Comic-Con: Syfy's 'Childhood's End' Proves There's No Easy Fix For Humanity's Problems

Six-hour adaptation of the Arthur C. Clarke novel will stay faithful to the book's ambition and climax, said screenwriter
SyFy

How do you bring a classic work of science fiction that's as much about grand ideas as plot, and replaces its main cast midway through the book, to the screen? As the cast and crew of Syfy's adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End told their San Diego Comic-Con audience Saturday morning, the key is in humanizing the subject.

"The story is about the lives of the human beings who are affected by a giant event," said director Nick Hurran of the story in which humanity is offered the chance to solve all its problems by an alien who claims to be Earth's administrator (Charles Dance). "As much as its about the giant event, it's really about the effect that has on a number of human beings. Is it 'be careful what you wish for?' There's a telling passage in the book that says, 'the only enemy of utopia is boredom.'"

"There's nothing appealing about utopia," screenwriter Matthew Graham added, expanding on that idea. "You don't want to make it a place for people to want to live in, and we're certainly not trying to sell you guys on the idea of utopia. We're trying to say that when you take away pain and suffering, it's actually kind of dull."

Julian McMahon, who plays the self-described "naive" billionaire Dr. Rupert Boyce, said that he's scared of the utopia created in the story — although part of that might be down to the name given to the aliens responsible. "The governing body in this piece is also called 'the Overlords,' and that just doesn't sit with me either," he said, laughing. "We might not be too comfortable with the idea of government these days, but 'Overlords' suggests we have no freedom at all."

The other actors who appeared in the panel seemed to agree with this anti-utopian worldview. "I realized my utopia would have a lot of what happens on the book on a grand scheme, but one person's utopia is not the same as another," Daisy Betts, who described her character Ellie as the heart of the show, said. "How can there be a prescribed utopia that makes everybody happy?"

Yael Stone, whose character Peretta rebels against the Overlords, admitted that while she might "sell part of [her] soul" if aliens offered the chance to repair the environment damage humans have created, suggested that it only makes sense for people to be suspicious of any quick fixes. "Ehen we look at our human history, whenever someone says, 'I have the answer, I can solve everything,' you have to ask what's going on," she said. "I'm very skeptical of someone who claims they have the answer."

Answering fan concerns about how true the series will stay to the original book, Graham said, that he "tried to preserve what was important about the book. If I left anything out, Nick would come up to me with the book, with passages underscored to say, 'what about this?' It's challenging to decide how to fix the world in 88 minutes. You have to show minutes and hope the audience fills in the rest. You cn't go into too much detail, otherwise it starts to turn the story into a fairy tale. That was the biggest challenge, and also the most fun."

Although no spoilers were given, staying true to the novel means that the utopia created comes with its own problems — and Curran and Graham confirmed that the ending of the novel is the end of the book, as final as that might sound. "The title of the series tells you all you need to know about the ending," Curran teased. All will be revealed when Childhood's End debuts on Syfy in December.

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