3 Body Problem

2024 - United States

Review by Jennifer AJ

 When scientists all over the world begin turning up dead, a police detective tasked to investigate it uncovers a tangled web of extraterrestrial mystery that may spell doom on Earth. 

Adapted from a seminal science fiction Chinese novel by Liu Cixin, the new Netflix series has heavyweight credentials behind it: it’s created by the Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, collectively known as D&D. News of its development attracted huge attention since the start. It was their most prestigious project in a massive deal with Netflix, secured shortly after departing HBO. Their tenure as GoT showrunners had just ended in controversy after a widely-panned final season, leading to people questioning if they can tackle 3 Body Problem’s even more complex narrative.

With all that pressure going in, how do they do in this maiden season? 

Turns out, pretty good. With some asterix.

The vast spanning universe of 3 Body Problem weaves in mystery, metaphysics, science and history in a story that began in 1960s China, then reverberated decades into the present. There’s been a wave of scientists committing suicides in gruesome fashion, all of them exhibiting odd behaviours prior to their demise. British detective Clarence Shi (Benedict Wong) attempts to investigate the matter and cross paths with a group of scientist friends. They too are all experiencing strange phenomenon after the suicide of their former Oxford professor Vera Ye (Vedette Lim). It all inevitably leads to Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao), Vera’s mother. During the Cultural Revolution in China, she once made a consequential alien contact while working at an extraterrestrial research program.

Three Body Problem

Spanning decades, continents and multiple intertwined lives, there’s an inherent epic scope from the get go. Themes of existentialism, science vs religion, and humanity are explored in great deals as science begins to fail and these brilliant scientists’ logics are challenged. The alien aspect follows the trajectory of recent sci-fi like Arrival and Annihilation: instead of bombastic War of the World-style invasion, the extraterrestrial connections are abstract and grounded in the characters’ personal struggles. For most casual viewers, the science discussed in the series can be quite daunting. But thanks to these human facets, they become fathomable. In particular, the journey of Ye Wenjie from her difficult youth to her old age is a standout plotline, acted terrifically by both the younger and older actresses.

Three Body Problem

With D&D behind it, one might be tempted to compare it to GoT, but this actually feels like something else entirely, both tonally and stylistically. Sure there are elements they bring back. Composer Ramin Djawadi is scoring the music, though this time it’s a rather bland outcome. Their penchant for low contrast lighting is also back, so be prepared to set your screen’s brightness to maximum while watching. Everything else like the visual, costuming, and production value is adequate, if nothing truly groundbreaking. Some of the CGI feels shoddy, though it is saved by the intriguing storylines. It’s rather unfortunate for a big budget sci-fi project like this, but perhaps there wasn’t enough time after the strike? 

Being an ensemble piece, the cast is definitely a crucial component. So far, beside Wenjie, Wong as a jaded detective stands out among the characters. The group of scientist friends occupy a large part of the plots, but their characterizations feel interchangeable to one another. The writing and performances seem to treat them more as plot devices rather than living, breathing characters. It’s still interesting to see what twists await their fates, but it’s like rooting for Earth inhabitants to survive on apocalyptic movies – you can swap it for just anyone and it wouldn’t really matter. 

A down-to-earth sci-fi with far-reaching concepts and deep philosophical pondering, 3 Body Problem will keep you intrigued by the sheer grandiose of its premise, which is strong enough to mask its weaker components.

Published on April 3rd, 2024. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.

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