Friday, February 12, 2016

Sci Fi Genre Gems: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958 Movie)

What Is It? This little B-Movie gem came out in 1958 and takes a somewhat realistic look at space travel as it chronicles the consequences of a failed mission to Mars. The first manned rocket crash-landed there, and only the commander survived, claiming that he and his crew were attacked by some sort of creature. A second ship arrives and takes the commander back with them, where Earth authorities plan to Court Martial him.  But the creature boards the ship before it leaves Mars and begins to kill off the ship’s crew members one by one.

Why It Stands Out: This one is a better than average B-Movie and provides us the basic template for movies like Alien and other films where some sort of creature runs amok on a ship picking off the crew.

I rediscovered this movie a few years ago on Netflix, and it's one that all fans of classic sci fi movies  should check out. I’m sure I saw this as a kid because I devoured this sort of thing in my younger years, but it did not stick in my brain so it must not have been part of the regular rotation on the old UHF channels like Them! and The Thing and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Despite its superficial similarities to Alien, Dan O’Bannon denies that It! provided any inspiration for his film (he claimed he wanted to do a darker version of the alien beach ball sequence from his own Dark Star), but it undeniably foreshadows that 1979 movie and you can see where it has been imitated (unintentionally or not) many times since in other genre films.

Apart from its influence and significance in film history, It! is a good, if not spectacular, piece of science fiction film-making. As with many genre films from that time, especially those featuring a monster of some sort, it is a B-Movie through and through. The special effects are rather cheesy, though judiciously used, and the monster himself probably ranks as one of the worst among the more important early genre films, giving us one of the least memorable of the rubber-costume, Halloween-mask baddies of that era (quick check: can you even picture this monster in your head if you have not seen the movie in the past year or so?). But surprisingly, despite its production limitations, It! delivers a halfway decent science fiction tale. The script came from Jerome Bixby who penned many science fiction short stories and also contributed several episodes to The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and several other genre TV shows (and he also wrote the script to one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies The Man from Earth). The movie handles space travel rather intelligently for the time and also gives a plausible explanation for the monster and why it’s such a vicious killer (though not necessarily for why it is so indestructible). On the down side, the acting is nominal, though not bad for a 50’s B-Movie, and the directing and pacing is plodding and slow. But for those like me who love cheesy old sci fi films like this, it’s worth catching. And as B-Movies go, I would rank this rather highly compared to its ilk, maybe 4 or 4 ½ out of 5 stars. But on the larger scale I would give it more like a 3 ½ score.

Don’t go into It! expecting top notch science fiction, and you won’t be disappointed. Just look at it as a decent enough early sci fi cheapie and you will better appreciate its merits. And it only runs 69 minutes, so it won’t take too much of your time to watch. If you already have Netflix streaming, then get it in your queue for when you have an hour to spare and want to revisit an enjoyable little genre film from an age past.

Interesting Facts: The monster was played by Ray "Crash" Corrigan, a frequent western actor who also appeared in many movies dressed in an ape costume including The Ape and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. It! was Corrigan's last film before he retired. The promo poster for the movie that showed up in many theaters when It! came out (click on image above for larger view) guaranteed $50,000 to the first person who could prove that "It was not on Mars now". Word is that NASA may be trying to claim that prize (that $50k from 1958 is worth about $400k today) to help fund the next Mars mission . . .

Buy It! The Terror from Beyond Space on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon.com:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sci Fi TV Quick Hits: The X-Files and Legend of Tomorrow Could be Better, Galavant Returns at Top Form, Second Chance Has Potential, and More

Quick Takes on some of the sci fi / fantasy TV shows currently airing.

The-X-Files-Revival


The X-Files (FOX): I have to admit that anticipation has been high for the revival of this show but that I found myself rather disappointed after the first episode. They tried to cram way too much in by getting people up to speed then introducing a convoluted new conspiracy that Mulder bought into way too easily. And of course Scully quickly slips back into the naysayer role despite all that she has already seen over the years. It doesn’t help that they reverted to copy and paste dialog a bit too much, but then it was borrowing from itself and likely trying to keep the familiar--and expected--pattern of the original show in place. Another problem the revival is facing is that so much of the territory it covered in its original run has become so ingrained in genre tropes to the extent that it has become a regular target for riffing and parody. That makes it hard to take the show seriously with such a straight-faced approach. Still, the episode showed some promise beyond its exposition-ramming stumbles and I plan on sticking with it for the remaining five episodes.

Legends of Tomorrow (CW): This is another highly anticipated show that disappointed somewhat with its first episode. It teams up heroes and villains that we have previously seen on Arrow and The Flash with time traveler Rip Hunter in the requisite quest to save humanity from impending doom. The setup was pretty much expected, so I can’t knock the show for that. And it definitely delivers on superhero action without the soap opera asides that drag Arrow and The Flash down to a crawl at times (the first episode at least). But apparently in order to save on budget they had to just copy and paste dialog and plot points from previous movies and television shows to cut costs on the writing staff. I have heard this described as Doctor Who meets Guardians of the Galaxy, and it comes uncomfortably close to ripping off those and more. I still consider it to be a ton of fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way, but it sure would be nice if not every line of dialog had a strong ring of "been there, done that" to it. Hopefully that will become less of an issue as the series progresses.

Galavant (ABC): The second season of this show finds Galavant and King Richard developing a bromance as they attempt to raise an army to win back Richard’s kingdom and also save Princess Isabella from having to marry her cousin. I’ve made it through six episodes of this season (two thirty minute episodes air back-to-back each week) and the first two had me rolling on the floor in laughter. The rest haven't been quite as high on the laugh-scale, but were still chuckle-inducing at times and overall enjoyable to watch. I’m not sure why more people aren’t tuning in for this one (it is at historically low ratings levels for a Big Four broadcast network show), especially considering that it has really hit its stride in its second season. But I am enjoying watching a show that is just fun to watch without a complicated story arc or dark, troubled characters, and that just wants to make me laugh.

Second Chance (FOX): This new entry on FOX is about a recently deceased, 70 year old former police officer who is brought back to life because he has specific DNA that can reverse the cancer in his benefactor. He is revived as a young man who happens to have exceptional strength and other physical abilities and he decides to go after the people who killed him and who may be a threat to his son (also a police officer). I went into this one with low expectations and found myself pleasantly surprised after the first two episodes. It looks like it is essentially headed toward the procedural with a twist territory, but it has enough of its own unique elements to keep it interesting. There is also plenty of potential to explore some of the moral dilemmas presented, though broadcast network tends to shy away from that sort of thing. And this show is already in trouble because of the low ratings it has pulled thus far, leading FOX to the decision to kick it to Fridays. That’s a shame, because this one has some potential if allowed to explore some of the concepts it has toyed with thus far.  I wouldn't call it a great show, but one that could work in that direction if given the chance.

the-magicians-syfyThe Magicians (Syfy): I finally got around to watching the first episode of this new entry from Syfy (which is available to view online at this link), and found that I rather enjoyed it. It follows a college student who has been having trouble coping with the real world, and as it turns out he has a talent for magic and is invited to join the secretive school Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy to develop his skills. This one has frequently been referred to as an adult version of Harry Potter, which is essentially correct if you acknowledge those “adults” are actually young twenty-somethings. It throws in the requisite sex to prove it is a show for grownups, but that doesn’t distract too much from the story which progresses quite well over the first episode. It sets up an interesting setting with characters who aren’t just genre cut-outs, and I will definitely be tuning in for the next few eps to see how it develops.

Beowulf (Esquire): This British made series originally looked like it might deliver an interesting spin on the Old English legend, but instead cries out that it wants to be Beowulf meets Game of Thrones. I can’t quite figure out if it is retelling the original tale or taking place after Beowulf faced off against Grendel and his mother (is that “troll” supposed to be the Big G or some other beast?). And the first episode delivers such a mess of a tale that I’m not sure I’m interested. I may sample one more episode to see how it progresses, but there’s a lot of other sci fi / fantasy to watch so it will be hard to work it in.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Audiobook Review: On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Book Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: It's slow at times, but still engaging as it delivers a tale of a group of survivors from World War III facing a certain end to the human race.

On the Beach is a post-nuclear war story from 1957 that follows some of the last people alive on Earth as they wait for the inevitable arrival of the radioactive fallout cloud that will result in their demise.  In the book, nuclear attacks had broken out among several of the world's nations, and Russia and China used bombs with cobalt casings in their strikes on each other.  This creates a deadly nuclear cloud that gets carried across the planet by global air currents. The book is set in Melbourne Australia which is one of the southern-most populated areas on the planet and among the last that will be impacted by the cloud.  They have received strange telegraph signals from the western United States and there is a theory that the radiation levels of the cloud will dissipate, so a nuclear powered submarine is sent north to investigate.  Meanwhile, the people in and around Melbourne try to live their lives knowing that only a few months may be left to them.

I've long been a fan of the World War III scenario story, but for some reason I never got around to reading this classic book (or seeing the movie version).  So I finally decided to rectify that with the audiobook version, and it delivers a grim yet engaging end of the world tale.  Imagine that the rest of the world has killed itself--Australia was not involved in the war--and you are awaiting the fallout of that conflict to take you as well.  That's basically the story that On the Beach gives us.  People waiting for an inevitable death with just the faintest of hopes that it may be averted.  Everybody goes about their business as if they will still be alive in another year, attending school, building gardens, planning families, but there is an undercurrent of futility in their actions.  And the submarine travels to the United States in hopes of finding survivors and some evidence that the fallout is dissipating, but all the while the clock keeps on ticking and the news remains grim.

A note that this book can be quite slow at times, especially when it focuses on the interpersonal lives of the survivors.  But I never found it boring or felt like I was slogging through it, though I did wish it would pick up the pace at times.  The people face their fate with a lack of panic and a very British stiff-upper-lip, which makes it feel stilted at times and doesn't necessarily fit with our perception of the Australians as self-sure mavericks, though that image has plenty of Hollywood taint to it.  And the point of the book really hits home at the end as the people make their final decisions on how to face the impending doom.  So even if you find yourself struggling midway through the book, stick with it because it delivers a gut-wrenching ending.  This one should be required reading for any and all politicians involved with military decisions.

The audiobook version is read by Simon Prebble who does an excellent job with the narration and with distinguishing the voices of the different characters.  He has a very British accent which reinforces the stiff-upper-lip tendency of many of the characters.  And again, that seems in contrast to what we expect from the Australian population.  But he does throw in a Crocodile Dundee accent on one of the characters, so I assume I am biased by Hollywood stereotypes in thinking everybody in the country talks that way.  Essentially, Prebble gives us an excellent reading of an excellent book that should be required reading for sci fi fans and budding politicians alike.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Anti-Blockbusters: Jerome Bixby's The Man From Earth

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

Jerome Bixby's The Man from EarthWould you believe me if I told you there is an excellent science fiction, nay speculative Fiction, movie out there with absolutely no special effects and which involves nothing more than people sitting around and talking? Well I’m telling you it’s true, and The Man from Earth is that movie.

The script for this film came from the late Jerome Bixby who dictated its final pages from his deathbed to his son Emerson Bixby. Some may recognize Jerome Bixby as a science fiction writer who penned many short stories in the genre and who also wrote several Star Trek: TOS episodes ("Requiem for Methuselah", "Day of the Dove", "By Any Other Name", "Mirror, Mirror"), had one of his short stories adapted into the infamous "It's a Good Life" Twilight Zone episode, and who co-wrote the story for The Fantastic Voyage. Thus, this movie has some pedigree from a veteran of the genre who knew how to write Science Fiction in the days when writers could not always rely on special effects to carry the story.

The premise for The Man from Earth is simple: a university professor, John Oldman, is departing from his job and he gathers several of his most trusted colleagues to tell them that he has lived since the days of Cro-Magnon man, 14,000 years past. Some are intrigued by his claim while others find it ludicrous, and the movie documents their conversations—and knock-down, drag-out arguments—over one night’s time. That’s it. No monsters, aliens, space travel, time machines, explosions, or any of the other standards that you would expect from a Science Fiction movie. Just talking and the back-and-forth exchange of ideas, theories, and speculations.

Sound like a snooze fest? That’s exactly what it’s not. The movie grabs you almost right away with its intriguing premise which you may be skeptical about at first, but that still draws you in. And that’s exactly the way the other characters in the movie feel, and they help propel the action forward as they mirror the viewer’s inner conflicts over John Oldman’s claims that he has lived over fourteen millennia. The top-notch cast aids in keeping the movie lively as well. There are several faces among the actors that should be familiar to science fiction and fantasy fans including William Katt (Ralph Hinkley from The Greatest American Hero), John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise), Tony Todd (a slew of supporting and guest appearances in movies and television, particularly in the Star Trek revivals), and Richard Riehle (also a frequent guest star, especially across several of the Star Trek shows, as well as Tom Smykowski from Office Space). The other characters at first go along with John’s “what-if” scenario because they believe they are indulging him as he works out the concept of a potential novel. As the night progresses, some start to become more invested in his assertion while others get impatient with his line of reasoning. Then, the movie throw’s us a curve (WARNING!!! Spoilers to follow).

After some questioning, John reveals that he was an important person from history, and his revelation and its implications turn this into a completely different movie. The Man from Earth starts out as a “what-if” discourse on the implications of a person who had lived through all of human history. The revelation, however, makes us rethink the past and perhaps even our very core beliefs. This curve ball is a bit jarring and may turn some viewers off from the movie. I have to admit that I had some difficulty digesting it at first. But the more I thought about it, this turn of events really raised the movie to the next level and caused it to resonate with me for several days and ponder its implications. And you can’t ask much more than that from a movie in the science fiction genre, or any genre for that matter.

This movie succeeds primarily with the ideas it puts forth which cause the viewer to think long and hard about their perception of history. And it does this by way of an excellent script and a superb cast, and without a special effects crew in site. Sure, there are plenty of blockbusters that will be assaulting the theaters in the coming months and especially this Summer season, and we will all go and enjoy the escapist entertainment they provide, exploding on the screens with the latest special effects technology. But if you want an excellent science fiction movie that lives and dies by its story, script, and actors then be sure to plop The Man from Earth into your DVD player after you return from the theater.

Buy The Man From Earth on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon.com:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Sci Fi TV Quck Hits: Colony Shows Promise, The Shannara Chronicles Has Too Much Young Angst, Angel from Hell Lacks Staying Power

Quick Takes on some of the sci fi / fantasy TV shows currently airing.

colony-usa-cancelledColony (USA): This upcoming series from Lost veterans Josh Holloway and Carlton Cuse debuts January 14th, but the pilot episode is available early online at this link.  The premise is that Earth has been occupied by aliens and they have cordoned off the cities in heavily patrolled "blocks".  In this new world, some people collaborate with the aliens (whom we never see in the first episode), some just try to live their lives, and others have formed a resistance.  The first episode takes a slowburn approach to unfolding the premise as we first realize people are living under some sort of martial law conditions and we eventually discover it is due to the alien occupation.  It also sets up an interesting series of events as Josh Holloway's Will Bowman--a former soldier and federal officer--is forced into collaborating with the human leaders working with the aliens.  It establishes plenty of dramatic potential with the moral dilemmas and tough choices its characters will have to face, but I was a little discouraged by its propensity toward copy-and-paste dialog and scenes.  I'm worried that this may be another show that could be great if given the freedom to explore its concepts, but which ends up getting hamstrung by a network unwilling to take chances.  USA hasn't been known for its edgy scripted programming, though Mr. Robot did push some boundaries some last year.  If Colony is allowed to do that as well, it could be great sci fi and I will stick with this one for now hoping it gets there.

The Shannara Chronicles (MTV):  Looking at the network that this show airs on, you might at first think that this one would deliver Real World meets Lord of the Rings.  And you know what?  You wouldn't be too far off the mark with that assumption.  Take a well-known fantasy book series and throw in a bunch of hormonally overactive, hot young actors talking and acting very much in line with the typical young adult leads these days from the likes The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Vampire Diaries (I'm not going to take the more obvious stab at MTV's own Teen Wolf because that one has exceeded expectations) and you have MTV's The Shannara Chronicles.  In its favor, the production values are first rate and it invokes Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films more than once (it is filmed in New Zealand just like those movies), so visually it is quite stunning.  But it definitely feels like derivative fantasy (to be fair, the novels pretty much are as well) and it has far too much copy-and-paste dialog.  I do like their take on Allanon as the show delivers quite a contrast from the Gandalf stand-in that he is in the books.  I know that is in part to keep as many hot, (mostly) young actors in the cast, but I think it works with this character.  And the world of Shannara has a lot of potential for interesting stories (it is the biggest strength of the books).  I will keep watching this one for a few more episodes, but I'm not sure how much more angst and posturing I can tolerate before I have had my fill of this network's twenty-something Game of Thrones wannabe.

angel-from-hell-cbs-cancelledAngel from Hell (CBS): The simple premise of this sitcom is that an obnoxious woman, named Amy, buts into the life of Dr. Allison Fuller claiming to be her guardian angel.  Allison obviously disregards these claims, but a series of awkward mishaps follows when she ignores Amy's prescient advise, and the uptight, workaholic doctor starts to have second thoughts.  I was mostly interested in this one because in the trailers Jane Lynch looked like she was having a ton of fun chewing the scenery as Amy.  And the first episode was decent enough, but I really wonder how much steam this odd couple / girl buddy comedy has.  It seems like kind of a one joke premise that would work well enough for a rom-com film, but not necessarily an ongoing sitcom.  And it has very little in the way of genre elements as it is left open whether Amy is really a supernatural being or just someone on the edge of her rocker (and the pic of Amy in the background when Allison was just a girl could have been photo-shopped and planted on her computer; remember that Amy claimed she was a hacker).  I may tune in for a few more episodes just to see how this one progresses, but I'm not ready to move it to my must-watch list.

Heroes Reborn (NBC):  I'm still trying to get caught up on this one (the entire first season up to the most current episode is still available on Hulu) and I am still enjoying it for the most part.  But then almost every episode has at least one or two moments that make me cringe and shake my head.  For example, Hiro doesn't want to change the timeline and is worried about "stepping on butterflies" if he and HRG go into the past.  But they go back specifically to stop the Odessa bombing!  That's a Mothra-sized butterfly in my book, guys!  Lapses like those were what always drove me crazy during the original series and they are still there in the revival.  It hasn't completely derailed for me yet, but it is still well short of the brilliance of the show's first season.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sci Fi TV Quick Hits: The Expanse Has Hit its Stride, Into the Badlands is Kicking Butt, and More

Quick Takes on some of the sci fi / fantasy TV shows currently airing.


The Expanse (Syfy):  I've seen the first four episodes of this show now (which are available for free online viewing), and I am really enjoying it so far.  Having read the first book in the James S.A. Corey Series Leviathan Awakes, I've noticed that the TV adaptation is definitely taking plenty of liberties with the source material which at first bothered me.  But that has become less of a distraction as I feel the series is starting to hit its stride.  I have also noticed comments in online discussions where viewers claim that the series can be confusing.  Not to worry, though, as I felt like the book was as well up to about this point.  A little spoilery warning that the story is about to take some unexpected turns in the upcoming episodes that may change the way people feel about the series.  But it was at that point that I really started to get into the story.  I also have to note that I love the casting on this show.  Thomas Jane gives a great, cynically snarling interpretation of Miller. Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait fit perfectly with the revised versions of their characters Naomi and Holden, and the latter is starting to finally turn into the leader we expected him to be.  Overall this series is delivering some first-rate space opera (and first rate special effects as well) and fans really should be tuning in for this one because I would like to see it stick around for a few more seasons.

Into the Badlands (AMC): After watching the first episode of this post-apocalyptic martial arts drama, I had my doubts.  Stylistically it was impressive and the fight scenes were great fun, but it seemed strung together by copy-and-paste dialog and genre tropes.  I stuck around for the second episode, though, and started to warm up to it and by the fourth (which is as far as I have watched thus far) I count myself as a fan.  The world-building and attention to stylistic detail has been a strength for the show and the characters have developed into more than just cardboard cut-outs.  Not to say that I would put this one in the same class as The Walking Dead or Daredevil, but it is doing enough to distinguish itself  and it is a ton of fun.  And Daniel Wu Sonny has developed beyond the standard grim-faced badass we saw in the first episode to a character conflicted by his loyalties and sense of duty.  AMC needs to go ahead and issue that second season renewal because this show has plenty of potential to explore.

Between (Netflix):  I finally got around to finishing up this Netflix original series about a town cordoned off after it is struck by a virus that kills off everybody over the age of twenty one.  It is definitely an interesting series for those who like virus outbreak stories, and while I wouldn't call it a great show it still managed to exceed expectations.  When I first learned about it, I thought it would deliver teen angst drama in an apocalyptic setting (especially with iCarly alum Jennette McCurdy in the cast)  But instead it went more the route of Lord of the Flies meets government conspiracy.  And it took an unexpectedly grim turn in the final episode of its six part first season.  Netflix has renewed this one for a second, six episode season which will bow at some point in 2016, and I will definitely be checking it out when it returns.

Ash vs. Evil Dead (Starz):  I didn't re-up my subscription to Starz (which lapsed after Torchwood: Miracle Day ended several years ago), so I had not had a chance to check out this show until I saw that the first episode is available for free online viewing.  So I gave that a look and mostly liked what I saw.  It's great to see Bruce Campbell (an all-time favorite actor of mine) back in the role of Ash, and he was definitely chewing the scenery throughout the episode.  The script wasn't quite as witty as I expected, and the episode seemed to plod along at times, but sometimes its takes a while for a show to get up to speed.  And from what I have heard from online reviews and discussions, it has hit its stride as it heads into its season finale this coming weekend.  Since I can subscribe to Starz through Amazon Prime (shameless plug), I will be doing that in the next month or so to binge the first season.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Television Review: Childhood's End

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: It sticks close to the spirit of the book while fleshing it out to deliver an excellent sci fi TV production.

Very early in Syfy's mini-series Childhood's End, based on the Arthur C. Clarke book, we see the iconic scene where the giant spaceships appear over many of Earth's major cities and some longtime fans of the genre might groan: "here we go again".  We have already seen that on television in the V mini-series from 1983 and then again in the 2009 revival and we also saw it in 1996 with the feature film Independence Day.  But then Clarke was the first to do it with his book back in 1953, so the mini-series adaptation can't be blamed for retreading and that sense of familiarity that you feel throughout the six-hour production comes in a large part because he introduced so many concepts that have since become science fiction tropes.

But give the mini-series credit for spinning the material in such a way that it does not feel like a hackneyed journey through sci fi cliches.  Instead, it updates this story about aliens arriving on Earth and wresting control from the humans that are on the verge of taking their destructive nature into space.  And while it takes plenty of liberties with the source material it still sticks close to the spirit and basic premise of the book.  The mini-series shortens the story from a multi-generational tale to a more compact timeframe, but that is done so that it plays better to a television audience and can maintain many of the same characters throughout its three night run. And since character development was not a strong point of Clarke's original book, the changes and merging of the lead players does not hamper the mini-series and perhaps makes it stronger.

I am not going into too many of the plot details because I believe Childhood's End is best experienced as spoiler free as possible, but I will give a warning that the first installment (the strongest of the three nights) sets up a story that does not play out quite the way you think it will.  That's the same in the book, though, because Clarke was interested in the bigger, more epic story that this eventually morphs into.  In my review of the audiobook, I made the following comments:

Quite a number of world shattering (literally) events occur in the novel, but Clarke never fully delves into all of the repercussions. Of course his aim is to tell the larger story of humanity’s next step in its cosmic evolution, so he is not as concerned with exploring the details of these various parts of his story. But there is more than one occasion in the book where I would have liked more instead of less.

I then went on to comment that a mini-series adaptation could "expand upon the original story and delve into some of the areas the Clarke just glossed over. The book is broken into three sections and I believe they could easily get a two hour segment or more out of each".  And that is exactly what this mini-series did as it filled in some of the blanks and fleshed out the story better.

Unfortunately, the last night of the mini-series was the weakest and may not have a given satisfactory explanation of the importance of the children.  I was following it okay because of my familiarity with the story, but from what I have heard from online discussions, those that did not read the book or did not remember it well were a little confused on that point.  And that final scene as the Overlords depart from the planet did not quite match up to the epic feel it had in the book when it tied everything together in a satisfying conclusion.  I don't believe that these aspects derailed the production, but I do think it could have wrapped up better.

And you should note that this mini-series was delivered on a budget, though they do make the best use of their money and I never felt it looked cheap.  But things like only seeing one Overlord until the very end (and then only a second one) were ways to keep costs down.  Still, I thought the production values were very good for television and it never lost its epic feel.

I should also note the first-rate acting job delivered by many of the main characters in the mini-series.  Mike Vogel (Under the Dome, Bates Motel) takes the lead role of Ricky Stormgren who is changed considerably from the character in the book, but I believe for the better.  The flashback sequences to his dead wife got a bit tired, though, and seemed almost pointless by the third night.  Then there is Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones) who should get Emmy consideration for his portrayal of Karellen, though will likely be ignored by that institution.  He plays the character as sympathetic and almost apologetic which ties well to the plight of the Overlords that we learn by the end of the story.

Unfortunately, Childhood's End did not deliver good ratings for Syfy, though I believe that is because many still reject the channel because it turned its back on its core audience when it rebranded in 2009.  The network is now trying to move back to its science fiction roots and this mini-series is a good example of that.  It is not designed to launch an ongoing series like the Battlestar: Galactica mini was, but I would like to see more adaptations of classic sci fi literature along these lines.  Childhood's End manages to respect the source material that it draws from while also updating it for a modern audience, and it delivers first-rate science fiction television.  But whether we see more along these lines from Syfy, especially taking into account the ratings, remains to be seen.

As an interesting final note, the 1983 V mini-series originated as an attempt to adapt Childhood's End, though it morphed into something very different by the time it made it to television.  There is a line very early in the Syfy production when the ships appear over the cities and one news person says "We're calling them the Visitors" which was a sly reference to what the aliens were originally called in V.  Colm Meaney's Wainwright immediately shuts that down, though, and says "No we're not" and types in the headline "The Overlords".  You can watch all three parts of Childhood's End online at Syfy's website at this link.