Yes, the photo above is from the reboot of the television show V, but it goes a long way in showing what could have been (and what eventually could be) if a Childhood’s End movie is ever made.
Childhood’s End was published in 1953 and was penned by science fiction master Arthur C. Clarke. In it enormous alien ships appear one day floating over the major cities of Earth. Sound familiar? It should. All wars and political squabbling end when the ‘Overlords’ tell Earth that they’ve assumed rule in order to save humanity from themselves, and to guide them to a new future. The Overlords eventually reveal themselves to be aliens that resemble demons/devils. Nine fee tall, with horned heads, leathery wings, and pointy tales. These Overlords spend their time preparing humanity for their transcendence to the Overmind which they serve, but are unable to join themselves. The Overmind is a vast, incorporeal intelligence made up of a large collection of former races that have also transcended physical form. Humanity’s turn is next. It’s time for their childhood to end.
The visual themes from Childhood’s End has been leveraged, borrowed, and blatantly ripped off for decades. V, Independence Day, District 9, To Serve Man (Twilight Zone), Skyline, Alien Nation, and many other teleplays that depict benevolent (but almost exclusively malevolent) aliens hovering over Earthly cities in giant motherships. But across all those decades no one has had the courage to actually create a film based on the true source material: Childhood’s End.
Director Abraham Polonsky optioned the book, and by doing so caused Stanley Kubrick to work with Clarke on developing his story The Sentinel in to 2001: A Space Odyssey instead of pursuing the Childhood’s End movie which he wanted to do first. Even today any development of the book seems to be forever hung up in limbo.
Over the years artists have created their own renditions of the mysterious and powerful Overlords. As you can see in the first gallery below Clarke’s Overlords have taken on many forms in the eyes of artists over the years (from left to right).
- Neal Adams’ Overlord concept art from the unproduced movie depicts them as demons sprung to life, with a form lifted directly from the pages of the novel and one which would instill fear in any human.
- Wayne Barlowe’s Overlord is much more alien and insect looking, with a bit of a clumsy, top heavy aesthetic.
- Paul Harmon’s vision of the Overlord Karellan is my favorite. It captures the demonic look that Clarke was projecting, but still depicts a sense of intelligence.
- Naenae Suwankiri’s depiction of the Overlord looks like something directly out of a Guillermo del Toro production, with long sweeping horns.
- And the last depiction (by an unknown artist) projects an Overlord that is (to me) a juxtaposition between a demon and an angel.
Various Overlord concepts:
Neal Adams is famous for his work at DC Comics and for creating many of the covers for the 1970s Ballantine editions of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novels. To this day I own all 24 Ballantine edition Tarzan novels from that era.
Neal also provided early concept art for a Childhood’s End movie that would never see the light of day (see gallery below). These concept paintings look to be hastily completed (when compared to the quality of other Neal Adams work), but they capture the look and feel of the story. Who can say why subpar movies are continually produced from subpar scifi books, while classic science fiction like Clarke’s Childhood’s End is ignored for sixty year?
Will we ever see a teleplay of Childhood’s End anytime soon? Hard to say, but there has to be at least one nerdy director out there who has it in the back of his/her mind as a labor of love they’d like to undertake. In the meantime one word sends shivers of fear, dread, and revulsion up my spine with regards to Childhood’s End: SyFy.
Earlier this year SyFy announced they were producing a mini-series of Clarke’s classic novel. This made me throw up a little in my mouth. It’s hard not to be a pessimist when talking about SyFy, but let’s just hope and pray that their adaption never sees the light of day . . . and that some day, someone with talent will option this book and do it the justice it deserves.
Neal Adams concept art from the never produced Childhood’s End film: