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Farewell equine creatures! Greetings, universe! The Game of Thrones crew ventured into the realm of space with 3 Body Problem.
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Farewell equine creatures! Greetings, universe! The Game of Thrones crew ventured into the realm of space with 3 Body Problem.

David Benioff says that he really wanted to move away from horses. It has been five years since Game of Thrones ended, which was a hugely successful show that he and showrunner DB Weiss were in charge of. People have been eagerly anticipating their next project, especially after they left HBO for Netflix in 2019. Their new project is a complete change: they are moving away from fantasy and into sci-fi, with a focus on space travel and quantum physics. This means saying goodbye to swords, sex and medieval politics, and saying hello to galaxies far, far away.

The author emphasizes the importance of being cautious around horses. According to Weiss, who is speaking via video call from a rainy Los Angeles, horses can be dangerous if proper handling techniques are not known. Due to their large size, around 1,200lbs, and their fast running speed, horses should be approached with care.

“I am amazed that after eight years of filming in Westeros, none of our actors were severely injured,” admits Benioff. “There was a close call in the last season when Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister, fell off a horse. Despite being one of our most skilled riders, the wet cobblestones caused the horse to slip. Fortunately, Nik is a talented athlete and was able to avoid any serious harm.”

The horses were not the only factor. The show was primarily filmed in Northern Ireland. Weiss expresses fond memories of LA’s resemblance to Belfast from his window. However, fans of the show could sense that the creators were growing tired of their successful series during its final season, which was ultimately perceived as a letdown for many viewers.

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng and John Bradley as Jack Rooney in 3 Body Problem.View image in fullscreen

“We greatly enjoyed the time we spent pursuing our activities,” states Weiss. “However, it lasted for 13 years. We found ourselves constantly residing in castles, both literal and figurative, consistently immersing ourselves in one particular category. Eventually, things can become stagnant when staying in one place for too long. We desired to make a change.”

Their desire has been fulfilled. The latest series, 3 Body Problem, is based on a popular science fiction trilogy written by Liu Cixin, once a power plant engineer from Shanxi province who is now known as “China’s Arthur C Clarke.” Released in 2007, it was the inaugural novel by an Asian author to win the prestigious Hugo award and has sold over 20 million copies in its English translation alone (which boasts a praise from none other than Barack Obama on its cover). Even among other works in the science fiction genre, the plot is immense, with certain portions taking place 18 million years into the distant future and in far-off galaxies.

Reworded: Liu’s narrative explores ideas that are incredibly difficult to comprehend and imagine, such as 11-dimensional supercomputers that are as tiny as protons. It also includes a setting where three suns are in a disorderly orbit (known as the “three-body problem” in the title). The director of photography was challenged with figuring out how to illuminate the scene with three suns, and even resorted to physically pulling out his hair in frustration.

“We had a similar thought when it came to Game of Thrones – we imagined it could be a fantastic series, but we were unsure of how to bring it to life. The idea of the challenge was strangely alluring to us.”

Weiss gestures to his hair, explaining that it is the source of all his grey.

From left: David Benioff, DB Weiss and Alexander Woo.

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Benioff further stated that in the current climate of an overflowing television market, it is increasingly challenging to set oneself apart from the multitude of content being produced, given the multitude of shows that have emerged in the past ten years.

The main draw of 3 Body Problem is trying to make sense of the chaos: scientists are dying without reason all over the world; the stars are blinking inexplicably in the sky; a bizarre metallic headset transports players into a shockingly realistic virtual reality game; and Jonathan Pryce leads a cult on an oil tanker with apocalyptic intentions. If the cynical detective, Benedict Wong, can’t unravel the mystery, what chance do the rest of us have?

Without giving too much away, 3 Body Problem is an alien-invasion story. We don’t even see any aliens in this first, eight-part season but we know they’re coming, though we’ve got 400 years to prepare.

Although the book takes place in China and features Chinese characters, Benioff and Weiss, along with Chinese American producer Alex Woo (known for HBO’s True Blood), have incorporated diverse changes in terms of setting, gender, and ethnicity. The new adaptation changes the story to center around a multicultural group of former college friends living in the UK, specifically in Oxford.

“I truly enjoy residing and working in that location,” declares Benioff. After completing Game of Thrones in the United Kingdom, “It provided a wonderful opportunity to reunite with the team.” It was also a matter of visual aesthetics, according to Weiss. The juxtaposition of Oxford’s advanced technology and medieval architecture perfectly complemented the story: “No disrespect to Berkeley or MIT, but they do not quite embody the essence of Christ Church.”

Caution should be taken when discussing the sensitive issue of “race-lifting,” as seen in previous controversies such as the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the Japanese anime remake Ghost in the Shell and the use of white actors in M Night Shyamalan’s 2010 version of Avatar: The Last Airbender, originally portrayed by East Asian and Inuit actors. The showrunners of this series argue that it is not the same, as there is already an authentic Chinese adaptation of Liu’s story, a 30-part series that aired on Chinese state television last year. They stress that their series is an English-language adaptation and they are striving to make it a global production.

In 2022, during a video call, Liu acknowledged the need for alterations, according to Weiss. He had already anticipated the direction we were planning on taking, which added pressure to our team. We were concerned about disappointing him. Woo also mentions that Liu’s initial statement was, “I am a big Game of Thrones supporter.”

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Vedette Lim as Vera Ye in 3 Body Problem.View image in fullscreen

Despite being in its updated version, the 3 Body Problem retains many traits characteristic of Chinese culture, contributing to its unique appeal. Interestingly, the show features a higher number of actors of Chinese descent compared to other mainstream shows in recent times. Among them are familiar faces from Game of Thrones, such as Pryce and Liam Cunningham, also known as “Davos Seaworth”. The story takes place in China during the 1960s, a period marked by the Cultural Revolution where scientists and intellectuals faced persecution and even death, while science fiction was banned. This topic remains a sensitive one in China. When Liu’s book was first released in 2006, the parts set during the Cultural Revolution were not published in order to avoid attracting any official attention. Director Woo shared that during auditions, Chinese actresses revealed their limited knowledge of the Cultural Revolution, as it had not been extensively taught in school.

“In mainstream sci-fi, there is still a strong presence of old stories written by Caucasian males. For example, Dune: Part Two, which is currently doing well at the box office, is based on a story from 1965. Similarly, Apple TV+’s expensive Foundation series, based on a 1951 Isaac Asimov story, and long-running series like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, and Doctor Who, which are constantly being rebooted. Liu’s saga brings new ideas and viewpoints, providing a refreshing change.”

Does it possess any unique Chinese aspects? Many have observed that in western science fiction, it is always the humans who conquer the galaxy or defeat the aliens. However, in Liu’s story, it is the humans who are facing a superior and more technologically advanced civilization – resembling China’s position during Liu’s early years, when it was overshadowed by the technologically advanced United States.

Woo suggests that China’s recent adoption of technology could also indicate a cultural shift towards valuing technological progress and superiority, believing it to be crucial for societal advancement.

It is possible that the reigns have been passed on; Chinese science fiction writing is currently flourishing. In a 2014 conversation with the New York Times, Liu expressed, “China is experiencing rapid modernization and advancement, similar to the United States during the peak of science fiction’s golden age… The future, in the eyes of the people, is full of allure, enticement, and hope. However, it is also riddled with threats and challenges, making it a fertile ground.” Considering the communist rule in China, there may also be a political discourse occurring. According to Benioff, there is a “strong theme of examining the differences between a collectivist view of one’s society and an individualist view” woven throughout Liu’s story. He states, “it’s a highly intriguing and nuanced perspective.”

Liam Cunningham as Wade and Benedict Wong as Da Shi in 3 Body Problem.View image in fullscreen

According to the creators, despite the danger of extraterrestrial takeover, 3 Body Problem is not a dystopian tale. In fact, it is the aliens who reside in a dystopian world; to them, our own planet appears idyllic. In a positive light, the story envisions humanity uniting in response to a worldwide existential threat. Benioff states, “If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that our current global structure does not unite in times of crisis.” It is difficult to imagine a scenario that would bring us together. Perhaps only an alien invasion would suffice.

Whether or not these messages resonate with humanity on a Game of Thrones scale, we’ll find out soon enough. Could 3 Body Problem do for sci-fi what Thrones did for fantasy? Benioff, Weiss and Woo have no idea, they profess. The feeling right now brings back memories of just before Thrones premiered, says Benioff, with a then-unknown cast heavy with northern-accented Brits: “I was terrified, watching the show hundreds of times and thinking: ‘Is anyone in the United States going to understand these accents?’”

According to Weiss, when the show first aired, they had low expectations. They believed it would only appeal to a specific type of person, and that others might not continue watching after the fifth episode.

The show “Game of Thrones” did not immediately become popular, but in a time before streaming, it had the opportunity to attract viewers. However, there is concern that “3 Body Problem” may not have the same opportunity for growth. According to Weiss, the first season is relatively smaller in scope compared to where the story goes. It becomes incredibly expansive, almost on a cosmic level. The goal is to generate enough interest to take audiences on a journey to the farthest reaches of the story.

The 3 Body Problem will be available on Netflix on March 21.

Source: theguardian.com