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Blockbuster sees audience imagination blast off

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-02-06 08:17

A poster for The Wandering Earth II at a cinema in Haidian district, Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

HEFEI — The sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth II has not only raked in whopping box-office proceeds, but also aroused a great deal of interest in science and technologies that appeared in the movie, including space elevators, quantum computers and nuclear fusion.

China's movie box office revenue reached nearly 6.76 billion yuan ($999.6 million) during the Spring Festival holiday from Jan 21-27, according to the China Film Administration.

The Wandering Earth II ranked second among six domestic titles released during the holiday, claiming a revenue of 2.16 billion yuan.

"I'm impressed by the technologies rendered in the movie, particularly the elevators that send people to space," says Wu Kexin, 14, after watching the movie together with her mom and sister in a theater in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province.

The key to realizing space elevators is to find a superstrong material that can be used as the elevator cable. The material needs to maintain good performance when exposed to harsh conditions in space, says Guan Qingfang, an associate research fellow at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, when asked about the feasibility of this technology.

It might be a long time before space elevators could actually become reality. Still, the discussion of this technology itself reflects the ambition of, and charts the course for, mankind in the research and development of material science, according to Guan.

To escape the harm of a rapidly expanding sun, humans in the movie try to build 10,000 massive engines, powered by nuclear fusion, to propel the Earth to a place far from damaging solar flares.

Nuclear fusion, the process of reuniting two light atomic nuclei to form a heavier one, can generate so much energy that "it makes sense in principle to use this energy to propel the Earth", comments Wang Teng, who has been researching nuclear fusion energy for many years in the Institute of Plasma Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Scientists working on fusion energy mainly focus on deuterium-tritium fusion reaction, since it is much easier to achieve than the heavy nuclei fusion portrayed in the sci-fi movie.

Great advances have been made in the field of fusion energy over 70 years. "It is still too early to talk about the prospect of propelling the Earth by fusion energy, but it is highly possible to power a light with this energy in the near future," says Wang.

Over the past week, topics related to The Wandering Earth II have been trending on Weibo, a popular microblogging platform in China. Many moviegoers have shown great interest in the details and technologies depicted in the movie.

A number of scientists and researchers joined online discussions to analyze and explain the possibilities of those technologies, including moon rovers, space elevators, internet root servers, quantum computers, and underground city life.

Wang Yuanzhuo, a research fellow at the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, even drew pictures to explain the theories behind the science and technology shown in the movie to young fans in a simple way.

"I have received many questions from my daughter and other children concerning the movie," Wang Yuanzhuo writes on Weibo, who is also the movie's science consultant. "Discussions about the blockbuster not only demonstrate support for domestic movies, but also give more people a chance to get to know the sci-tech knowledge behind the movie."

As the movie sparked huge sci-fi interest from audiences, products tied to the movie have also become trendy in China.

A crowdfunding project was launched by a Chinese culture and media company on the e-commerce platform Taobao, aiming to produce peripheral products like robotic dog models and USB flash disks after the movie was aired. More than 433,000 orders have been placed by Jan 30, raising over 100 million yuan, much more than the original goal of 100,000 yuan.

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