Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Childhood's End" Arthur C. Clarke's classic version of the apocalypse comes to the SyFy channel, and it's compelling


The big media event this week (before Star Wars and competing with the GOP) is the six-hour miniseries on SyFy of Arthur C. Clarke’s 1951 novel “Childhood’s End”, which I read while I was in the Army.  The series was developed by Matthew Graham and directed by Nick Hurran.



The time scale of the series seems more compressed than the book.  The three 2-hour episodes are called “The Overlords”, “The Deceivers”, and “The Children”.  In the book, the three parts are “The Earth and the Overlords”, “The Golden Age”, and “The Last Generation”.

The Overlords came in peace, but they definitely wanted something in return.  Human civilization's years were numbered. Enjoy Utopia only as long as it can last.

The appearance of the aliens in the openings scenes is quite well done and conveys what it might be like to live through a public alien landing.  Huge spaceships hand in the skies over many cities, and little pods come down and abduct people that the Overlords want to recruit.

In the first episode, the ambassador is a young married white male farmer, Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel).  When he’s abducted, he gets put up in what looks like a large hotel room inside the space ship, and talks to Karellen (Charles Dance) who is kept out of site until near the end of Episode 1.  Stormgren is articulate, and somehow manages to pull off organizing world government, ending inequality, ending wars.  Still, there is tension among the faithful, especially Christians, who never quite get around to forming a “Guilty Remnant”.  Karellen appears at the end of the first episode as a big red bird-like creature, almost like the devil.
Stormgren doesn’t seem to age during the next 19 years (the “Golden Age” where conformity is encouraged but creativity is not – a kind of dictatorship of the proletariat) , but is antsy as he learns he is sterile after an “accident”.  In the meantime, other characters have super-gifted kids, and many are invited to a big party in South Africa where a huge Ouija board for communicating with the Overlords has been set up.  Finally, there is a confrontation between Ricky and Karellen over his not being allowed to have children.  Karellen gets shot, but after almost dying seems to heal himself.  Ricky’s fears that the last generation may be coming are about to be confirmed.

The dialogue rather belittles modern ideas that having children in a private choice that should be viewed as a cultural afterthought, only for those prepared for the expense and risk. It could be seen as a commentary on ideas like “demographic winter”.

The series is engaging.  The photography is interesting, with the pod and spaceship concepts, and the scenery around the farm, making the farmhouse look small.  There is the feel of a Christopher Nolan film.  This might have been difficult to do in a film of two-hours length.


Update: Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2017

Part 3 follows the book as I remember it.  The "children" ascend (rather like the Rapture).  Karellen (a rather lovable satanic alien by the end) says "Your children are no longer yours."  Good! The birth rate increased during the Golden Age, and parents became suckers (the last adults are left to do what they want until the end.) Milo (Osy Ikhile) who overcame handicap as a boy with miracle healing and became an astro-physicist, makes a space journey to see the home planet of the Overlords, which is made to look like Venus.  In the book, as I recall, there were crowded cities but no living space on the ground.  I wanted to see more of this world.  It could have been construed as a little like the First Dominion in Clive Barker's "Imajica". This sort of material needs theatrical presentation and Imax-3D.

Ricky is given a chance to change into an alien and live with the Overlords and leave his wife, but refuses (in an overlong scene) and sickens and dies.

There is an island resort "New Athens", rather like a mixture of Atlantis Paradise Island and Orlando theme parks, where "culture" is kept -- until the residents blow it up when learning the final bad new (when Karellen interrupts a movie).

Jake (Ashkey Zukerman) is himself charismatic as the father of one of the first "gifted" kids Tom ( Laclan Roland-Kenn) and then the super goddess Jennifer.

At the end, all the children have assembled at Ayers Rock in Australia and ascend again. Milo returns in time to see the Earth blow up, as if torn open by a black hole.

The whole series had an annoying tendency to say "When ... returns" which is amateurish. Also the last episode seemed to have an unusually large amount of commercials and previews.

Toby Johnson has an op-ed "Karellen was a homosexual".  Indeed, Karellen seems indifferent to the emotions of family life and the investment "normal" humans have in procreation and lineage. Ricky and his wife are denied fertility, and Ricky gets a cancer that looks a lot like fulminant Kaposi's Sarcoma from the 1980s.  Of course, a lot is written about Arthur C. Clarke's own homosexuality, despite the fact that he lived in Sri Lanka where it was quite illegal to practice it.
 
However, Karellen does say he has sired 24 (bird-like) children, but they aren't his anymore.
 
The official site is here.  SyFy is the owner, but the production company seems to be Universal Pictures, with filming in Australia (and some in California).

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