The Three-Body Problem: What to Expect from the Film Adaptation of Liu Сixin’s Cult Novel?

On 21 March, Netflix will premiere one of the most anticipated sci-fi series of 2024. It’s about The Three-Body Problem, a film adaptation of the cult novel by Chinese writer Liu Cixin. We tell you what the original book was about, who is the director of the series, and what to expect from it.

The most popular science fiction novel in China

The Three-Body Problem is one of the most famous and popular science fiction novels in Chinese history. It was first published in 2006. In 2012, the Chinese-American science fiction writer Ken Liu translated the book into English, after which the novel gained wide global recognition. In the same year, The Problem was nominated for the Nebula Award, and in 2015, it won the Hugo Award for the best science fiction novel of the year.

Covers of the English-language editions of Liu Cixin’s trilogy. Source: Andrew Liptak

Liu Cixin later wrote two sequels to The Three-Body Problem. The second part, The Dark Forest, was published in 2008 and translated into English in 2015. It was followed by The Death’s End. It was published in 2010 and translated into English in 2016.

What is The Three-Body Problem about?

In the midst of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese astrophysicist Ye Wenjie, who has been repressed, sends a signal into space. After a while, she receives a reply warning her never to get in touch again, for the sake of the Earth’s safety. Nevertheless, disillusioned with humanity, Ye Wenjie sends a signal into space again to invite aliens to our planet.

Half a century later, a series of mysterious events shook the scientific world. Experiments on particle accelerators give contradictory results, which leads physicists to commit suicide, believing that the limits of knowledge of the universe have been reached. The military and intelligence services believe that in this way someone is trying to slow down scientific progress on Earth. Scientist Wang Miao, who begins his own investigation, soon encounters an ominous phenomenon: he sees numbers with a terrifying countdown everywhere. To solve the mystery, he begins to play the computer game The Three-Body Problem, which tells the story of the planet Trisolaris, which is in an unstable orbit in the triple star system Alpha Centauri…

Who are the directors of the series

The Three-Body Problem is a completely cinematic novel. There is a mysterious detective line, an excursion into the tragic pages of Chinese history that are little known to the average viewer, and even elements of cyberpunk. So it was only a matter of time before the film was adapted. In fact, the Netflix version is not the first. Last year, the Chinese streaming service Tencent released a 30-episode adaptation of The Problem.

A still from The Three-Body Problem. Source: Netflix

Still, for obvious reasons, the main attention of fans is focused on the Netflix version. Its creators are David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who were previously showrunners of Game of Thrones. The budget of the first season of the series was $160 million and it consists of eight episodes.

Of course, it is worth noting that Benioff and Weiss have a rather ambiguous reputation. On the one hand, they have done a masterful job of adapting George Martin’s literary source material. However, as soon as the books were finished, the quality of Game of Thrones dropped significantly, which eventually led to the infamous final eighth season of the series, which upset many fans.

The good news is that in the case of The Three-Body Problem, the showrunners are not facing the problem of a lack of books. The novels were written long ago, and all they have to do is adapt their plot for a mass audience. And Benioff and Weiss have repeatedly demonstrated that they can cope with this task quite successfully.

Who starred in the series

There are no big stars in The Three-Body Problem. Among the actors known to the audience are Benedict Wong, who has played in several Marvel films, Ace Gonzalez (Baby Driver, ER), as well as Jonathan Bradley and Liam Cunningham, who played Samwell Tarly and Ser Davos in Game of Thrones.

A still from the TV series The Three-Body Problem. Source: Netflix

How close is the series to the novel?

At the moment, it is quite difficult to tell how accurate the adaptation is. In the trailer for the series, you can see both the scenes that were in Cixin’s novel and something new. And judging by the names of the characters, the series will feature characters who appeared in Liu Cixin’s subsequent books. This is most likely due to the fact that the authors are not going to limit the series to one season and plan to film the entire trilogy. Therefore, they are preparing for the sequel in advance and introduce characters that will be revealed later.

What critics say

The Three-Body Problem currently has a 75% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics’ opinions are divided. Many praise the series for its entertainment, ambition and ingenuity. But there are also negative reviews. According to some reviewers, the series turned out to be superficial, and Benioff and Weiss cut the scientific component too much, which is why the series lost the magic of the original.
The poster of the series The Three-Body Problem. Source: Netflix

But these are just critics’ opinions. Soon, every sci-fi fan will be able to evaluate for themselves how well Benioff and Weiss have managed. Fortunately, we don’t need to wait long.