Starring: Mike Vogel, Osy Ikhile, Colm Meaney, Charles Dance, Georgina Hing
Running time: 246 Minutes
Directed by: Nick Hurran
Year of release: 2016
Childhood’s End was a SyFy channel mini-series that you likely missed as it was inexplicably scheduled in the middle of December 2015, right smack in the heart of Christmas season. The series is based upon the 1953 novel of the same name, written by science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke. Now let me say for the record that I have never read Clarke’s original novel but a careful examination of the book’s synopsis reveals that a number of changes were made to characters and plotlines by producers of the mini-series.
It is just another day on Earth when the mundane activities of daily life are interrupted by the arrival of several massive alien space ships that hover over cities around the globe. I guess we know where Independence Day got THAT from! The aliens are dubbed with the rather ominous name of “the Overlords”. They claim to come in peace and immediately put an end to all military conflicts on the planet. Karellen (voiced by Charles Dance) is named Supervisor of Earth and chooses a Missouri farmer, Rikki Stormgren, as humanity’s representative to speak to the aliens. Now, in the book Stormgren is the UN Secretary General, and as such, a valid representative for the planet. Making him a simple farmer from the heartland of the Midwest smacks of over-Americanizing Clarke’s story and intentions.
Karellen remains unseen but speaks to Rikki of the Overlord’s plans of eliminating famine and disease and ushering in a Utopian age. But not all remain convinced of the alien’s benevolence. Hugo Wainwright (Meaney) is a Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul who is particularly suspicious of their intentions and uses his media empire to stir up public sentiment against the aliens. Over the course of fifteen years the Overlords live up to their promises but humanity is still wary as they have not yet seen them. Karellan finally reveals himself, shocking the world with his resemblance to the traditional appearance of the Devil…red-skinned, horns, wings, and cloven hooves.
One of the other main characters is an astrophysicist who was named Jan Rodricks in the book but is changed to an African American character named Milo Rodricks in the TV adaptation. As a boy, Milo was confined to a wheel chair and shot to death by a street thug. He is resurrected by the Overlords and also cured of the affliction that caused him to be unable to walk. When Milo grows to adulthood he too, begins to question the alien’s motives as well as from where they come. The story spans five decades in the book although only a couple in the series. Humanity has entered into a Golden Age and the first generation of children born in the era exhibit powerful psychic abilities. It is only then that the true goals of the Overlords finally come to light.
If you are basing the mini-series strictly on its own the story falls apart about halfway through. It is when you stack it against the novel that the problems escalate. There is little reason for the many plot and character changes that were made. Notable among these is a tent city populated by religious zealots that is setup outside the gates of Rikki’s farm, considering him as something of a prophet. There is another plot from the book involving a Ouija board that is vastly overdone in the series for the purposes of added drama and visual effects.
The main problem with the adaptation is that the central theme of humans losing their identity and culture is obscured by the fact that so much of it is focused on the individual stories of various humans like Rikki, Milo, and the Greggson family. While it is touched on by Milo, who laments the fact that society has given up on scientific enrichment, it is something that mentioned in passing rather than a focal point.
Childhood’s End, like any classic novel of hard Sci-Fi, is an ambitious story to tackle, especially for the SyFy channel which too often relies on films about giant snakes and crocodiles. While I would love to see more such novels adapted for television, they would be wise to stick closer to the source material.