Dec 17, 2015

Syfy's Overmind

Can Jennifer come out and play?
Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End is a science fiction classic (1953) that presents us with Clarke's vision of space aliens who are as far beyond we humans as we are beyond bacteria. In the previous millennium, Stanley Kubrick brought Clarke's vision to video with the widely-known 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, in 2015, Syfy has given us their TV mini-series adaptation of Childhood's End.

Imagine Greater Cash Flow
I imagine it was a difficult challenge for Syfy to present a version of Childhood's End that conforms to its television mi$$ion while also being true to Clarke's vision. Did they bend and magnify that vision or shatter it?

The End of the World.
I've previously blogged about the first two thirds of Syfy's mini-series and here (below) I look at the final one third. My chief concern is this: did Syfy capture Clarke's concept of aliens who have moved on to an existence that defies human understanding and imagination?

How can anyone possibly tell a story about space aliens who lead an existence that is beyond what we humans can imagine? Clarke, Kubrick and Syfy were forced to craft tales of enigmatic ambiguity while struggling to provide an audience with entertainment and edification.

Karellen's Last Picture Show.
Behold, the Overmind
Karellen and the "Overlords" serve as a near-human intermediate between a human audience and the unknowable Overmind. In the end, we get a brief peek at an alien planet: Jenjedda, in the "Carina star system" (apparently Miaplacidus is the star, 111 light-years away), a world with lotsa lava. Jenjedda is presented to viewers as a vision of the mythical hell.

We get to witness an alien world because Milo stays fresh in a futuristic alien zip-lock storage bag for the 50 year trip from Earth to Jenjedda.

Vindarten greets Milo near Jenjedda
Milo meets Vindarten when the spaceship arrives at Jenjedda and he gets to experience a brief period of contact with the Overmind via the laser-light-show portal that is maintained on Jenjedda. The Overmind is the collective consciousness of the universe, ever expanding and absorbing all worthy creatures such as we humans.

Staying just long enough on Jenjedda for the aliens to off-load the last of their collected bio-samples from Earth (including a giant squid) Milo and Vindarten quickly return to Earth, arriving just in time to see Earth sucked dry of all its last remaining "energy" by Jennifer.

It's Not OVERmind Until It's OVERmind
Return to Jenjedda: we'll have a hot time tonight.
Sadly, the "Overlords" are trapped in the material universe, unable to develop to the point where they can merge into the Overmind. For 100,000 years they have witnessed the ends of many different species and their home planets; humans and Earth are only the latest.

Viewers would like to know if the Overmind made sure that the "Overlords" could never merge into the collective consciousness of the universe or if maybe it was just some fluke of evolution that leaves them trapped in the physical universe, but in Hollywood nothing needs to be explained. I like to think that the "Overlords" are simply peaceful and kind and careful enough so that they can successfully create a space-faring civilization that does not destroy itself. They deserve to inherit the material universe of stars and galaxies. All the many "failure species" (such as we humans) need to be protected from self-destruction and quickly sucked into the Overmind ASAP.

Jenjedda's portal to the Overmind.
Syfy's adaptation of Childhood's End spent far too little time showing us Jenjedda and letting us know why the "Overlords" came to Earth, why they bother to visit worlds like Earth. Sadly, in Hollywood nothing need make sense: $pecial effect$, $cream$ and explo$ion$ are favored over thoughtful explorations.

Arthur Clarke showed Humanity being sucked into the Overmind, but going down while continuing our great struggle to explore, hypothesize and understand.

A great send-up.
Sci Fi Fail
Of course, there is no Overmind, but what should we humans expect if and when we have our First Contact with space aliens? The usual Hollywood answer to that question is: invaders, just like a Mongolian horde arriving to pillage Europe. Clarke had a more rational and a more interesting vision of what First Contact might be like.

Red number nuke day.

Syfy's adaptation blurred its projected image of Clarke's vision by showing us a dozen hapless characters who were simply lost and bumbling (or even atomic bombing) their way to the grave. Yes, Milo is on screen occasionally, doing some sort of Hollywoodesque science, but his lone voice is lost in the Syfy wilderness and he never really manages to "science the shit out of" the Overlords.

Milo experiences contact with the Overmind.
The mindless nihilism of Hollywood failed science fiction fans again. By failing to capture Clarke's vision of Humanity, Syfy's adaptation of Clarke's story turned a meaty science fiction classic into Hollywood-style $au$age.

Clarke's novel illustrates how humans use science to explore the universe. Yes, we can get ourselves into trouble. In 1953, the possibility of nuclear war was on Clarke's mind. Here in 2015, our attention has shifted to CO2 and climate change. In the future there will be additional challenges to our ingenuity and self-control. An alien Supervisor is not going to show up and save us from ourselves. Our childhood's end will arrive after we have all successfully snapped out of our dreaming fantasies, our myths and fantasies about there being a god-like force watching over us. Really: we have to grow up and take care of ourselves.

The City at the Edge of Forever.
In science fiction everything has to make sense. In the land of Syfy, everything just need$ to make money. When the "Overlords" arrive on Earth they quickly make war impossible, but then the "mayor" of New Athens still manages to keep a spare atomic bomb in his house so that he can go out with a bang rather than a whimper. Like most of what passes as science fiction within pop culture these days, Syfy's adaptation of Childhood's End is really $en$le$$ anti-science fiction. But it $ell$.

reading is fundamental
So, while I can't stop myself from feeling that Syfy's adaptation of Childhood's End could have been better, I do confess that I went into viewing this mini-series with much trepidation and I know that it could have turned out far worse. I hope people watch this television program and I hope that it leads more people to read Arthur Clarke's novel Childhood's End.

Tails high, brothers!
Related reading: SIHA 2015.

"this “Childhood’s End” is so wrapped up in perpetuating suspense that it’s not very thought-provoking" - Tim Grierson

Next: the end of science fiction?
Karellen sure knows how to get a rise out of the children. Maybe Syfy will
do a television series that follows Karellen on future assignments around the galaxy

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