‘3 Body Problem’ Premiere Brings Extraterrestrial Terror to Austin

Liem Soeng

‘3 Body Problem’ Premiere Brings Extraterrestrial Terror to Austin

PSA: “3 Body Problem” isn’t a horror show.

At least not intentionally; the new Netflix series from Alexander Woo and “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss is hard sci-fi, but elements of it will surely inspire fright in some viewers. Ahead of the first episode’s South by Southwest premiere, Netflix projected an ominous countdown into the sky at a nearby intersection, followed by a message saying that humanity would learn to fear again. At least one Uber driver told this reporter he found it terrifying, and it’s hard to disagree.

Based on the novel (and subsequent series) by Cixin Liu, “3 Body Problem” — as the March 7 trailer finally confirmed — is about mankind’s first contact with aliens. The series spans timelines and genres in a sweeping story about humanity and its place in the universe, but as IndieWire’s Ben Travers noted in his review, also gets in the weeds with “detailed explanations of interstellar travel and multi-dimensional theory.” When Ye Wenjiae (Zine Tseng) ends up on an unexpected path in 1960s China, she makes a decision that impacts not only her life, but the very future of the planet. In the present, a group of scientists find themselves caught in a mysterious web involving futuristic technology, misbehaving data, and vaguely cultish ideology, which provide equal intrigue and dread as their peers in the field start to die off.

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It’s not a series easily explained, but the premiere episode laid out the show’s various puzzle pieces as straightforwardly as possible. On Friday night at Austin’s Paramount Theater, the audience was held in taut suspense for the entire episode, watching the disparate threads of “3 Body Problem” unfurl and intertwine. Some of the violence and imagery elicited gasps (unsurprising, given Benioff and Weiss’s claim to fame), while the shared laughter at strategic moments offered a welcome release of tension.

Benioff, Weiss, and Woo welcomed the audience ahead of the screening, thanking the Netflix team as well as their cast and crew.

“This was a crazy thing to agree to make,” Weiss said. “And they agreed to make it, and then they doubled down and they agreed to make it the way it needed to be made.”

What stood out about the night was not just “3 Body Problem” debuting to an audience, but that Benioff and Weiss in particular stand to ostensibly impress two fan communities now: their own “Game of Thrones” aficionados, final season be damned, who gasped and whooped for their stage entrance and called out “Samwell Tarly!” to actor John Bradley — and Liu’s readers, whose cheers were just as audible in the cavernous theater. It’s daunting enough to please enthusiastic readers or loyalists who believe in one’s work, and doubly intimidating — and difficult — to do both.

But at the end of the night, at least on the surface, that was achieved; the cast and creators asked everyone in the room to don the special helmets gifted to them (it’ll make sense when you watch) and pose for a photo, looking like “the world’s weirdest cult.” If the aliens do come, it’ll be quite a sight to greet them.

“3 Body Problem” premieres March 21 on Netflix.

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