I read the original Arthur C. Clarke book when I was a kid and while I thought it was okay, I never bought into the way mankind acted under the Overlords and I still don’t. People just don’t behave that way, they don’t embrace what is fundamentally slavery, no matter what good comes of it, and the idea that human culture would stagnate that quickly just bugs me.
But hey, it’s probably been 30 years since I read the book, might as well give the Syfy version a shot, right? So let’s take a look at Childhood’s End, a 6-hour mini-series and see how it fares.
When the Overlords arrive on Earth, promising to end all war, hunger, disease, etc., mankind stupidly shrugs and says why the hell not. The Overlords are mysterious, led by someone calling themselves Karellen, but they keep their word, solving the world’s problems, but also clamping down on human culture, science and innovation. Within a few years, science has ground to a standstill and people are essentially mindless sheep, with few exceptions. Scientist Milo Rodericks, being out of a job, decides to keep pursuing the mystery of the Overlords as things get progressively worse.
First off, the series is gorgeous, the effects are top notch, the acting is almost universally great, I cannot complain at all about the technical aspects. There are some minor changes from the book, but a lot of that has to do with localizing the series (the original had Jan Rodericks, a Swiss scientist instead of Milo Rodericks, an American scientist) or making it fit into a shorter form televised serial. I think the shorter form does hurt the story somewhat, they just jump into the future here and there and you rarely ever know when it’s going to happen and sometimes they didn’t make it clear.
I understand that when the book was written in the 50s, it was post-WWII, they had a different vision of the future and Clarke played on that. That is no longer the world we live in and it just doesn’t work for me. In fact, it didn’t work, as I said, in the late 70s/early 80s when I read the book. To try to use that mindset for a modern retelling really makes no sense. I get that they wanted to be respectful of the original source material, but that’s like trying to remake George Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon”. You just can’t do it. Therefore, a lot of the things in the series, no matter how closely it was to the book, just made no sense.
And in the end, Milo, the last human on a planet about to be destroyed, begs the Overlords to save something from Earth. Um… did he forget all of the animals that the Overlords have been transporting to their planet? You know, the ones you hitched a ride with all the way to their home planet? I think they already did!
Sorry, while there was a lot of good in the series, it just didn’t work for me. I was happy with the effects, the acting, all of the technical aspects, but other than nostalgia for hard-core old-school sci-fi literary fans, there was really no way they could make this work and stay close to the original source material. It just isn’t a story that works today. Beyond being far too old-school, nothing is all that surprising anymore, mostly because Clarke’s work is so seminal in the world of sci-fi, that it’s all been done a million times since. We know the tropes. We can see all the twists and turns coming a mile away. It’s not from lack of trying, it’s from lack of originality and that’s really what hurt the show.