Arthur C. Clarke’s 1954 novel Childhood’s End is a science fiction classic. Not sci-fi, but full-on Science Fiction in the original sense of the term. It’s a quick read, really, clocking in at just around 200 pages. And it’s not concerned with character or action, instead focusing on what 50s Science Fiction did best: exploring a single concept and allowing it to unfold without concern for the marketplace or fads. It tells the story of the day when an alien race arrives on Earth, just before we were about to escape our atmosphere and visit the moon, to usher in a Golden Age of humanity, wiping out war, disease, and anything else that was keeping humanity from achieving greatness. But it doesn’t whitewash the effects of Utopia. The novel addresses the fact that much of art and progress is motivated by conflict and struggle. When the struggle is taken away, what happens then? But what Clarke did with the novel was not just stop there. Childhood’s End wasn’t just a meditation on what happens when we get everything we want, everything we need. When we no longer have to work, no longer have to pay bills, worry about sickness or how we’re going to feed ourselves, what comes next? In just over 200 pages, Clarke crafted a tightly plotted tale of the end of humanity as we know it. But how does that translate to television in 2015? Well, if the first chapter of this three night miniseries is any indication, it translates fairly well. Of course there are going to be changes made to the narrative. Considering that the novel spans well over a hundred plus years and at least one generation of humanity with three (sort of) sets of characters in each section, there’s not a lot of room for character development, so the adaptation takes that into consideration right out of the gate. We open with a glimpse of the end as Milo Rodricks (Osy Ikhile) sits in the ruins of a city, documenting his final moments as the last human left alive. If you’re not familiar with the novel, then this is a fantastic opening that should keep you guessing as to just where this story is heading. If you’ve read the novel, it scans wonderfully and gives us a character to look forward to as the mystery unfolds. Then we jump back to the arrival of “The Overlords.” Since the novel was written in the early 50s, it’s no surprise that our central characters are less marketable than what we might expect today. When the aliens arrive above our cities and choose a human representative to mediate between us, it’s a 60ish year-old white guy: the UN Secretary-General. Here, we still have the white guy, but he’s a Midwest farmer who made a name for himself mediating a labor deal. He’s down-to-earth, handsome, and Mike Vogel does a good job making Ricky Stormgren someone the audience can both relate to and admire. He’s a good guy, but he still has issues regarding his dead wife, and in a disappointing bit of unneeded complication, this causes problems with his new fiancé. As would be expected in a TV miniseries. The series is forced to compress the timeframe of the story in order to keep our characters around for a while – an issue the novel has no interest in (in fact, what appear to be the two main characters of the opening prologue never appear again, with the story immediately jumping nearly fifty years into the future). At the same time, we are forced to compress some of the novel’s plot as well. This is where Milo comes back into play. Milo is an intriguing alteration of the source material, taking a character that, in the novel, essentially removes himself from the story only to be dropped back in at the end to become witness to the grand finale. It’s a fantastic bit of plotting by Clarke, but the character himself is a bit lacking. Here, we are introduced to Milo as a young boy, confined to a wheelchair, but with a mind that soars. He’s a genius prodigy and will become central to the story. His mother is a part-time drug-addict (it’s a Syfy miniseries, so I’m going to just let the realism of the situation breathe enough to allow Milo’s story to develop) and his best friend is a homeless guy who lives in an abandoned car. Because we’re moving along at top speed, we don’t really get a lot of insight into this world, but it’s much more interesting than Stormgren’s subconscious obsession with his dead wife. Ultimately we get to see Milo be saved from his wheelchair, grow up, and become an astrophysicist. In the meantime, the Supervisor of Earth, Karellen (Charles Dance) refuses to reveal himself to the world, which causes no shortage of concern and paranoia in both the novel and the TV show, but rather than wait the 50 years he does in the novel, only 15 years pass before the end of the first episode and the revelation of Karellen. Charles Dance, Tywin Lannister himself, plays Karellen. But it’s not exactly the Karellen from the novel, described as an immense intellect who knows the ins and outs of human psychology, history, and society, but here is corrected on his grammar by Stormgren and uses “My bad” as a way of endearing himself to us and Stormgren. It’s a bit of a dumbing down, but again, not unexpected for a TV miniseries. Is that condescending? Whatever. It’s true. Probably the thing I dreaded the most about this adaptation was how they were going to represent Karellen when he finally revealed himself. Any right-thinking reader of the novel should know what the surprise twist would be, but the miniseries doesn’t really lay the groundwork for this and it undercuts the surprise and the drama of the final moments of this episode. There’s a reason Karellen wants to wait for a new generation of humanity to be born after the influence of the Overlords has undermined and practically eliminated organized religion. The Overlords look like humanity’s eons-long obsession with horned, winged devils. By revealing themselves to a generation disconnected to religious superstitions, it allows them to move into the next phase of human development with far less anxiety and superstitious paranoia than necessary. The TV series, by cutting that 50 year timespan to 15 means that when Karellen walks down the gangplank of his spaceship holding hands with two little children, it’s still shocking and horrifying to the majority of the audience. It’s a change that I don’t care for; and one that I worry may undermine the verisimilitude of the next two episodes, causing the narrative to spiral out from the source material. Plus, the makeup effects aren’t all that impressive. The fact that the next installment is titled “The Deceivers” and prominently features a religious fanatic horrified by the demonic appearance of the Overlords, has me concerned for just where the adaptation is heading (not to mention the fact that the marketing focuses solely on the white characters). But to be fair, this is a pretty strong opening salvo. It establishes the themes and preoccupations of the novel, while effectively updating and expanding on the characters while remaining true to the purpose of its source material. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.