Ambitious Sci-Fi Series Unhindered by Slow Start



Summary

  • A profound addition to Netflix’s lineup, The 3 Body Problem blends complex science with moral exploration
  • Show may start slow, but characters and world-building come to life with poignant depth and emotional resonance
  • Ambitious adaptation proves Benioff and Weiss can handle intricate sci-fi, setting stage for a potential epic Season 2

Netflix’s ambitious new sci-fi series 3 Body Problem may have started slow, but that doesn’t stop the show from being one of the most meaningful additions to Netflix’s timeless original hit productions that the streaming service has ever made. The decision to adapt the famously unadaptable book series Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Liu Cixin was extremely bold for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who lost a massive amount of credibility when they ran out of source material to finish off Game of Thrones and gave the acclaimed fantasy series a notoriously bad ending.

Fortunately for the duo, 3 Body Problem has redeemed them and finally proven that Game of Thrones was not a fluke. With this series, Benioff and Weiss have shown that they are capable of adapting some of the most complicated and out-there book series of all time. 3 Body Problem is an exploration of science, much like the award-winning books that were inspired by Liu Cixin’s background as an engineer. The show uses deeply complex and highly intellectual scientific concepts such as the three-body problem, chaos theory, and the “dark forest” hypothesis to explore deeper moral subjects, like the consequences of using technology for war, the value of life, and what it means to be human.

As Netflix exec Peter Friedlander said of the books:

How do you process the size of the universe, the size of infinity? These concepts are very hard to embrace, and the way the author wrote about them takes your breath away. I’m proud of pushing through a story that is entertaining and has a wonderful message.

3 Body Problem Isn’t Afraid of Criticism

3 Body Problem

4.5/5

Release Date March 21, 2024

Cast Saamer Usmani with Shailene Woodley , Marlo Kelly , Jess Hong , Jovan Adepo , Rosalind Chao

Seasons 1

Pros

  • A great balance of human and scientific interest
  • Some of the most layered and introspective work that Netflix has produced
  • The characters and world at stake feel real and grounded despite high-concept sci-fi

Cons

  • With so many characters, it takes time to become invested in everyone
  • Some aspects of the source material are over-simplified

The story starts in 1960s China under Mao’s Cultural Revolution when both science and religion were demonized. The brutal opening shows a young woman watching her father, a professor, murdered in front of a cheering crowd. Driven by bitterness and hate, she eventually sacrifices the fate of the entire planet to the whims of an alien species, even after she is warned not to trust them. The story flashes between her experience then and the present time, when scientific experiments stop working and high-profile scientists are committing suicide at an alarming rate, all in relation to the same bizarre phenomenon.

Despite this captivating opening scene, the show does start slowly. The characters are flat at first, and the scientific terms being referenced or thrown around (such as the “Wow!” signal and the fact that the sun can amplify radio waves) don’t always land gracefully. Yet hard sci-fi doesn’t need to start off fast and bold like a standard TV drama. Many hard sci-fi adaptations face this complaint: Dune, for instance, was criticized for starting slow in its first film, as was Apple TV+’s show Foundation. Fortunately, this issue doesn’t stop Netflix’s 3 Body Problem from being one of the most morally provocative and culturally relevant series they have made to date.

The wildly divided reviews for 3 Body Problem so far, plus a mixed reception by fans, have hindered the show from reaching #1 on Netflix in its first week. Reviews tend to be either highly praising or highly critical, and not much in between. While Game of Thrones comparisons are inevitable, and the shows do share similarities, Benioff and Weiss clearly weren’t deterred by this. Their dive into 3 Body Problem blends the very best of hard sci-fi with questions of morality and empathy, making it one of Netflix’s most ambitious projects of all time.

Blending Hard Sci-Fi With Emotional Depth

Netflix has garnered some criticism in the past for its lack of more serious and in-depth content, and 3 Body Problem may be their way of challenging that image. It’s not just a show that looks good, it also feels significant. The commentary on science is especially poignant. There is serious exploration of the moral consequences of science, how certain technologies can be used for good or ill, and what it means to challenge oneself as a scientist, going so far as to risk one’s own life in pursuit of something that is bigger than any one person. From beginning to end, this theme dominates the show even more than the aliens do.

These scientific ideas would not be half as compelling without a human element to ground them. Netflix’s show was triumphant in this regard. The intellectual problems presented are given dramatic depth, like when scientists are suddenly faced with the choice of destroying their projects to save their own lives or sacrificing themselves for the sake of groundbreaking science. While many of the characters are underdeveloped early on, by the end of the 8 episodes, the human aspect is more important than the sci-fi.

With Time, the Characters Become Layered

The “Oxford Five” are the group of scientists at the center of the story: dogged astrophysicist Jin Cheng (Jess Hong), entrepreneur Jack Rooney (Game of Thrones alum John Bradley), nanotech inventor “Auggie” Salazar (Eiza González), jaded scientist Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo), and the kind-natured teacher Will Downing (Alex Sharp). Starring alongside them are Liam Cunningham (also a GoT alum), who is excellent in the role of the ruthless Thomas Wade, and Benedict Wong as the cynical detective Clarence “Da” Shi, whose nihilistic perspective is one of the best parts of the show.

The central antagonist, Ye Wenjie, is the most complex character by far. Played by Rosalind Chao when she is older and Zine Tseng in the flashback scenes, Ye Wenjie is the character responsible for the entire plot, risking the survival of her own species because she gave up on humanity. The show excels best when these characters finally feel real, and the investment in the science events of the show is more impactful because of the humans involved, not what is at stake intellectually.

Related 10 Sci-Fi TV Series That Are Scientifically Accurate With more than two decades worth of titles included, here are sci-fi TV series with rich genre storytelling and legitimate scientific concepts.

There are also a few references to the beautiful and poetic 1970s environmentalist book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. “In nature, nothing exists alone” is a line from this book that is repeated, referencing not just the aliens discovered, but also the imbalance on Earth between humans and nature. War is also a relevant theme. The consequences of war, the use of extreme violence for survival, and the role of technology in warfare are all explored, but there is especially unique commentary on the impact of a pacifist in a violent society, and how just one person can make a difference.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. In nature nothing exists alone. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. — Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

The Slow Start Doesn’t Hinder a Captivating End or Hopes for a Season 2

There are many changes from the books to this adaptation, especially with the pacing. The show didn’t just start slowly, it also brought characters from the second book in the series and introduced events more quickly. Some changes are understandable, given the complexity of the books — however, Game of Thrones was complex too. Maybe sci-fi makes that complexity harder considering the ideas it is communicating, but not everything had to be so oversimplified, and book fans will notice this the most.

Certain events also seem rushed when moved forward, while in the books those same events are more drawn out, but considering the complaints about the slow beginning the show already receives, this might have been a good decision. By the halfway point, the events and the characters are well-developed, and the cliffhanger ending is absolutely gripping, setting the stage for events to escalate to an epic scale.

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Related The 15 Best Hard Sci-Fi Movies That Define the Genre There are no limits when it comes to hard sci-fi. The following movies are proof of the essence of the genre, which allows us to see the inexplicable.

Perhaps a story like this can only be told with a slow build-up. It’s unclear what the opposite would even look like, in a show where the big reveals about aliens and technology are nothing compared to what will happen in later seasons — if the creators get them, they’ve promised it will be mindblowing. Netflix is shooting for the stars with this ambitious project, after all. It may be the most expensive show they’ve ever made, with an estimated budget of $20 million per episode. That budget may be one of the things that puts further seasons in question unless reviews improve and viewership picks up.

Benioff and Weiss are optimistic, however, and ready to start producing Season 2 as soon as they get the green light. Netflix is taking a big gamble with this high-production, high-concept, hard sci-fi series. Benioff and Weiss told Hollywood Reporter in an interview that there is a scene in Season 2 that, much like the “Red Wedding” scene in Game of Thrones, will change everything. As Benioff said:

The second book is far better than the first, and the third book just completely blew my mind. The story just gets more and more ambitious as it goes, and it takes a huge leap in book two. So I feel like if we survive to the second season, we’re going to be in a good place.

3 Body Problem is now streaming on Netflix.

You can view the original article HERE.

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