Saturday, December 17, 2016

[Review] Childhood's End

The three part mini series is not exactly an adaptation. They treated the source material fairly freely, but that is not necessary a bad thing. Clarke wrote his novel in the middle of Cold War (1958), so there was a divided world - there was Communist World and Democratic World. I remember reading it around the time I read Orwell's 1984, when I was in my mid-teens. Both books are horrific depictions, painting a bleak image of humanity. But somehow, after stripping Childhood's End of any "signs of time" and leaving the bare story, it appears clear how abysmally depressing it really is.

The series did a great thing by transporting the action to our times, to 2016. First 20 minutes of the first episode are simply a pure art in cinematography - the wide, aerial shots, the slow motion adding tension to unnerving, eerie spectacle happening right in front of the eyes of everyone. It starts with problems of the modern world - poverty, hunger, violence, oppression and avoidable death. Then it shifts to shapes that slowly, majestically burn through clouds all over the entire globe.

They came in peace and offered peace, as well as the cure to almost every illness. In the novel, their presence lasts 30 years before the final part of their plan is unraveled. Here we have 15 years gap, which makes sense, considering lack of any major communist blocks, unlike in the book. Of course, there are people who don't see the Overlords as peace-loving aliens who only care for the well-being of all humanity, so the resistance movement is forming. Twice in the entire first episode we hear somebody mentioning pigs - and the chilling way they go to the slaughterhouse, in complete oblivion to what's really going on. There is also Nazi origin mentioned as a comparison in one of the resistance videos - and the way it held sway over people who trusted the ideology "that brought stability and peace". At least it's what the people believed at the very beginning. Everyone knows how it ended.

Karellen and other, mostly unseen beings of his kind, are deeply interested in various human cultures, he collects samples, he learned the languages. As his intermediary with humanity he chose one farmer. And when he finally appears, showing the true shape of his species, the humanity gasps in sheer horror. Except for the children, who welcome the shape as something familiar.
This element is woven into the narrative as something very subtle, almost a meaningless element. We might think it's because children perceive the surroundings without a bias and since the Karellen's true form has one image in the adults' minds, the kids are without such predisposition. I don't want to spoil the shock to those who didn't read or watch, but I guarantee, everyone will have one, only one connotation with the Karellen's shape.

Children are not unbiased, though. They are conditioned, but we don't know about that just now. They smile not because they have no connotation and thus no fear; they smile because they recognize the beings who have sway over their will and mind. They will evolve into obedient beings. Children are just pipes for Karellen's race true purpose and they're expendable. Just like anyone.
Like Karellen said to Milo - the stars are not for humans. And his race sees to that so the humanity will never reach them.

I read many dumb comments bashing this little series (and maybe a book too) from people who have the ability to read everything only in one way - literally. Something like metaphor is lost on them, and thinking in symbolism or allegories proves to be an exercise breaking their feeble brains. No, Karellen's race is not religious, they are absolutely not driven by any such sentiment. They are totalitarian and devoid of spiritual touch, even Karellen who developed deep bond with humanity.

It is one of the most chilling stories ever written, as for me. Because there is no "after", there is no last minute saving plan, no survivor and not even a trace of human presence in the Universe. The Earth explodes, obliterating every trace of our thoughts, our fears and our dreams. Humanity's childhood really ended, in the most literal sense of the word - there was no adulthood.
I do believe this book thwarted me in some irreparable way.
It's not a "feel-good" science fiction. It doesn't leave us uplifted and happy. It might be a problem for some people, therefore I warn everyone.

In technical aspects SyFy outdid itself - the series is beautiful, very detail oriented and simply stunning on screen. The pace reflects the pace in the novel - perhaps slow and uneventful for some, but knowing how it ends - a painful spectacle of a desperate effort doomed to oblivion. It's not gung-ho meeting with aliens like in so many movies/series done before. The novel is from 1958, therefore Karellen's true form expresses both the red color of the Communism and the inhabitants of Hell. The meeting is slow, revealing the true purpose of the Overlords.
Worth mentioning is also the score to this 3-part miniseries. It's hauntingly beautiful, juxtaposing somehow the beauty of the music with what's going on on the screen - even such beauty will disappear.

Highly recommended.