In anticipation of the SyFy channel’s adaptation of the classic Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End, I re-read it a couple weeks ago, so I’m pretty familiar with the story. I always get something different out of some stories each time, and while disturbing, it is still a good read.
The SyFy channel aired this week, their version of it, and frankly, it sucked. I had to change channels in the last 15 minutes of the second part (of three), it was so bad, and I refuse to watch the last part.
I don’t want to get into every single particular issue, but basically it feels like the author (or authors) of this travesty took a few key ideas, and rewrote the story completely. Clarke was not a religious man, but they made this story about religion. That’s my first objection. So, once I started writing I had a hard time stopping — the stuff below is long, probably a bit rambling, but … read at your own peril. Spoilers abound.
The novel is actually pretty neatly split into three parts, and when I read an interview on “Blaster” — the SyFy channel’s iOS app — with the author(s), they said they had to debate over how to split the story into three parts. SERIOUSLY? Did you actually READ it, or did you read a Cliff Notes version? (More under the cut …)
So, Monday night I was frustrated by the fact that they spent a good portion of the time doing back-story, including a backstory for the main character (who is only in the first part of the novel), Stormgren. Stormgren is the ambassador for humankind and the “Overlords” — the aliens who have arrived at Earth. In the novel, we actually start something like 50 years after the aliens arrive. In the TV show, we start with them arriving and deal with all that. The primary alien (Karellen, ably played by Charles Dance, who if nothing else has a great voice for this role) stays hidden.
Most of the first part of the book deals with Stormgren coming to terms with the fact that humans want to know what the Overlords look like, and dealing with a few issues. Basically by this time man has resolved that God doesn’t exist in any form, Earth is peaceful (wars go away), everyone has food, and you only have to work if you want to.
In the TV show, Stormgren spends more time agonizing over his deceased wife, and reconciling with his current lover (who becomes his wife), than he does anything else — including interacting with Karellen. Never mind the fact that the author felt that having the ambassador for humankind should be an “everyman” kind of character, rather than a skilled ambassador (in the novel he was the head of the UN or something like that). In order to make Stormgren comfy, Karellen produces the honeymoon suite that Stormgren and his wife used as the conference room on board the ship. WTF? One wall is all mirrors, and Karellen is on the other side. In the novel, it’s a very plain undecorated room with a screen (video screen) but the screen is black — no view of Karellen.
In the novel, the “Freedom League” or whatever it’s called does not have a dynamic news mogul driving it, but they are concerned with the fact that humanity’s destiny is no longer in their own hands. They get frustrated enough that they kidnap Stormgren, with demands that he present their petitions to the Overlords to just leave mankind alone. During the time of the kidnapping, Stormgren is treated fairly well, plays cards with his captors, etc. (Showing them to be normal people …) It takes a period of a week or so for Karellen to find Stormgren and deal with the league. This was done to destroy the league, by showing that they are impotent. This takes a good part of the novel (a chapter or more). In the show, it all happens in less than one day, they end up shooting Stormgren, but that’s when Karellen freezes them, and gets Stormgren out (the bullets are in classic Matrix-style “bullet time”). We never see what happens to the bullets — if they hit anyone, etc.
In both the novel and the show, Stormgren is convinced that he needs to see what the Overlords actually look like. In the novel he works with a scientist to come up with a way to capture an image of Karellen through the screen. In the show, he uses his cell phone up against the mirror (it’s a freaking mirror! he’s not going to get an image except of the phone!). Anyway, in either case (they at least got this right) he decides not to show the image that he got, although in the novel you are told he sees part of a barbed tail as Karellen was exiting the room. In the show — nothing.
In addition, they introduce a character who becomes more important in the second and third parts of the book — Milo, as child in a wheelchair, with a mother who sells illegal drugs. Where the f*** did that come from? Clarke never mentions anything along these lines. Worse, Milo gets shot by one of the people his mother is dealing with, and the aliens heal him (and heal him to the point that he can walk). WHY? I mean, Milo was never in a wheelchair in the novel, he doesn’t have a backstory really … and frankly they spent way too much time on this in the show. They also show a kindly old homeless man living in a car in a lot near Milo’s home … None of this advances the story in any way.
Karellen is waiting (in the novel) for enough time to pass for most religious zealots to have died out, and religion to die completely before showing himself. There is reason for that.
Time passes in the novel, and we get to the second section. This is so different in the TV show it is hard to watch. In the novel, enough time passes that religion is mostly forgotten, and earth is mostly a utopia — everyone has food, crime is gone, etc.
When Karellen finally reveals himself, looking very much like a classic “devil” or “satan” character (bat wings, barbed tail, cloven hoofed feet, horns …) there are no religious people nearly having heart-attacks as happens in the TV show. Stormgren isn’t mentioned any further in the novel either.
In the TV show, they show the Overlords apparently causing changes in two children — in the book, these same two children were the catalyst for changes that occur in the third part; but it was more of an evolutionary change, rather than the Overlords causing it. The Overlords are there to make sure this change can occur, not make it happen.
In the novel (in the second section), fairly early on, we establish Milo’s character as being a frustrated scientist interested in humans getting out into space (not gonna happen), which we get in the TV show. A few characters get combined here, and a whole subplot is tossed in the TV show.
Early in the second section of the novel, a party occurs by a big-name individual (this is where combining characters occurs) who, as a person of leisure as all of humanity is for the most part, has been collecting every book he can find on paranormal activities — this is an interesting and rather odd hobby. This is intriguing to the Overlords who send one of their kind to read and try to understand everything in this guy’s library (this is NOT Karellen). The party occurs, the parents of the children that we see in the TV show (the ones who spark the changes …) are invited. During the party the host pulls out an Ouji board, and the mother of the children is part of that. While they play with the board, one question gets asked that freaks everyone out because they get a fairly definitive answer: “Where is the homeworld of the Overlords?” Milo’s character memorizes the coordinates given (and checks it out). The Overlords are pretty sure that she’s (the mother) managed to tap into some energy somewhere that helped provide that information, but they aren’t exactly sure what or how. They keep an eye on this family from this point forward.
Everyone writes it off as a bit of silliness, people barely recall much of it (figuring they had too much to drink), but the Overlord who was there reports to Karellen … not a huge bit but …
In the meantime (this is still in the novel), the family (mentioned above) join a group of people who purchased an island and want to live a life that is not under the direct control of the Overlords. Things happen, their son (Tom/Tommie) gets endangered, rescued indirectly by the Overlords (a voice tells him where to go to be safe) and …
ALL of that is tossed in the TV show.
In addition, the Overlords want to have stuffed animals of every type on Earth to put in their museum. (Okay …) — In the show, they are sending live animals. Really? Milo works with a scientist (this character was combined with the one who held the party mentioned above in the show) to be placed in the sperm whale in a special container, and makes it to the Overlord’s home world inside the whale (again, this is in the novel). We get some stuff about relativity, and the fact that he realizes that if he makes it back to earth everyone he knows will be dead (even the Overlords ships can only move so fast …).
In the TV show, instead, we focus on a young, very religious woman, who befriends Stormgren’s wife … Stormgren has somehow been poisoned by something in the Overlords’ ship, and is dying of cancer (or something — when he shows signs of it, the veins in his arm stand out rather suddenly — not exactly normal for cancer).
In the show, the party happens in South Africa, the scientist who is having the party, is given an ouija-type board (and a special building/room attached to his complex) by the Overlords, but no explanation what to do with it. The mother of Tom is asked to meet Karellen at the party in this special room, and she becomes a channel (through her unborn child?) to send some signal to the Overlord’s home planet. ER? Milo is also at the party, and he has been studying the Overlord’s alphabet, and figures out that one symbol is some sort of star chart to their home planet. (Er?) During a confrontation toward the end of the second episode (and this is where I had to change channels) the young religious zealot shoots Karellen in the stomach, and one presumes (I don’t actually know) that he dies … WTF??? This never occurred in the novel.
I’m done with this, and am afraid to watch anything else SyFy does that is based on published works. Original content maybe, but …
I am seriously disappointed in the SyFy channel. They’ve proven to be very uneven over the years. They did a fantastic adaptation of Dune and Children of Dune, which gave me hope that they might do a good job here. However, they also did a crap version of Earthsea, and have focused on stupid shows like “Sharknado” … but they also gave us Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) which was excellent. I am saddened and appalled by how bad this adaptation was. I won’t be watching the third episode, I won’t be purchasing the DVDs, etc. Sorry guys, you blew it!