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Netflix’s Three-body – first episode review


First, let me start with some context. I’m a born and raised in China kind of Chinese, I’m a big fan of the Three-body trilogy. In fact, they are my favourite sci-fi books ever. I read them in Chinese many times, and in an effort to get Dan to read the trilogy, I read the English version once. (The mission to get Dan to read it was failed tho) I’m a big sci-fi lover and have read my fair share of sci-fi books. From the more classic Foundation series, witty and brilliant Douglas Adams, to more mythology-based Neil Gaiman, to the more up-to-date “always problem-solving” Andy Weir books. And to me, the Three-body trilogy still makes it to the top for the volume of breath-taking ideas and stories that cross centuries and lightyears, the depth it goes into humanity and civilizations between different worlds, and the bold imagination and theory it has created for the universe, all packed into three books! 

Now, back to the Netflix Three-body. Is it a disappointment? Oddly, no. But only because I’ve watched the trailers, and I expected that it wouldn’t be following closely to the books. Is it good? Hard to say from just one episode. As a book fan, but instinct was “yuck”. But I also want to acknowledge that as a non-Chinese production for the Netflix version, it’s hard to truly grasp the spirit books completely especially in moderation. But when the scene where the “universe flickers” was on screen, Dan and I just both sat there and repeated, “No, no, no, no, no…” until the scene ended. 

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Part of me is happy that Three-body got picked up by Netflix and now can reach so many more people. It was a sad joke amongst Three-body fans in China that the people and companies behind them who have bought the Three-body copyright have been blessed with such treasure but also cursed that nothing ever comes out of it because of how powerful and imaginative the words are and no motion picture can recreate it. But the other part of me feels like, “But that’s not the actual story”. So if you are a book fan, or you want to see a much truer to the book version of the Three-body TV show, I would recommend the Chinese-made version from last year produced by Tencent. 

I am curious to see more episodes of this Netflix version just because I’m a fan, but I’m not holding my breath. 

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2 responses to “Netflix’s Three-body – first episode review”

  1. I find myself in a state of super-position, both agreeing and disagreeing with your comments. I’ve read the books (English only, admittedly though Ken Liu did a heck of a job in books 1 and 3 translating). And I’ve seen the full Tencent production. But I found the latter both plodding over time (getting no where for several eps) and then wildly divergent by the final season/section of it all.

    OTOH, Netflix massively accelerated the story to hook in those who know nothing about the plot. An understandable necessity for an audience that is less likely to have read the story and probably not, on the whole, huge fans of the genre. In fact, by my memory Netflix gets us to where the Tencent plot took 12 episodes to get to in just one ep in many ways.

    I’m hopeful Netflix will take some time and expand on the aspects that Tencent steeped itself in. But I think the Netflix version has already set up a better sense of motivation for Ye than the Tencent ever did. I really felt that was soft-peddled in the earlier series. And Netflix also laid out the reason for the scientific despondency more clearly (though perhaps that was translation challenges…their subtitles were less that great at times to be sure). What is interesting is how similar some of the depictions are of aspects of the story…a real tribute to the power of the descriptions in the books, I think.

    I guess, ultimately, I’m more hopeful than you that they can pull this off, even as I miss the broad sense of culture and people the books managed and that Tencent embraced. But I’m also willing to give them a bit more time to fill that in now that they’ve laid out their hook. Oh, I will admit that we flinched at the flickering universe as well…what a cheaply weird choice given their better depiction of the countdown (truly creepy and annoying) and the headsets. Not sure how they work with that given how it was intended to play out.

  2. Good to meet a fellow three-body fan! In general I agree with your points. I had forgotten about it but you are right that the Tencent production really dragged on for like the first third of the episodes. Fortunately they picked it up after and I remember feeling satisfied with it when that season ended. I don’t really get what you mean by it being wildly divergent by the final section tho.

    We just finished the 4th episode(pacing 1 ep a night) and I agree with you that the Netflix version did what’s effective to attract the mass and make sense of it. We are watching it with Dan’s mom, who hasn’t read the books, and she’s really liking the show. I’m certainly putting on a new pair of lens as I’m watching it and keeping in mind that there’s no point in comparing it to the books. It is also interesting to think about the plots that they decided to change for what reason. Like in the 4th ep I’m finally (maybe a bit too slowly haha) realizing that the character Jin is supposed to be Chen Xin in the book and Will is supposed to be the “brain” character… But still just a guess, I guess I will find out in later episodes 🙂

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