wed 24/07/2024

3 Body Problem, Netflix review - life, the universe and everything (and a bit more) | reviews, news & interviews

3 Body Problem, Netflix review - life, the universe and everything (and a bit more)

3 Body Problem, Netflix review - life, the universe and everything (and a bit more)

Mind-blowing adaptation of Liu Cixin's novel from the makers of 'Game of Thrones'

Far out: Eiza Gonzalez as Auggie Salazar, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng

From Game of Thrones producers David Benioff and DB Weiss, in cahoots with Alexander Woo, 3 Body Problem is Netflix’s daring attempt to dramatise Liu Cixin’s novel The Three-Body Problem. A mind-bending sci-fi epic spanning multiple decades, while also reaching centuries into the past and future, it can scarcely be faulted for lack of ambition, but sometimes there's just too much going on to digest properly.

The story opens in 1960s China, where the Cultural Revolution is burning down everything in its path with hideous brainwashed zeal. One of its countless victims is the physicist Ye Zhetai, who, on account of his belief in empirical facts, is brutally beaten to death by Red Guard zealots in front of a huge crowd which includes his daughter Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng). She also happens to be a brilliant physicist.

After a spell in a grim labour camp in Inner Mongolia, she’s recruited to a secret military establishment with a huge satellite dish on a windswept hilltop (this is on a “you can check in but you can never leave” basis), where it emerges that the Chinese are trying to make contact with extra-terrestrial life. This is going to land everybody in a whole heap of trouble when Ye Wenjie gets a reply from the Great Beyond.3 Body Problem, Netflix Cut to the present day, and we meet a group of young and gifted scientists who all happen to have been taught by Vera Ye, the daughter of Ye Wenjie. But Vera has inexplicably committed suicide, one of a spate of apparently self-inflicted deaths of prominent scientists, currently being investigated by deadpan, down-at-heel detective Clarence (Benedict Wong) and his gruff, tough boss Thomas Wilde (Liam Cunningham, pictured above with Wong).

Weird stuff is going on, not least with Auggie (her full name is Augustina Salazar). She’s working on the development of revolutionary “nanofibers” in a project funded by entrepreneur Denys Porlock (Adrian Edmondson), but she keeps seeing a hallucination of a clock counting down before her eyes. A mysterious girl called Tatiana (Marlo Kelly, pictured below) appears and tells her she must shut down her project or else. As a kind of unanswerable calling card, she tells Auggie to watch the skies at midnight the next day. When she does so, all the stars in the night sky obligingly blink on and off, as if to say “I told you so”.

3 Body Problem, Netflix As the story develops, its scope expands like a bursting supernova. Extraterrestrials not only exist, but despite the fact that they’re many light years away, they have a means of interacting in real time with the earth and its inhabitants (this is thanks to things called Sophons, tiny but incredibly powerful “sentient computers” which are more or less everywhere all the time). The San-Ti (as they’re called) can create entire virtual worlds and impose them on the existing one, and they’ve also created super-powerful virtual reality headsets, by which chosen individuals can be transported into any time or dimension.

Are you with me so far? Thus, Jin Cheng (another of the young scientific prodigies) might find herself whisked away to Kubla Khan’s Xanadu, where the Emperor’s vast army forms a human computer, indicating zeroes and ones by holding up black or white placards. Also in attendance, oddly enough, are Alan Turing and Isaac Newton (Reece Shearsmith and Mark Gatiss). Each of her experiences is like a new level in a vast game, and also a test of her skills in astrophysics. A trip to the court of Pope Gregory XIII (Conleth Hill) ends in utter chaos (though it does explain the show’s title) when civilisation is destroyed by “the stacked gravitational attractions of a tri-solar syzygy”, in other words the conflicting gravitational fields of three orbiting suns.

3 Body Problem, Netflix However, the bad news is that since these three suns are destroying the San-Ti home planet, they’re heading for earth to take it over. The trip will take them 400 years, but nonetheless our earthlings feel they really ought to start making some preparations.

The romances, squabbles and friendships of the cast members provide some light relief from all this brain-twisting stuff, and the story also extends itself into the ways in which the alien menace manifests itself. Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce, pictured above) is a kind of cult leader preparing his flock for the arrival of the celestial strangers, and he’s in regular contact with a being he addresses as “My Lord”. Acolytes of the San-Ti are constantly probing the earth’s defences and looking for ways to handicap its scientific advances. But these eight episodes aren’t nearly enough to get everything in, so a swathe of sequels seems inevitable.

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