Childhood's End (Syfy Mini-Series)
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
It is a shame this book wasn't adapted sooner. Even though individual stories differ, a lot of the imagery conjured by the novel has shown up in quite a few other productions, including 1983's "V" Mini-Series (and remake), and Independence Day. To be fair, another film (and short story) came earlier (The Day the Earth Stood Still, based on "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates), but again, the stories verge quite a bit from the basic "aliens with mysterious agenda hover over Earth." Arthur C. Clarke ventured into more mystical thought in his book, and most of that made it into this production.
I'll rate this one 6/10. There are good things, several effective performances, but also changes that were a detriment. Even though this is just a three episode mini-series, it could have been shorter. Three segments makes sense of course, because the book was divided that way, but instead of totalling over 4 hours, it could have been done in 3 hours on one night, which would have made it about 2 hours, 15 minutes or so after deleting commercials. A major problem was a contraction of the timeline. In the novel, the time between the aliens' arrival and when they revealed their physical selves was 50 years. Here it was only 15 years, and the reveal came at the end of Part 1 rather than the beginning of 2. That did allow them to feature the person chosen to be Earth's liason with the aliens throughout the production, but too much of his story was not necessary, and parts of it made no sense anyway. The Rikki Stormgren from the novel was the Secretary-General of the U.N. Granted, more of an Everyman type makes sense, with Rickey Stormgren in the show being a humble farmer. Any politician would have too many pre-conceived notions, as well as political allegiances and agendas, to be an impartial representative of humanity.
As with The Man in the High Castle on Amazon, there is a lot of repetitive action, particularly with Stormgren. Every time he goes aboard the alien ship he is in a virtual reality room that recreates the honeymoon suite he shared with his late wife. Why Karellen (the main alien Overlord) could not see that situation was stressful for Stormgren is puzzling. Why not make it like his homestead, with his current fiance there for comfort instead? None of that was from the book, he was just in a featureless room cutoff from sight of Karellen. He needn't have been in Parts 2 & 3 at all, since the book's Stormgren was long dead by that time. No, they fabricated a health crisis for him instead. Wait, the aliens had brought great advances in medicine for the rest of the world, but they weren't willing, or able, to help the man they chose as their contact? Illogical. Something else I don't recall from the book, or at least not as prominently, is the strong religious backlash from several groups toward the aliens' plan. It's a bit heavy-handed, although not illogical.
The best performances are from Charles Dance as the alien Karellen, and Osy Ikhile as Milo Rodricks. Slight name change from the book, but he's still an astro-physicist obsessed with learning more about the aliens, especially about their homeworld. He does make it aboard one of their returning ships and learns of their purpose in coming to Earth, although the sequence of him being put into "suspended animation" was ludicrous. Most of the mystical nature of the aliens' mission is intact, including the ending, which I was actually surprised they didn't change. SPOILER ALERT: There won't be any sequels.
My recommendation is reserved. I doubt I'll want to watch it again, but some will like it more. It could have been worse, but most of Clarke's core ideas survived. I don't know if Syfy plans any repeats between now and March 1, when it will be released on disc, but at this time you can watch online at syfy.com, and you don't have to sign up with a cable/satellite account either. There's probably worse ways to spend your time.
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