When Clarke penned the rather slim volume, Childhood’s End back in 1953, I doubt he ever anticipated the impact it would have on the field nor that over 60 years later it would become a mini-series on SyFy. And, yes, he’d probably flinch at that rebranding. Coincidentally, in the tale it is also 60 years from the arrival of the aliens to the exposure of the great revelation in the story, though not to the end of the tale.
The (slightly renamed) three-parts of the 4.5 hour series are large enough to let the story breath without too many excisions. And while it emphasizes a lot of aspects for the general masses, it keeps a fairly intelligent air about it both scientifically and morally. Absent the latter, there really wouldn’t have been a point in making it. The creative team also managed to make it feel modern, while still retaining the core of the story.
Much like the book, the series skips through time to show the impact on humanity of the arrival of the Overlords. There are central characters that provide continuity, but each episode has its particular focus. While a lot of the plot is significantly altered in detail, the general plan and feeling are the same. In fact, the end is both better and worse than the book. Some aspects of the final conversation and action are actually better, but the meaning and reasons for the events are crisper in the book than were brought to screen.
Mike Vogel (Under the Dome) exceeded expectations for me as the reluctant human ambassador who bridges the gap between species. His counterpart, played by the the always solid Charles Dance (Dracula Untold), created a good duo. Dance provided a wonderful alieness by having a a bit of a custodial attitude, but also the emotional distance/ambiguity that left his actions feeling off from a human perspective.
Daisy Betts and Georgina Haig (Limitless) complicate Vogel’s life, pulling him in two directions, and yet somehow balancing well. While Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck), Osy Ikhile (In the Heart of the Sea), Ashley Zuckerman (The Code, Manhattan), and Hayley Magnus (The Dressmaker) took the story off in its ultimate directions. A fun, smaller role, by Colm Meaney added to the spin up of the tension in the opening acts.
One amusing aspect for me was seeing the Sun Theatre show up, as the series was shot, in part, in and around Melbourne. It did take me, personally, out of the story seeing this and other landmarks such as Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, but it also added a bit of personal fun. I also feel I must add that the disc menu was one of the worst designs I’ve ever seen. I love the idea of what they wanted to accomplish, but it was unintelligible and frustrating… a triumph of design over use. But neither of these aspect detracted from what was a rather entertaining series and well-done adaptation.