Childhood’s End Miniseries Premieres Tonight


By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

Alien invasion stories are a dime a dozen. They have fascinated us for decades, prompting us to ask ourselves if there is life beyond Earth and if so, what would happen if contact were ever made with those from other worlds.

In 1953, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke sought to explore those possibilities with his novel Childhood’s End. It was an ambitious story, covering many years and many dark, thought-provoking topics. In it, a race of aliens descends upon Earth, creating a utopia – a world full of peace, but devoid of culture. These aliens, dubbed the Overlords, are led by an ambassador to Earth: Karellen. But despite his takeover, he will not show the people of Earth his appearance. But why? And what is the Overlords’ ultimate goal? What is the cost of their rule?

Once thought to be even too challenging to adapt for TV, especially in regards to how many effects would be needed, Syfy has stepped up to the plate and created a three-part miniseries premiering tonight. And while there are many special effects that have been computer generated (like spaceships), production used as many practical effects as possible, which stars Mike Vogel and Yael Stone said helped get them into the mindset of their characters and the setting.

“I know, Charles [Dance, who plays Karellen] had a monumental task in that suit acting and kind of pulling that off in all of that – in all of that makeup and garb. I didn’t want to see his suit or see, you know, even the concept of what they wanted to look like until we actually did the first [scene] – I think the first scene that he and I did together was in the hotel room which were essentially the last scenes of the movie, which were the ones that we did first, at least one of the last scenes for me with Charles. And I was shocked to turn around and to see this guy looking like he looked. That they made that choice to do that practically rather than adding all of this stuff in post [production] and I would say 95 percent of what was there was what you saw in person. And I was grateful for that.”

Stone said that before effects were put in, the actors had to imagine what they would look like and had to act to a piece of green gaffer’s tape. But she echoed Vogel’s thoughts regarding practical effects.

“I completely agree,” she said. “The difference between working with the piece of tape and working with Charles and also his amazing stunt double. It was incredible because we had both this incredible appearance which I can’t describe obviously but also have the size of the alien as well by using the stunt double we were able to actually relate to the creature in terms of our eye line, and our physical relationship to this being which was just as enormous, that seven foot imposing terrifying creature.”

Indeed, Karellen’s appearance is a secret, and one that will shock viewers when he is revealed. But until the time he is shown to both the audience and the characters in the show, Vogel’s character, Ricky, acts as an intermediary and spokesperson for Karellen to Earth.

That Ricky is a Missouri farmer is one of the changes made from the book to the miniseries adaptation. In the book, he is the Secretary General of the United Nations. But executive producer Matthew Graham thinks it’s more impactful for Karellen to speak through an everyman.

“We have to be updated in order to keep a sense of paranoia and uncertainty,” Graham said. “I think that reflects the age we’re in now where we’re a little bit less – we’re more distrustful of politicians and we’re certainly more aware of the cynicism that purveyed, and the problems that purveyed global politics. So, you know, I adopted a more kind of Old Testament approach really, you know, it’s a kind of God speaking to the farm boy rather than God – making him a king, rather than God speaking to the king.”

Another change is the time period in which the story takes place. The book took place in the time in which it was written and while it has now been updated to take place in today’s world, Vogel thinks our two times are not that different and now is the perfect time for this adaptation.

“The scary thing is to fast forward 60 years and we’re kind of still in the same place, which I think is all the more reason why the story needs to be told,” he said. “You know, the whole reason that these aliens come down to earth – to say, ‘You guys have had your shot, you screwed it up, that’s enough of that right there. It’s time to fix some things.’ And that we’re still having these conversations this far down the road, and that you can almost insert the same players into the story – the same international and global players in the story then as now, shows that for all the advancements that we have in technology and medicine and everything else as it comes to people, as it comes to us dealing with each other, sadly not much has changed. But, you know, I think I’m glad that it’s going to happen today because the ability that we have to reach such a global audience with a project to deal with some issues amongst humanity, which are global issues. So I think now is a great time to tell the story and I’m glad we’re able to be a part of doing that.”

Despite the changes, fans of the book should enjoy this adaptation. It maintains the book’s provocative themes and will keep viewers on the edge of their seats wondering what comes next. The effects are amazing and show another reason why it hasn’t been adapted for the screen until now – the technology wasn’t available to create this alien-controlled world. The acting stands out, too, with Vogel doing a lot of the heavy lifting, especially in the first of the three parts. Osy Ikhile also gives an impactful performance as an astrophysicist who doesn’t want science to die.

The opening scene of Childhood’s End is actually the end of the story. It features Ikhile in a desolate world resigned to his outcome. In doing so, it shows the feeling of inevitability of fate many of the characters experience and makes a bigger impression in portraying what the cost of a utopia may really be.

Childhood’s End premieres tonight on Syfy.

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