Netflix’s 3 Body Problems review: A solid debut that can go deep

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In his 2008 sci-fi novel three-body problem, Cixin Liu created a fascinating world where cutting-edge particle physics, VR gaming, and Chinese history played a key role in shaping humanity’s response to an impending planet-wide threat. It didn’t even seem worth filming. The depth of the book’s ideas about cultural memory and the complexity of its central mystery made three-body problem Feel like a story that can only work on the page.

That hasn’t stopped streamers from trying, and last year, Tencent debuted its own live-action, episodic take on Liu’s book. Netflix spent a lot of money 3 physical problems In the hands of executive producers David Benioff, DB Weiss and Alexander Wu. His adaptation is more concise and varied than the book which makes it a very different kind of story. Often, it’s a good one – and sometimes a very good one – that serves as an introductory crash course to the basic ideas key to understanding the big concepts that shape Liu’s later books.

But rather than confront the book’s sophistication, Netflix’s main priority is 3 physical problems Looks like it’s being sold as the next game of Thrones (Benioff and Weiss’s final series). And while it’s easy to understand why the streamer would want this, it’s hard not to see the show as a charming but stripped-down version of the source material.

3 physical problems It consists of a set of different narratives spanning several decades and generations. But at its core, the show is a compelling thriller about how the sins of humanity’s past shape its future. In a world where the scientific community is shaken by an alarming wave of mysterious suicides, private intelligence officer Clarence Shea (Benedict Wong) and a group of researchers join a race to save the planet from destruction.

As a former agent of both MI5 and Scotland Yard, Clarence is no stranger to mysterious conspiracies. But he is well out of his depth in the world of cutting-edge theoretical physics and materials engineering. Meanwhile, scientist Jin Cheng (Jess Hong) is also delving into unknown circumstances as she struggles to understand what is happening to her colleagues and why several experiments involving the particle accelerator are going wrong. Present-day panic prompts Jin to reunite with his four best college friends, and the dynamics of the reunited “Oxford Five” come close to uncovering a world-ending threat.

Given the structural complexity of Liu’s books, it’s not surprising that Netflix’s 3 body It has been streamlined in a more linear way that feels like lost-The genre’s mystery-within-a-mystery you’re exploring with Clarence. but it’s actually inside 3 physical problemsThe core set of characters in which you can clearly see the steps taken by Benioff, Weiss, and Wu to reimagine Liu’s ideas for a more global audience.

Before the book’s story actually moves forward in present-day China, Liu spends a lot of time in the past to give you a better understanding of the Cultural Revolution, the Maoist movement to purge society of capitalists and intellectuals. It is the Party’s reversal of these catastrophic policies – instead embracing education and scientific research – that puts China on the path to becoming a global superpower. And as the book moves to the present, that historical context helps you understand why a sudden and sustained increase in inexplicable scientific suicides would prompt the government to deploy counterterrorism operatives to investigate.

In Much of the novel’s initial mystery lies in the fact that its characters – such as former spy Shi Qiang (often referred to as “Da Shi”) and nanomaterials expert Wang Miao – are solving it separately. Netflix’s answer to Da Shi, Clarence, is now British and has a softer, more contemplative presence than his stubborn literary counterpart. The show also splits Wang’s character into the Oxford Five, consisting of Jin, research assistant Saul (Jovan Adepo), nanotech expert Auggie (Eiza Gonzalez), physics teacher Will (Alex Sharp), and snack magnate Jack. John Bradley).

Raj Verma, partner of Oxford Five and Gin.
Image: Netflix

Characters stumble into the dark on their way to solving puzzles. three bodies This was one of many ways Liu reflected, on a micro level, the book’s larger ideas about the power of collaborative efforts 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 begin working together, the relationships drive the plot more than its existential puzzles. 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 appears to be smudged on his retinas. Dividing Wang into five different characters emphasizes the idea that there is power in looking at complex problems from a variety of unique perspectives.

But because the Oxford Five are all based on the same character and spend a lot of time talking to each other through theories about what’s going on, scenes focused on them often feel like the show has to rush plot points. It takes a moment to convey in a way that feels clumsy and inorganic. , This happens less often when 3 physical problems Shifts its focus to the past and focuses on the life of Wenjie (Xin Tseng), a promising young astrophysicist whose entire world is affected by the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Like in the book, 3 physical problems What it really starts with and how the personal choices she makes – which are informed by her experiences as a survivor of the revolution – have an unimaginable impact on the future on a global scale.

In both the book and the Netflix adaptation, Ye’s story is a powerful one that makes the present relevant in important ways. But the desire to stay in the show is less. Instead of considering the political and personal effects of the revolution, the series commits to being a thoughtful but easily digestible history of preparing the world for war. An earlier version of Ye (Rosalind Chao) exists. 3 physical problems Watching events unfold with a knowing seriousness.

Si Shimooka as Sophon, an NPC three bodies game.
Image: Netflix

Meanwhile, the show invests in the chaotic lives of the Oxford Five and their flirtation with futuristic technology that transports its wearers into unimaginable worlds of puzzles, math, and roleplaying. The headset also gives the show a way to step outside the boundaries of the spy genre and into an extraterrestrial space that has recognizable markers of science fiction, such as planets with multiple suns. cleverly, 3 physical problems Some of that predictability is balanced out by placing many of its most imaginative, impossible set pieces in the game, where there’s a unique combo of Netflix’s signature visual look and an extraordinary amount of dazzling VFX. And this actually works as a plus rather than a minus here because of how unstable the gameplay feels.

At least there are some really breathtaking action sequences scattered haphazardly throughout. 3 physical problemsThe first season of. But for all their macabre beauty, they’re not enough to prevent the show from feeling like Netflix’s adequate attempt to distill a literary masterpiece into eight hours of television. 3 physical problemsThe first season works as a solid introduction to this world, but by the finale, it becomes clear that these episodes are actually laying the groundwork for an even larger, more deeply complex narrative. With the right planning, the wildness of Liu’s later books could certainly be harnessed 3 physical problems to their next level in future seasons. But it all depends on whether the show goes ahead or not.

3 physical problems It also stars Si Shimooka, Marlo Kelly, Samer Osmani and Eve Ridley. This series is now streaming on Netflix.

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