Based on the 1953 sci-fi novel by Arthur C. Clarke, also known for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Syfy's Childhood's End is worth watching. Yet by choosing to leave out some Clarke elements, also left out some brilliance.
Helmed by Nick Hurran and written by Matthew Graham, the three night six hour mini-series, or a tad over four hours without commercials, opens as a scene begins with astrophysicist Milo Rodricks (Osy Ikhile) on a post-apocalyptic Earth. He's speaking to a floating silver spherical device the size of a softball, recording both his image and words, as he speaks of being the last human being. Among the parting words, he says, "I got a favor to ask. Don't forget us. We may have many faults, but we don't deserve to be forgotten." Such is the opening of part one, titled, "The Overlords." All which gets your attention. Yet if one has read the book, like I have shortly after knowing about the mini-series debut, the scene gives away the goods way too early.
The next scene goes back to the year 2016 when the world is suddenly in the grip of fear and awe. Planes in flight all over the world are settling down safely to the earth as gently as feathers. All happening, as 40 massive ships appear over major cities around the world. Followed by, the sudden dramatic appearances of a deceased loved one, a husband, wife, child or another family relative, all over the world whom are speaking in their own native language, saying, "My name is Karellen. I'm the supervisor for Earth. There's no need to be afraid." All were not actually resurrected, just appearances the Overlord's had used, similar to the sci-fi film Contact, when the alien appears to SETI scientist Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) in the form of her late father.
The opening words were repeated by the departed loved ones, followed by the promise that war, famine, inequality, will all be things of the past. Suffering will end, replaced by happiness and safety. Human life will continue as before, minus one thing. Injustice. After all that, the soft spoken words concludes, "We're not conquerors. We're enablers. We're going to help you change. I know it's frightening, but you are no longer alone." Then all the appearances are gone.
Suddenly after, while military forces all over the world were still on alert as other citizens were still fearful, the beginnings of dramatic sociological change had commenced all over the world. Israeli's and Palestinians came together in peace, after the wall that separated Israel from the Gaza Strip came down. And North Korea and South Korea also united as a peaceful nation.
Be that as it may, whether one was for or against the arrival of the Overlords, all were curious as to why they haven't revealed themselves. Yet before even attempting to explain his rational to the masses, Karellen chooses among all the citizens of earth, Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel), a Missouri farmer, to be his spokesperson. In the book, the character is U.N. Secretary General Rikki Stormgren of Finland. Even so, the mini-series character adaptation still works.
Yet what doesn't work in the mini-series, is the time length in which the Overlords agree to finally reveal themselves after their arrival to the people of earth. In the mini-series, Karellen explains that to be fifteen years. In the book, it is fifty. And if you've ever read the book about what the Overlords actually look like, then you'll well know that the human race is going to need those extra thirty-five years. Which, is a testament to the British author's brilliance.
Forty to fifty years represents two generations of people, fifty more fully. Though fifteen years is an appreciable amount of time, it's still not enough. Not nearly, especially after one sees what the Overlords actually look like.
Near the end of part one, a great crowd gathers after fifteen years had passed. Excitement and suspense is in the air, before eventually the voice of Karellen, played by actor Charles Dance of HBO's Game of Thrones and the film The Imitation Game, asks that two children meet him after he walks down the arrival ramp. They do so, and gleefully at that. He then walks down to meet the children, both a boy and a girl who are not fearful in the slightest. And the world sees, before he says, "There's no need to be afraid."
And there he is, very tall, with deep red skin, leathery wings, a long barbed tail, large horns that curl back from his head, and hooves for feet. In the book, the Overlords are supposedly about nine feet tall. So when you have aliens all looking like the devil taller even than NBA legend seven footer Shaquille O'Neal, then you know the human race is gonna need those fifty years. In Clarke's book, during those fifty years, the human race had been acclimated during what's called the golden age of man. Basically, while experiencing what could be called utopia on earth, the Overlords planned for the psychological readjustment of the human race. So much so, that only a few people fainted amongst the large crowd in the book. Syfy's Childhood's End mini-series adaptation should have stuck to the fifty.
Furthermore, why were the Overlord's Rashaverak, Thanthalteresco, and Vindarten omitted from the mini-series? The book Childhood's End is not Tom Clancy size, as both the hardcover and paperback are barely over 200 pages. Only one other Overlord appears besides Karellen, one who greets Milo Rodricks, who had snuck on board their ship, to finally arrive at the Overlord planet in part three. Though in the book the Overlord's name is Vindarten, who then shows the astrophysicist, named Jan Rodricks in the book, the impressive museum housing all the artifacts and alien life the Overlords had collected during their stellar travels.
Of the three Overlord's besides Karellen in the book, both Rashaverak and Thanthalteresco, called simply 'The Inspector' by the inhabitants of New Athens because it was hard to say his name, would also have added brilliance to the mini-series. As powerful as the Overlord's are, the one area of human culture that was beyond even their comprehension, were those delving into the paranormal for recreation or otherwise. The couple George and Jean Greggson are invited to a celebrity party held by Rupert Boyce. Rashaverak, anthropologist of the Overlords, is also invited, for Boyce had already granted the alien to read his large volumes of paranormal books.
The party whines down hours later, leaving eight. Rashaverak is invited with the six around the table to partake in an Ouija board session. The alien declines, wishing to observe, as the wife of one of the six takes notes. Silly questions are first asked during the session, until it is the astrophysicist Jan Rodricks turn, who asks, "Which star is the Overlord's sun?" And that's when Rashaverak leaned forward, as the answer is eventually given as NGS 549672, causing Jean Greggson to faint. Obviously, the Overlord reported the finding to Karellen, for that sphere of activity posed a possible threat to the Overmind, a being of pure intelligence and energy, who will one day take all the world's children age ten or below to be assimilated. That which, the Overlord's, as midwives, had kept such knowledge from humanity, until it was too late.
In part one of the mini-series, Ricky Stormgren is abducted by Hugo Wainwright (Colm Meaney), a media magnate and head of The Freedom League, whose members were hostile to the Overlords from the start. After Stormgren tells of the many social benefits, Wainwright says, "I'd rather the world went down the toilet under our control than flourish under theirs."
Given the current state of concerns over geo-politics, climate change and terrorism, one can't judge too harshly the decision made by a weary humanity in Childhood's End, wanting to finally thrive as a race, than to strive. Yet not condoning his methods, Wainwright was right. Better to strive while holding onto humanity apart from the Overlords, than thrive yet later lose in the end.