Review: ‘3 Body Problem’ Is a Galaxy-Brained Spectacle

The aliens who menace humankind in Netflix’s “3 Body Problem” believe in doing a lot with a little. Specifically, they can unfold a single proton into multiple higher dimensions, enabling them to print computer circuits with the surface area of a planet onto a particle smaller than a pinprick.

“3 Body Problem,” the audacious adaptation of a hard-sci-fi trilogy by Liu Cixin, is a comparable feat of engineering and compression. Its first season, arriving Thursday, wrestles Liu’s inventions and physics explainers onto the screen with visual grandeur, thrills and wow moments. If one thing holds it back from greatness, it’s the characters, who could have used some alien technology to lend them an extra dimension or two. But the series’s scale and mind-bending turns may leave you too starry-eyed to notice.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, partnering here with Alexander Woo (“The Terror: Infamy”), are best known for translating George R.R. Martin’s incomplete “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy saga into “Game of Thrones.” Whatever your opinions of that series — and there are plenty — it laid out the duo’s strengths as adapters and their weaknesses as creators of original material.

Beginning with Martin’s finished novels, Benioff and Weiss converted the sprawling tomes into heady popcorn TV with epic battles and intimate conversations. Toward the end, working from outlines or less, they rushed to a finish and let visual spectacle overshadow the once-vivid characters.

In “3 Body,” however, they and Woo have a complete story to work with, and it’s a doozy. It announces its sweep up front, opening with a Chinese scientist’s public execution during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, then jumping to the present day, when a wave of notable physicists are inexplicably dying by suicide.

The deaths may be related to several strange phenomena. Experiments in particle accelerators around the world suddenly find that the last several decades’ worth of research is wrong. Brilliant scientific minds are being sent futuristic headsets of unknown provenance that invite them to join an uncannily realistic virtual-reality game. Oh, also, one night all the stars in the sky start blinking on and off.

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