3 BODY PROBLEM. And the universe blinks at us with the hope of DESTRUCTION

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss don’t need to apologize for either “The Three-Body Problem” or, even more so, for the 8th season of “Game of Thrones.”

Odys Korczyński

26 March 2024

Netflix solved the Fermi paradox, or rather, it was first solved by Cixin Liu, and then visualized in a pretty good style by Netflix. Unfortunately, I’ve already come across some strange statements online claiming that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss must atone for and compensate viewers for the 8th season of Game of Thrones using the 3 Body Problem. They don’t have to do anything, considering the last season was great. And even if they did, their latest series is well suited for it, despite being an adaptation of the challenging prose of Cixin Liu, specifically the first part of the series. The gracefully flexing spines of Dark Forest and Death’s End still await film versions on my shelf, and I hope they’ll be at least equally good. Don’t be too intimidated by the statement that Cixin Liu’s writing is challenging. He’s not Jacek Dukaj, so basic, albeit solid, knowledge of high school physics is sufficient. The rest can be looked up on Google, and you can even solve some problems for fun. 3 Body Problem has its issues, but it’s not a problem in itself, just a good adaptation that lacked a bit of money for better post-production. However, it didn’t become a tragedy like those from Inhumans, Stargate Origins, or Under the Dome.

On the contrary. Despite the naysayers tied to literal interpretations of Liu’s novel, and there are quite a few of them already (shockingly, not everyone has even watched the show, just knowing that Netflix co-produced it was enough), I believe that the Chinese elements in the series are wonderfully executed visually and narratively. The Western aspects look slightly worse, but the visualization of the Three-Body Game is where the situation is the worst. However, it’s not dramatically low-level, unlike, for example, the third episode of Shogun, where CGI and greenscreens give the impression that Toranaga and Blackthorne are jumping from a ship into a backyard pool, not the sea. I wouldn’t want to delve deeper into details, although I would love to tell you about the ending and point out how the creators approached the original text of the series. Maybe then I could convince at least a few of those dissatisfied viewers that there is sense in this merging of storylines and maintaining the difficult axiological message developed and psychologically worked out by Cixin Liu. To see it in the series is truly worth reading the author’s afterword, which is rare in contemporary novels. It personally summarizes the Chinese writer’s definition of a human being, logically delineating the soulless yet painful way of looking at the achievements of our civilization, which, while gazing hopefully at the stars, unknowingly seeks not a benevolent father but a salvational exterminator. Desperation in space, desperation in the rush of civilization, desperation in the search for existential salvation.

How to portray these three desperations, while also explaining many physical theories in an accessible way, and at the same time criticize the Chinese communist regime, all while maintaining an adventurous atmosphere? The only way that comes to mind is BALANCE and cultural placement with respect to the pattern. The series unfolds in three presented worlds: China in the 60s and 70s, contemporary Great Britain (the added world, as it’s entirely absent from the book in the form presented in the series), and the world of the peculiar Three-Body Game, which must be treated as an alternative multidimensional reality with physical reference to the reality in which players operate. These two planes of China and the game, however, do not dominate over the storyline unfolding on the Isles but complement it. In many series, unfortunately, flashbacks and insertions appear so frequently that individual episodes lose their rhythm. Here, the consistently executed plot develops the story and intuitively connects initially separate threads, dosing information in a way that the viewer’s mind is not left without their regular influx, while still feeling the lurking mystery at the end of the story, which cannot be easily guessed. This is where balance comes in, which does not negate diversity, as seen in the colorful personalities of the characters, from the withdrawn and frightened Auggie Salazar (Eiza González), through the lost between science and psychoactive substances Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo), to the mad and boorish Jack Rooney (John Bradley). These younger characters are accompanied by older ones, perhaps for characterological balance, including the life-experienced cop Da Shi (Benedict Wong), his grim employer Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham), and the mysterious businessman Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce).

The most noticeable change from Liu’s text is its ideological and ethnic de-Chinesization. This will probably be felt only by those who have read the novel, and it would be even better if they interacted daily with citizens of the PRC. However, familiarity with the source text is sufficient. Cixin Liu wrote the Three-Body Problem from a distinctly Chinese and imperialistic perspective. However, imperialism should not be confused with communism. Liu exceptionally uncommunistically always praised the individual and pointed out the ignorance and naive trust in ideologies characteristic of the Chinese masses who treated Mao like a God. For the writer, however, the center of the world is China, and the non-collective West is in the background. It is China that faces the possible end of civilization, and China that fights for the survival of humanity as a species. Finally, it is China that, although it once destroyed Western-thinking intellectuals in such a brutal way (Professor Ye Zhetai at the very beginning of the first episode), is now the only chance to preserve human moral and religious individuality. This sinocentric perspective is completely absent in the Netflix series. It has been replaced by a multicultural approach, although China still plays a crucial role in the plot. Presumably, the creators decided that such a cultural placement of the series would facilitate the reception of complex content, including scientific content, and it shouldn’t make it harder for viewers by constructing a fictional world from elements culturally alien to us. However, did this perspective need to be there, considering the series is just an adaptation?

What’s important is that something crucial, which is one of the most important ideologically designed parts of the Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu – the model of human thinking, specifically the transition from faith to knowledge and vice versa – was suggestively preserved. “Sir, are you there? Sir?” It’s worth noting these desperate words spoken by Evans when his God left him to the mercy of unverified faith, and an eye appeared in the sky, blinking miracles to people at the end of civilization.

In this whole interesting production, the only regrettable mistakes are the CGI visualization of the game world and the levitating Day of Judgment tanker on the surface of the sea like a toy, which floats above the gentle waves instead of stirring them (fortunately, not in all shots), the cliché music that doesn’t match the distinctiveness of Game of Thrones, and the not very creative opening credits. Nevertheless, there are enough delights in the series to overlook these shortcomings, which are unfortunately quite common in the world of television productions. Very’s jump into the Cherenkov Tank, the blinking sky with stars, love somewhere in the cold on the Mongolian Steppe, the Fermi paradox, suspense when listening to signals from the radio telescope, catchy game rules related to the ethnic origins of players, the action of the three-sun syzygy

In this whole interesting production, one can regret the mishaps such as the CGI visualization of the game world, as well as the Day of Judgment tanker floating on the sea’s surface like a toy, levitating above the gentle waves instead of stirring them (fortunately, not in all shots), the cliché music that doesn’t match the distinctiveness of Game of Thrones, and the not very creative opening credits. However, there are so many delights in the series to indulge in that I forgive these shortcomings, which are unfortunately quite common in the world of television productions. Very’s jump into the Cherenkov Tank, the blinking sky with stars, love somewhere in the cold on the Mongolian Steppe, the Fermi paradox, suspense when listening to signals from the radio telescope, catchy game rules related to the ethnic origins of players, the action of the three-sun syzygy, the concept of San-Ti, the idea of watering and dehydrating, reading fairy tales to foreigners who don’t understand abstract concepts, and a whole lot of compressed general knowledge, which seems unnecessary today, as the internet headlines or comments from specialists in reading “some studies from some diplomate specialists in conspiracy theories” seem to explain the world better. In summary, one can truly believe, as suggested by Liu, that our civilization has ceased to have the ability to solve its own problems, and the problem will only escalate. Therefore, we need a cosmic mediator to assess whether our development is heading in the right direction and provide us with supervision that we may not survive. In the series, apart from suspense, good pace of action, and increasing surprises from episode to episode, there will also be twists, including one that will surely be very surprising for the viewers.

There remains the matter of the approach in the Three-Body Problem towards education, and it is not only popular but also educational, psychologically methodical. Generally, it seems that we only believe that physics is something too unrealistic, that we can ignore it. Physics is our life, and our incomplete understanding of it is still replaced by substitutes, such as ideologies. However, as Cixin Liu wrote in the afterword: Compared to the Big Bang, myths of creation created by various peoples and religions fade; the three-billion-year history of the evolution of life from self-replicating molecules to civilization is rich in twists and romances unmatched by any myth or epic, and there is still a poetic vision of space and time contained in the theory of relativity, an amazing world of quantum mechanics… Our longing to solve the Fermi paradox will certainly be satisfied someday. 3 Body Problem outlines one of the possible scenarios of how this may happen. When that moment comes, it will be important for at least one to survive – then everyone will survive, as it is rather more certain that the universe will blink at us with the hope of destruction, which we so zealously seek, treating Earth as our own property.

You expected me to write something about Barack Obama? Not this time. I leave the pleasure of pondering whether he read the book or just took it with him to other reviewers, just like the nudity that finally is shown without covering genitals, which gives them goosebumps. Because nudity is nudity, not partial nudity.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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