I just finished watching the Syfy adaptation of Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End and have some thoughts. I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible. The book is from the 1950’s and I encourage you to read it as it’s one of Clarke’s most successful novels and an excellent take on an alien invasion/ intervention.
What made the Syfy 3-part series compelling is that my memory of the original story is incredibly hazy. I’ve read most of the science fiction classics many years ago and haven’t revisited most of them since. I guess an imperfect memory makes it advantageous in experiencing a story again. When it comes to Childhood’s End, I had only a hazy idea of where the story might lead. I started watching it with some sense of relief in knowing it was a limited three-part show and not an attempt to expand it into a permanent series, as the original material wouldn’t be served by freezing the narrative at any particular point without making the story just backdrop for some sort of episodic storytelling. Kudos to Syfy for making this choice.
(Also credit to the network for developing more actual science fiction series as opposed to more ghost catchers and other reality show offering. I understand these programs are both cheap and popular, but they come with the price of a network losing its identity.)
What worked well with Childhood’s End? First, Charles Dance (Aliens 3, Game of Thrones) is stellar as Karellen, the representative of the Overlords. At first he’s restricted to off-camera voice work as the aliens are reluctant to reveal themselves. Later he’s weighed down with some pretty heavy makeup. But he delivers the strongest performance of the program throughout even though his screen time is limited. The rest of the cast does well enough too, mostly unknowns who occupy their characters and bring them believably to life. This is especially noteworthy as several roles are filled by children.
Also the show looks great. The effects are both serviceable and at times gorgeous. I’m a sucker for the alien ship showing up over various parts of the planet and I was happy with what Syfy gave me.
I also appreciate that the story moves along at a good pace, which in this case does become a two-edged sword. It never becomes bogged down with the unnecessary filler found in many weekly TV shows that stretch the meta-plot out as far as possible, but rather we jump forward in several instances in time as the original material dictates. The plot will keep you guessing and wanting to keep watching to find out what is going on, why the Overlords have come to Earth and are helping mankind, and what do these guys look like and why won’t they reveal themselves? But these forward jumps might prove jarring to anyone expecting a slower development of the affairs of alien contact with Earth.
It’s also in this last point that I will quibble. This will be vague as to not reveal anything, but the last act is quite hurried and will leave you asking questions as to what is happening, right up to the final scene. I guess showing what they did on screen was preferable to dreary exposition. The book covers in greater detail the possible history of the Overlords influence on Earth as well as the planet’s ultimate fate. The uninitiated viewer will no doubt be left with questions that can be answered by a quick search online. So the conclusion can feel rushed and incomplete, but that’s the price we often pay for an adaptation trying to fit too much material into too little time.
So if you’re looking for a quick (6 hour quick) competent adaptation that covers the main beats of the novel with decent acting and Charles Dance as the highlight, I recommend the Syfy series and feel it’s worth your time.
Here’s a link to Charles Dance getting made-up as Karellen: http://www.syfy.com/childhoodsend/videos/karellen-the-man-and-the-make-up