The Wandering Earth, an epic science-fiction disaster film about China’s efforts to save the planet from being devoured by a swelling sun, was a sensational hit throughout the Chinese New Year break, with box-office intakes smashing the 2.5 billion yuan (US$350 million) mark within one week of its premiere.
The plot and special effects are so adrenaline-inducing that many failed to separate fiction from fact. There have even been discussions among some Chinese cinephiles about what humans can do to salvage the world in the event of a devastating solar storm and when the sun reaches its maximum size and becomes a red giant threatening to engulf the Earth.
Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin, who wrote the captivating original novella of the same name that was published almost 20 years ago, now has to allay the fears of many who saw the movie. He now has a growing cult following, but stresses that what happened to our planet in the movie would be unlikely to occur in the real world, for now.
“Our sun is still in the prime of its life,” Liu told China Central Television in a recent interview. “As far as human beings are concerned, even if some changes happen to the sun, it would take an extremely long time in a very distant future” for it to absorb Earth.
The prolific Liu, now seen as China’s equivalent to Arthur C Clarke, was also the author of the hugely popular The Three-Body Problem trilogy.
Liu’s interest in sci-fi was first sparked by French novelist Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. “Having read a lot, you will then feel the urge to write something of your own,” he said.
The film is set in the near future, when the sun is aging and about to turn into a bulging red giant, the beginning of the end of its stellar evolution. The sun’s outer atmosphere bearing down on the Earth sets all governments into action to initiate a project to construct giant thrusters to propel the Earth on an odyssey to find a new sun.
The protagonists in the film are a taikonaut and his emotionally estranged son, who led a global mission to prevent the Earth from crashing into Jupiter on its way out of the solar system.
Back in reality, in order to establish an authentic setting, film director Guo Fan invited four scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences to be consultants and the film’s 3,000 concept maps were elaborately created by a conceptual art team of 300 people over a period of 15 months, according to Xinhua.
Spectacular scenes of China’s breakout sci-fi blockbuster include landmarks in Beijing and Shanghai collapsing in apocalypse-like earthquakes as the Earth is about to collide with Jupiter. “It’s hard to believe that this is the first big-budget sci-fi blockbuster done by China,” Liu said. “If it fares well in the box office, it will set a good start for China’s future sci-fi movies.”
In the high-grossing film genre, sci-fi movies in China used to be mostly Hollywood imports.