David Benioff and Dan Weiss to adapt Liu Cixin's acclaimed alien invasion epic.

By James Hibberd
September 01, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have announced their next TV series.

Once again, they're adapting an acclaimed series of novels — only this time in the realm of sci-fi.

The duo are teaming with writer-producer Alexander Woo (True Blood) to tackle Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem trilogy, which depicts humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization. The saga's debut book was published to considerable acclaim in China in 2008, while an English translation by Ken Liu became the first Asian novel ever to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2014. The New Yorker dubbed Liu "China's Arthur C. Clarke," referring to the 2001: A Space Odyssey screenwriter.

"Liu Cixin’s trilogy is the most ambitious science-fiction series we’ve read, taking readers on a journey from the 1960s until the end of time, from life on our pale blue dot to the distant fringes of the universe," Benioff and Weiss said in a statement. "We look forward to spending the next years of our lives bringing this to life for audiences around the world.”

Added Woo: “It’s a privilege to be adapting one of the great masterpieces of Chinese science-fiction. The Three-Body Problem trilogy combines so many things I love: rich, multi-layered characters and true existential stakes — all told as an elegant and deeply human allegory.”

Credit: Tor Books

The title refers to a problem in physics of computing the trajectory of three bodies interacting with one another (in the novel, a nearby solar system where three stars make life hell for those who live on an Earth-type planet).

Liu Cixin and Ken Liu will serve as consulting producers on the project. The author released a statement that seems to anticipate criticism about Benioff and Weiss adapting an English-language adaptation of a Chinese novel. "I have the greatest respect for and faith in the creative team adapting The Three-Body Problem for television audiences,” Liu said. “I set out to tell a story that transcends time and the confines of nations, cultures, and races; one that compels us to consider the fate of humankind as a whole. It is a great honor as an author to see this unique sci-fi concept travel and gain fandom across the globe and I am excited for new and existing fans all over the world to discover the story on Netflix.”

Among the many executive producers on the project are some familiar names: Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson, Game of Thrones veteran Bernadette Caulfield, actor Brad Pitt via his Plan B Entertainment production company, and actress Rosamund Pike via her Primitive Streak production company.

Netflix VP of original series Peter Friedlander issued an impassioned statement about the project. "The first time I read The Three-Body Problem trilogy (Remembrance of Earth's Past), it changed what science fiction meant to me forever," he wrote. "Although it may seem like a familiar premise — the story of humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization — Chinese author Liu Cixin's ability to interweave science with fiction made his vision of the future and extra-terrestrial contact feel more realistic than any other science fiction I've read. At the same time, I was also drawn in by the story of all of humanity vulnerable to the same external threat and how this both unifies and divides humans ... We have been granted the rights from The Three-Body Universe and Yoozoo Group to produce the English-language series adaptation and have assembled a talented and thoughtful creative team to do so. Every person involved not only shares a passion and high esteem for the books, but also the creative vision and ambition to help bring this remarkable story to life for audiences around the world ... To quote The Three-Body Problem, 'In my line of work, it’s all about putting together many apparently unconnected things. When you piece them together the right way, you get the truth.' We all share the same goal: to pay homage to this incredible story and take members on the adventure of a lifetime."

The cost of the series is sure to be substantial. In 2018, the Financial Times reported that Amazon Studios was making a heavy play for the rights to the novels, looking into potentially making a deal worth $1 billion — a figure that would even dwarf the company's initial investment in its upcoming The Lord of the Rings series. That the project ended up at Netflix despite such numbers floating around is really saying something (though one source described the $1 billion figure as overblown).

Previously, Netflix made a lucrative exclusive overall deal with the Emmy-winning Benioff and Weiss coming off their Thrones success. The deal ended the duo's relationship with Disney where they had been working on a prospective new Star Wars film. Since shifting to Netflix, they directed the Leslie Jones comedy special Time Machine, and are also producing Netflix’s upcoming half-hour dramedy The Chair starring Sandra Oh.

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