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China’s Disaster Movie Surprisingly Isn’t (A Disaster)

I freely admit there is a certain kind of movie that I am a sucker for: the natural disaster flick. Now, back in the day, it showed up in some classics like 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure (and its 2006 remake Poseidon), which was all about a cruise ship that ran into a wave, wrecking it. Since then, we have seen several versions of that story and conceit.

The champion of the genre most recently has been Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as he has starred in such films as Skyscraper, San Andreas and Rampage, which all have this sort of bent.

Now, it isn’t a far stretch for me to recognize that they aren’t necessarily great cinematic masterpieces but, when you judge them for what they are, there are some definite popcorn crunching summer fun to be had.

One of the things that I have noticed about these films is that while they may not do very well here in the United States, they tend to perform fairly well in other markets, especially the burgeoning film market of China. You even see some key decisions being made to target those markets.

It wasn’t a random happenstance that the movie Skyscraper wasn’t set in a New York City building but instead in one in an Asian city. And there have been other films that fall into a similar vein that succeed in China, when they don’t here in the States. Movies like Pacific Rim, Power Rangers and the Transformers series have thrived in the Chinese market.

With all of that in mind, it was only a matter of time before China tried to create a homegrown version of that kind of film and thanks to Netflix, you can watch it right now if you tune in to watch The Wandering Earth.

To speak broadly in a not-too-spoilerly way, this movie finds itself squarely in the more recent subgenre of the disaster movie: the ecological disaster. Like the film 2012 or Geostorm, the movie is preying on the realities that we have a damaged, broken planet and what we’re to do about it. The innovative solution from there leads to some interesting choices and challenges as things move forward. And some of it feels very American.

For starters, the visual effects of this film are incredible. Seriously, the effects are as good as anything you will have seen in an American film in the last few years, including the recent spectacle Avengers: Endgame. When you go in expecting CW-level special effects, you are going to be thoroughly surprised.

They show and demonstrate some amazing skills and smart cinematic choices as they show us epic nature scenes, action scenes, space battles, etc. The closing part of the film and the epic ramp up make you really feel invested in a way that would not have been possible with weaker effects.

Second, the story falls along the lines of what you would think in regards to similar American movies. There is a family. And, surprise, the family has issues that they must overcome while the whole crisis happens.

There is a wacky sidekick, that honestly and truly just sort of randomly shows up and isn’t good for much. (I wonder if there was more for this character that got cut from the film or if they checked the box for him just a little too early.)

There are moments of great heroism and sacrifice from people you expect it from and from people you would not. At one point, it clearly feels like the film Armageddon is an influence.

Third, the set-up is unique. To avoid spoilers I won’t say what it is exactly, but the whole idea of what starts this film and sets its plot into motion is well done and different. We have seen the US Hollywood versions of this film try and solve the same problem and they haven’t yet used this approach.

That refreshing approach created different problems and ones that I haven’t seen addressed in US films. That makes the film more intriguing to watch. And while the film has a less than stellar English dub for the dialogue, overall I did not find it to be distracting enough to lessen the film’s impact to me.

All of that is not to say it is perfect. If you don’t like The Rock’s summer popcorn kind of movie, then you will probably not like this one. But if that type of film is fun for you for what it is, then you should check out The Wandering Earth on Netflix.