So the biggest, most successful film ever in China hit Netflix earlier this month. To … little fanfare. Which some people online immediately took issue with, as The Wandering Earth is based (very, very loosely) on Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem which, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of, did win a bunch of awards and was a huge deal in the Sci-Fi world.
So for The Wandering Earth to release without much fanfare on Netflix, there were a number of cries I recall reading in the news that it was an attempt to “downplay” China’s triumphant entry into the Sci-Fi film world. Or recurrent contributions to, depending on where you were reading. Opinions varied. China being a political hot-topic however, as you can imagine there was a lot of internet flame being built up around this film.
To be fair, some of it is justified. China is … not a great place. Their surveillance and their “social programs” aren’t exactly out of 1984 only because they’re honestly better at it, something that many have attributed to the success of The Wandering Earth in China (
so I hear, if you went to see the movie, you got a few extra points put on your social score, which was one of the reasons the film was so big A reader from China has let me know that thankfully this was not the case here. PHEW!). China is headed by a now life-long dictator. People disappear. So when that government backs a big film, well … some people get cagey.
Anyway, I don’t want to dive any further into that side of things because it just flat-out gets messy, and re-education camps don’t have much to do with The Wandering Earth, which yes, I sat down and watched. Because it was the biggest film in China’s history, I’ve enjoy a number of other Chinese films, I do love Sci-Fi, and well, it was right there on Netflix. So … how was this film adaptation of The Three-Body Problem?
EDIT: Another reader let me know in the comments below that despite what I’d read and been told, this film is an adaptation of a short story by Cixin, and not Three-Body. Which makes a bit more sense. However, upon checking, not even the credits of the film point this out (in fact, they continue to refer to the material it is based on as a novel rather than a short) so the confusion may have some root in that.
Clearly, this changes the theory in the next paragraph. END EDIT.
Well, it has nothing to do with Three-Body. And I do mean nothing. I’m fairly certain that the only reason the book is mentioned at all in conjunction with this movie was marketing. I’d even venture to say that the script for Wandering Earth was probably already written, and the writers/producers saw it as a way to get their project green-lit. So they snapped up the rights to Three-Body, started work on their film, and put “Based on” in the credits.
But it’s not. To put it another way, Wandering Earth is as similar to Three-Body as Terminator is to Star Wars. They’re the same overall genre yes … but they’re pretty much unlike one another in every other respect.
Which was fine by me. I found the characters and plotting of Three-Body bland and predictable through most of its length, the only redeeming bit being the alien sequence at the very end. It was a novel written to explore ideas, rather than have character or plot. So I was alright discovering that Wandering Earth didn’t have any of it.
Again, none. I cannot stress this enough: If you are planning on watching The Wandering Earth because you loved The Three-Body Problem, you will be extremely disappointed with it. Because if it is similar to any Sci-Fi at all, Wandering Earth is much closer to Independence Day than anything else.
But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not at all. You just have to have the right expectations.