16 December 2015 | poof-imdb
Fails to convey novel's sense of wonder or improve on its deficiencies
In summary: the novel is a fun read for sf fans because of its concepts, but like much of sf it lacks any serious understanding of human nature or great philosophical issues. Still, if you like decent sf, then read the book and don't waste your time with this dumbed-down TV version. If on the other hand you want great literature and serious adult philosophical discussion about the good questions posed by this story then take a philosophy class. Because it will be a lot less boring than this movie.
As other reviewers have pointed out, this TV movie has some serious continuity errors and like most TV sf it's derivative. The real problem is however the story and how it's made worse in this TV re-imagining. Like most who are going to watch this, I've read Childhood's End (CE) several times.
Beginning with the bad of the novel, any honest appraisal of Clarke's work needs to recognize that the man was no Dostoevsky: his characterizations tend towards cardboard cutouts, bureaucrats and technocrats running about grand projects, giving us blurbs of Clarke's often pedantic thought dressed up as dialog. There are very few women and they're psychologically no different than the men, which may explain Clarke's own engineering failure with the fairer sex. All his characters read like aspects of one character, which is presumably Clarke. I don't imagine Clarke spent much time sitting about Paris cafes whilst empathetically trying to put himself in the minds and shoes of others. Even Stanley Weinbaum, Clarke's short-lived Golden Age contemporary, wrote better alien characters way back in the pulp era.
Turning to the good in the book, Clarke, like his inspiration Olaf Stapledon, had some grand ideas about vast spaces and deep time. The all-important and distinguishing trademark of sf, its sense of wonder, was to be found in spades in Clarke, including in this story. He was an ideas man. Clarke's engineering background made him obsessive about technical details, sometimes to the detriment of story telling, so for those of us who can't tolerate hand waving about warp drives, Clarke is the antidote. He related spending days crunching orbital calculations as part of authoring one of his early stories. Ideas and engineering details mattered more to Clarke than persons or even humanity. As long as one is OK with this limited concept of literature, his stories can be entertaining and engrossing, particularly in one's juvenile years.
Entertaining, that is, except in the hands of Syfy channel. The fact that Syfy's clunky Americanized adaptation of Clarke was rated above 8/10 and given embarrassingly gushing accolades without even the broadcasts being complete points to the vote rigging that is often complained about on IMDb. At best this is a 5/10. I'm inclined to give it a 4/10 because not only does it fail to capture what was worthwhile in the book, but it fails to improve things which were deficient in the book. Even more than in the novel, which was intellectually superficial but not an insult to the intelligence, characters in this TV adaptation behave in ways which insult one's intelligence. For example, enemies embrace just because aliens turn out to exist. Who would believe this nonsense given the captagon-fuelled head choppers we see running around in the Middle East? Clarke hated religion and that comes through clearly in his written work but still, a story has to present a religious character in a believable way. This one does not, which makes the already sophomoric religion-science debate even more boring than usual. For example, those in various religions (i.e. 80% of humanity) suddenly lose their faith because aliens show up. This despite the fact that many scientists and famous religious thinkers had and have no problem with the idea of alien life - CS Lewis and his popular science fiction is but one obvious example. This is just bad storytelling and characterization which limits the potential intellectual depth of a tale. It relies on tired stereotypes, and caters to an audience who can't conceptualize beyond the stereotypes of TV land.
Syfy's rewrite, even more than the book, lacks good characterization, adds a pointless love story and lacks any serious treatment of the profound philosophical and metaphysical questions raised by the basic plot. For example, is it benevolent - let alone loving - to intrude upon free will in the manner of the Overlords? Clarke treats this issue rather superficially - even Star Trek recognized the serious moral dilemma and premised the series on the Prime Directive. Syfy goes one worse: In the first two cases presented, aliens do just as worldly empires do: extra-judicial killing and Stalin-esque social engineering at gunpoint. Both are presented as great goods on the road to worldly Utopia. Did Syfy not get the memo on why Communism didn't work out and led to the death of millions? Yet we are to believe that murder can be good if it's done with better tech than ours. This is pretty stupid stuff. Apparently nobody in Syfy's script department has taken philosophy 101. I can forgive Clarke for being indifferent to philosophical nuance for he was an engineer, but if you're going to re-imagine his novel then respect it by trying to improve it and don't dumb it down.
Clarke best showed his intellectual poverty when considering the great metaphysical issues that have been the grist of mankind's greatest thinkers since ancient times. One gets the impression that neither Clarke nor Syfy's writers have ever seriously considered things like the mind-body problem's non-dualistic permutations, nor have they understood - let alone presented - the distinction between philosophical categories such as spirit and matter. It's sophomoric in the original novel and Syfy's dumbing-down takes it to the level of a high school debate. By nerds who got a C in history but an A in math and multimedia.