encourage everyone to manually search for this box office dominating gem.