Netflix’s 3 Body Problem review: A solid debut that could go deeper

In his 2008 science fiction novel The three-body problem, Cixin Liu created a fascinating world where cutting-edge particle physics, VR gaming, and Chinese history played a crucial role in shaping humanity’s response to a looming planet-wide threat. It also didn’t seem filmable. The depth of the book’s ideas about cultural memory and the complexity of its central mystery The three-body problem feel like a story that could only work on the page.

That hasn’t stopped streamers from trying, and last year Tencent debuted its own live-action, episodic version of Liu’s book. Netflix spent a fortune on it 3 Body problem in the hands of executive producers David Benioff, DB Weiss and Alexander Woo. Their adaptation is leaner and more diverse than the book, in a way that makes it a very different kind of story. Often it’s a good one—and very occasionally a great one—that works as an introductory crash course in the basic ideas essential to understanding the larger concepts that shape Liu’s later books.

But instead of confronting the sophistication of the book, Netflix is ​​the top priority 3 Body problem seems to be selling it like the next one Game of Thrones (Benioff and Weiss’ final series). And while it’s easy to understand why the streamer would want that, it’s hard not to see the show as a flashy but stripped-down version of the source material.

3 Body problem includes a constellation of different stories spanning several decades and generations. But at its core, the show is a riveting thriller about how humanity’s past sins will shape its future. In a world where the scientific community is rocked by an alarming wave of mysterious suicides, private intelligence officer Clarence Shi (Benedict Wong) and a group of researchers find themselves in a race to save the planet from destruction.

As a former agent of both MI5 and Scotland Yard, Clarence is no stranger to dark conspiracies. But it is completely out of reach in the world of advanced theoretical physics and materials science. Meanwhile, scientist Jin Cheng (Jess Hong) also navigates uncharted waters as she struggles to understand what is happening to her colleagues and why many particle accelerator experiments fail. Today’s panic forces Jin to reconnect with her four best college friends, and the dynamics of the reunited ‘Oxford Five’ move closer to revealing a world-threatening threat.

Given the structural complexity of Liu’s books, it is not surprising that Netflix’s 3 Body is streamlined in a much more linear way, which makes it feel like Lost-style mystery-within-a-mystery that you’re figuring out with Clarence. But it’s really inside 3 Body problem‘s core group of characters from which you can most clearly see the steps Benioff, Weiss, and Woo took to rework Liu’s ideas for a more global audience.

Before the book’s story really gets going in present-day China, Liu spends quite a bit of time in the past to give you a better understanding of the Cultural Revolution, the Maoist movement that aims to cleanse society of capitalists and intellectuals. It is the party’s reversal of these heinous policies – rather than embracing academia and scientific research – that is putting China on the path to becoming a global superpower. And as the book moves into the present, that historical context helps you understand why a sudden and sustained spike in the number of unexplained suicides among scientists would prompt the government to deploy counterterrorism agents to investigate.

In the In the novel, much of the early mystery is rooted in the fact that the characters—such as former detective Shi Qiang (often called “Da Shi”) and nanomaterial specialist Wang Miao—solve it in isolation. Netflix’s answer to Da Shi, Clarence, is now British and a softer, more contemplative presence than its curmudgeonly literary counterpart. The show also splits Wang’s character into the Oxford Five, an ethnically diverse group of friends consisting of Jin, research assistant Saul (Jovan Adepo), nanotechnology expert Auggie (Eiza González), science teacher Will (Alex Sharp), and snack magnate Jack (John Bradley).

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Image: Netflix

Have characters fumble in the darkness on their way to solving the puzzle Three-body was one of many ways Liu reflected, on a microscopic level, the book’s larger ideas about the power of collective effort versus the control that comes from individual decision-making. But because the show’s Oxford Five are all friends (and in some cases former lovers) who quickly start working together, relationships drive the plot forward more than the existential puzzle. These changes bring a new level of interpersonal drama to the Netflix show that isn’t present in the book, especially for Auggie, who is haunted by visions of a glowing countdown that seems to be seared onto her retinas. Dividing Wang into five distinct characters emphasizes the idea that there is power in looking at complicated problems from a wide range of unique perspectives.

But because the Oxford Five are all based on a single character and spend so much time talking to each other through theories about what’s going on, scenes focusing on them often feel like the show is taking a moment to spelling out plot points in a way that feels clumsy and inorganic. . This is less the case when 3 Body problem shifts the focus to the past and focuses on the life of Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng), a promising young astrophysicist whose entire world is turned upside down by the onset of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As in the book, 3 Body problem really begins with Ye and how the personal choices she makes – all inspired by her experiences as a survivor of the revolution – have an incalculable impact on the future on a global scale.

In both the book and the Netflix adaptation, Ye’s story is powerful and contextualizes the present in important ways. But the show is less willing to dwell on it. Rather than considering the political and personal consequences of the revolution, the series strives to be a conceivable yet easily digestible chronicle of the world preparing for war. An older version of Ye (Rosalind Chao) lingers as 3 Body problem to watch the events unfold with knowing solemnity.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Image: Netflix

Meanwhile, the show invests in the messy lives of the Oxford Five and their flirtation with a futuristic piece of technology that immerses its wearer in an unimaginable world of riddles, math and role-playing games. The headset also gives the show a way to step outside the confines of the detective genre and enter an alien space that has the recognizable hallmarks of science fiction, such as planets with multiple suns. Smart, 3 Body problem compensates for some of that predictability by placing many of the game’s most imaginative, impossible set pieces with the uncanny combination of Netflix’s signature visual look and an inordinate amount of glossy VFX. And it actually works as a plus rather than a minus here, because of how unsettling playing the game is supposed to feel.

There are at least a few truly breathtaking action scenes that are unevenly spread out 3 Body problem‘s first season. But for all their haunting beauty, they’re not enough to keep the show from feeling like Netflix’s adequate attempt to distill a literary masterpiece into eight hours of television. 3 Body problem‘s first season works as a solid introduction to this world, but in the finale it becomes clear that these episodes are really just laying the groundwork for an even bigger, more deeply complicated story. With the right plan, it would certainly be possible to tap into the wildness of Liu’s later books 3 Body problem to the next level in the coming seasons. But that will all depend on whether the show starts.

3 Body problem Also stars Sea Shimooka, Marlo Kelly, Saamer Usmani and Eve Ridley. The series is now available to stream on Netflix.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *