Syfy’s new three-part adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic SF novel gets off to a strong start, with a very different way of bringing hovering spaceships onto the screen. After both V (which gets a nice side acknowledgement) and Independence Day in which there’s no question that the aliens’ arrival is Not A Good Thing, Matthew Graham’s script and its onscreen realisation puts the viewer firmly on the side of those who are inquisitive about what’s happening rather than those who are belligerent. It’s not the only time that some of the screen tropes are turned on their head – the “kidnapping” of the humans’ liaison with the Overlords uses every trick in the book about alien abduction… before ending up with them having a civilized conversation in what seems to be a fancy hotel suite.
Graham emulates Nigel Kneale in telling his story through the ordinary people whose lives are affected by the arrival of the Overlords, rather than concentrating on the military or the politicians. We understand the stress that being Overlord liaison puts on the relationship between Ricky the “Blue Collar Prophet” and his fiancée; we see how the Overlords’ ban on weapons affects the life of young Milo who is not just healed of a bullet wound but of the illness that has confined him to a wheelchair. These strands help to make the unlikelier elements more acceptable: the disappearance of the wall in Gaza etc.
In terms of the production, there are some impressive visuals, and Charlie Clouser’s soundtrack (which has been released digitally by Lakeshore Records and is out on CD early in the new year) aids with the mood without spending its time telling the viewer what they should be feeling.
The jump forward in time is reduced from 50 years to 15 (which helps with keeping the same cast through the series – as does a throwaway line about aging not happening as quickly now), but is one of the few notes that doesn’t really ring true. Overlord Karellian is concerned that humanity will not be able to cope with his true appearance (and when we see Charles Dance in all his prosthetic glory at the end of the episode, we understand why), but surely less than one generation isn’t enough time…
Verdict: An impressive start. 8/10