‘3 Body Problem’ series review: Liu Cixin’s hard science fiction epic gets the ‘GoT’ treatment

Fans of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy might be disappointed with the simplification and changes, but this adaptation by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss and Alexander Woo is good-looking, accessible and hugely bingeable  

March 22, 2024 11:59 am | Updated April 09, 2024 03:53 pm IST

Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand, Eiza González as Auggie Salazar in ‘3 Body Problem’

Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand, Eiza González as Auggie Salazar in ‘3 Body Problem’

While that other famous hard sci-fi epic, Foundation, is keeping viewers mesmerised with the flashing eyes and floating hair of a wandering psycho-historian, 3 Body Problem (the sub-editor in me is itching to put a hyphen) comes roaring in like a psychedelic train of thought. In their first project after the hectically successful Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have attacked Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem with spellbinding audacity. The 2008 novel is the first in Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.

3 Body Problem opens during the Cultural Revolution in China where Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng), a student of astrophysics, sees her academician father beaten to death. The scene shifts to London in 2024 where a detective, Da Shi (Benedict Wong), tries to make sense of the violent death of a physicist, pipped to win the Nobel Prize.

Another physicist, Vera Yee (Vedette Lim), tells researcher Saul (Jovan Adepo) their lab is being shut down. She asks him if he believes in god before killing herself. Vera’s students, the Oxford Five — Saul, Jin (Jess Hong), Auggie (Eiza González), Jack (John Bradley) and Will (Alex Sharp) — are persons of interest to Da Shi.

Auggie is doing cutting-edge research in nano-tech, Jin is working on particle accelerators, Jack dropped out of Oxford to create a snack empire while Will is a teacher. All over the world, physics seems to be broken and a strange countdown appears before Auggie’s eyes. And all of this happens halfway through the first episode.

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng ‘3 Body Problem’

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng ‘3 Body Problem’

We are simultaneously shown Wenjie’s life in Mongolia where she is first doing hard labour and then joins the Red Coast, a military project tracking spy satellites and also secretly trying to communicate with alien life forms. Wenjie makes a breakthrough and is able to send a message to the aliens. Her choice at that moment has horrific repercussions in the present.

3 Body Problem (English, Chinese) 
Creators: David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Alexander Woo
Cast: Benedict Wong, Jess Hong, Jovan Adepo, Eiza González, John Bradley, Alex Sharp, Rosalind Chao, Zine Tseng, Jonathan Pryce, Ben Schnetzer, Liam Cunningham, Marlo Kelly, Sea Shimooka, Saamer Usmani, Eve Ridley
Episodes: 8
Run-time: 44 – 64 minutes
Storyline: Theoretical physicists are dying all over the world and it is left to a group of five fabulous physicists and one dogged detective to mount the resistance

Jin finds a sophisticated virtual reality game Vera was playing before she died. The game-world ricochets between stable and chaotic weather systems and the objective is to be able to predict the switches. Characters dressed as scientists and thinkers from history including Galileo, Isaac Newton, Alan Turing and Aristotle feature in the game positing their theories.

In the shadows are the rich, radical environmentalist Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce) who seems to be following the present-day events with great interest and Wade (Liam Cunningham), who is some sort of top-secret government official. There is of course an impending alien invasion to prepare for and it is all hands on deck for the earthlings.

Thanks to Chris Nolan and Cillian Murphy, physicists are suddenly the coolest dudes on the planet and the fabulous five is empirical proof of that theory. If only that geek god, Jeff Goldblum, could have popped by to play chess or say oops!

3 Body Problem works spectacularly well in parts — that human abacus scene was sheer jaw-drop quality as were the dehydrate/rehydrate cycles. Scenes of cold beauty jostle for space with those of heart-wrenching terror— the scene where the repurposed oil tanker, the Judgment Day, comes up against the nanoweb is the stuff of nightmares. The scenes in China and Mongolia featuring a young Wenjie are moving. Ramin Djawadi’s music is spookily spectacular.

Where 3 Body Problem falters is in its awkward love story, sappy sentimentality and shoehorning of inclusivity (‘tum keede ho’, the aliens beam helpfully). Some of the dialogue could have used by some scissor work by script doctors. The series also suffers from an unseemly haste as in its desire for pace, it jams high concepts into cardboard philosophy.

Despite these flaws, 3 Body Problem moves smoothly, not asking much of the viewer but to luxuriate in the wonderful visuals as beautiful people tentatively spout quantum theory. While Jin pouts at her Naval officer boyfriend, Raj (Saamer Usmani), and Will pines for his unspoken love, one can always pass the time looking for Game of Thrones connections. Apart from Djawadi, Bradley, Cunningham, Pryce and Kevin Eldon (as Sir Thomas More) are GoT alum. Incidentally, George RR Martin championed Liu Cixin’s novel. For those upset with playing fast and loose with Hugo Award-winning epic, the books will always be there.

3 Body Problem is streaming on Netflix

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