‘3 Body Problem’ Review: A Divisive Adaptation Strays From Its Roots

3 Body Problem
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Netflix’s ‘3 Body Problem’ is set to stir the pot, adapting Liu Cixin’s acclaimed novel with significant changes. The series, helmed by the much-criticized duo David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, known for their work on Game of Thrones, and Alexander Woo, has sparked debates well before its March 21, 2024 premiere. Given the narrative’s complexity, spanning the vastness of the universe, adapting it was always going to be a monumental task.

The story centers on Ye Wenjie, who after witnessing her father’s murder during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, is sent to a secretive radar base. Her decisions there have far-reaching consequences, affecting scientists in the modern era. The cast, including Benedict Wong and Eiza González, aims to cater to a global audience, marking a significant shift from the novel’s predominantly Chinese cast and setting, leading to mixed reactions among the original fans.

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I approached the show with a sense of curiosity, particularly because I found the novel’s intricate details somewhat overwhelming. The series does an admirable job of making the complex narrative more digestible, with a quicker pace and stunning visuals that breathe life into the story. For instance, the adaptation of the ‘made computer’—a concept deeply explored in the book but not central to the plot—was simplified in the show. Yet, it was executed with such visual flair that it left a strong impression, showcasing the series’ prowess in visual storytelling.

This deviation from the source material, however, is noticeable. When compared to adaptations like FX’s ‘Shogun’ or Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ movies, which stayed true to their literary origins with minimal alterations, ‘3 Body Problem’ ventures into new territory. The changes go beyond the superficial, fundamentally altering the story and its characters. Still, the performances of all five members of the Oxford Five were exceptional in the show, despite the significant changes from the book. I found myself connecting with these characters more deeply than with their counterparts in the novel. The show seemed to focus more on their interpersonal dynamics than on the external threat of invasion, making the relationships and emotions between them feel incredibly genuine.

The adaptation takes considerable liberties, reshaping the story to suit a more international audience. While the intent behind broadening the appeal is clear, the depth of the alterations can feel like a lost opportunity to remain faithful to the essence of Liu’s work. The series is visually stunning and more accessible to newcomers, but long-time fans may view these changes as a departure from the story they hold dear.

The visuals of the show are particularly commendable. With a reported budget of $20 million per episode, totaling $160 million for the eight-episode season, the investment in the series’ production quality is evident. The high budget allows for some truly spectacular scenes, from the intricacies of the ‘made computer’ to the expansive vistas of alien landscapes. The show even manages to surprise book fans with its creative twists, while those unfamiliar with the novel will find themselves even more captivated by the unexpected turns.

The significant financial backing does mean the show needs to attract a vast viewership to secure a second season. Given the polarizing changes, this might be a challenge, yet the sheer spectacle and narrative intrigue could draw in a wide audience, ensuring its success.

In conclusion, Netflix’s ‘3 Body Problem’ is a bold and visually impressive adaptation, albeit one that strays from its source material. While it succeeds in making the story more accessible and visually engaging, it diverges significantly from Liu Cixin’s original work. My score could have been higher if the show hadn’t strayed so far from the original story, which I’m not fond of studios doing. Despite this, the Oxford Five truly shone, their dynamics and authenticity outshining their book counterparts.

SCORE: 7/10

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