Karellan - Charles Dance
Ricky Stormgren - Mike Vogel
Wainwright - Colm Meaney
Ellie Stormgren - Daisy Betts
Milo Rodricks - Osy Ikhile
Rupert Boyce - Julian McMahon BR>
OTHER ALIEN INVASION SERIES
Huge spaceships appear over the cities of the world as aliens arrive. Instead of trying to wipe humanity out, however, they come in peace and choose a farmer to be their liaison to a world that is not yet ready to see them. Thus, the job of creating a utopia on Earth begins.
CHILDHOOD'S END seems an odd choice for screen adaptation because whilst it is thematically ambitious, the narrative structure of the source novel makes it seem a difficult proposition. This opening episode is going to be the easiest of the three as it is fairly linear, covering the arrival of the Overlords, the reaction on Earth to them and the personal struggle of their chosen emissary to deal with his own personal loss as well as the immensity of the task that lies ahead. It also helps that much of it has already been filmed before as the arrival of the motherships was 'homaged' (for which read 'stolen wholesale') by INDEPENDENCE DAY. It seems only fair, therefore, that this miniseries goes and steals it back wholesale, the scenes from the movie and the TV show being interchangeable.
The aliens remain unseen until the final moment of this opening episode and so it was a good move to use the distinctive voice of Charles Dance as that of lead, in fact only, alien. He is able to do a lot with some pretty ropey dialogue. The same cannot be said of Mike Vogel (UNDER THE DOME) as the farmer who is selected to be the aliens' emissary for reasons that are never quite explained satisfactorily, beyond the fact that people like him.
The special effects work is pretty good for a TV budget, particular high points being the alien vessel dissecting Ricky's house when it comes to pick him up. The giant spaceships are also impressive, though they have to steer clear of the huge disc design in the book to avoid claims of copying INDEPENDENCE DAY.
Less impressive is the crowd that gathers outside Ricky's farmhouse. Considering that he is suddenly the most important man in the world and the conduit for a benevolent alien race, the thirty or so people who hang around in tents outside his farm is a fairly apathetic response. The resistance movement against the new Overlords of Earth is also pretty pathetic, taking one man hostage and that only because the aliens want to out them on worldwide TV to crush any popular support they maintained.
The relationship between Karellan and his new emissary is quite nicely handled, using a happy scene from his past that spectacularly backfires when the wife it features recently died. In fact, using the images of the dead to create trust would certainly have been a major miscalculation by the aliens, being more creepy than anything else.
The big reveal that forms the climax of the episode (leaping forward from shortly after the arrival to the completion of the utopia project) also fails to impress, mainly because what was a daring and interesting move in a novel from the 60s is a bit of a damp squib after all the aliens that we have seen in recent years.Top
Ricky learns that the Overlords miscalculated when they first met and exposed him to radiation that is going to kill him. Religious groups continue to have issues with the aliens' appearance and Karellan seems to have a specific interest in the second-born child of a certain family.
This is the bridging part of the story that takes it from the epochal arrival of the Overlords to the epochal events yet to come. As a result, it is something of a disappointment, being rather dull. Ricky struggles with his sense of betrayal at being told he is going to die, a family struggles with the fact that their daughter is a bit different and one religious freak decides that Karellan must die because he looks like the Devil. The vast majority of this doesn't work at all. Karellan has a batch of something that will repair Ricky's damage, but he is forced to use it to save Karellan. This means a slow death, but nobody actually thinks to discuss mixing up another batch. What it that all about?
This episode also has to deal with an artist bemoaning the death of art under the Overlords (when everyone has time enough to do creative stuff? Really?), a scientist bemoaning the death of science (That makes more sense since why research what the aliens can already give you) and a project leader who wants to use all of the aliens' gifts for his own self-aggrandisement (people will be people, after all). None of these are depicted as anything more that stereotypes and the acting is not of a high enough quality to overcome the lack of depth in the writing.
Charles Dance gets more screen time, but manages mainly to look like uncomfortable under all the makeup.Top
A scientist risks his life to see the alien homeworld and the truth about the children is finally revealed.
This is where the thematic strengths of the novel overwhelm the story in Arthur C Clarke's source novel and so it proves to be the case in the television adapatation. Milo the scientist stows away on the alien spaceship, giving up his relationship in the process. In the novel, he stowed away in the belly of a whale (Jonah reference ahoy) statue, but here he is freezepacked as part of a wholesale relocation of the planet's animal life before the planet is destroyed by a catastrophic, but inevitable, evolutionary jump. The evolving children need to take the energy of the planet to fuel this leap and so the Earth dies in order that its children can ascend to the heavens and join the Overmind. Exactly why the apparently all-powerful aliens can't relocate the humans to wherever the animals went is a question that was never really covered.
And what exactly is going on with the children at the end is horribly confusing. Having read the novel, the extra information can be added in, but the adaptation doesn't do it for newcomers to the story. All that happens is that the children fly up on wires to Africa where their leader (who never grows any older despite decades having passed) destroys the world. In the meantime, Milo gets to accidentally shatter his space-frozen girlfriend (how convenient that she died in a fashion that preserved her for his return). This scene was probably meant to be powerful and slightly horrific, but it just ended up being perplexing absurd.
And then, as the planet is dying, Milo asks for some music to be preserved to remind everyone that mankind existed. Erm, won't the presence of the children in the Overmind take care of that? Didn't the aliens take all of our culture as well as all of the animals from the planet? If not, why not?
Arthur C Clarke's book contains some huge ideas in an episodic and weak narrative structure. Those ideas can be examined at some length. Clarke was always an ideas writer rather than a character one and the adaptation fails to deal with that basic weakness for all of its playing with the storyline. Too much of the three episodes fails to get to the heart of Clarke's book and after a reasonably solid start, the each subsequent episode slips into banality and even silliness, which is an unfortunate and ignominious fate for what is a seminal text in the history of science fiction literature. Top
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