Those the kinds of questions addressed in Syfy’s upcoming event series, Childhood’s End, based on one of the best SF novels by Arthur C. Clarke.
Long thought to be impossible to adapt to a video medium, the adaptation for Syfy under the pen of Matthew Graham (Life on Mars) does an admirable job. Fans of the book will of course miss items left out – a novel that spans decades and delves into the the lives of many characters needs to be trimmed in some way – the story keeps to the core theme, and the characters needed to advance the story.
They story opens in the present day, when the sudden arrival of massive alien ships – along with the requisite “cloud front” (I wish they’d get away from this visual effects meme, but it was still done well), but rather than being the front of a hostile invasion the aliens – called the “Overlords” led by the unseen Karellen, the Supervisor of Earth – announce that they will help Humanity by eliminating war, violence, sickness, etc., bringing about a golden age of Humanity. But it isn’t until much later, after Karellen reveals himself, that the price of this golden age might be more than what Humanity would have been willing to pay.
Although taking place mostly on Earth, the visuals were spectacular, and I might not have even seen the final version of them. The Overload ships weren’t the prototypical massive saucer shapes, but rather showed actual design. Overall one of the best efforts I’ve seen from Syfy programming.
Story-wise, the show can be plodding in parts, especially in the middle of the three episodes where it needs to set up for the final night where the story really pays off, while the first night has to juggle a lot of things with so many things to explain, which results in some abbreviated interaction when the Overlords arrive almost to a “We are here, everything will be cool” brevity.
The choice of the Overlords to speak through Ricky Stormgren, who in this adaptation is a farmer rather than the United Nations Secretary General, was an interesting change which for some reason reminded me of the 1977 movie Oh God! where God (George Burns) decides that a grocery store manager (John Denver) will speak for him. But I think Mike Vogel does well with the role…and for whom the definition of “saved” may be disputed…
I think in general fans of the book will be pleased with the adaptation. Purists might still whine about the omissions, but putting too much in can actually have a detrimental effect. And those who haven’t read the book might find plenty of surprises along the way. It’s been so long since I’ve read the book, I was pleasantly reminded of the twists.
Childhood’s End airs over three nights starting on December 14th on Syfy.