Throwback Thursday: Children of Dune
Children of Dune (2003) mini-series review
Set years after the events of Frank Herbert’s Dune, this Sci-Fi original miniseries follows Paul Atreides’ twins as the changing political landscape of Arrakis begins to threaten the existence of the peace. The series directly follows the events of the 2000 miniseries Dune, which was written and directed by John Harrison, who returns to adapt Herbet’s Dune Messiah and Children of Dune for this series. So having now talked about Lynch’s Dune and Harrison’s Dune, and with Villeneuve’s Dune opening tonight, let’s talk about Greg Yaitanes’s Children of Dune!
Now I have not read Children of Dune (or Dune Messiah), but I have been told that the books are all downhill after the first one. That said the ratings for miniseries Children of Dune are higher than that of the miniseries Dune. I however liked it less almost exclusively because of the writing. So here’s the takeaway: If you want a well written Dune adaptation to help you get the hang of the story for this weekend, watch the Miniseries from 2000. It’s on YouTube. Can’t get enough Dune? Watch Children of Dune. But if you don’t want more or the budget just hurt the execution too much, well Children of Dune isn’t a step up…
The Dune miniseries had a budget of around $20 million, which you would think means the sequel received a budget increase. Sadly it didn’t, and visual effects for television shows weren’t much better three years later. So much like Harrison’s Dune, Children of Dune does suffer from being a made-for-tv series visually speaking. The effects are never great and the cinematography tries its best only when James McAvoy is on screen. No it’s not terrible shot, but I think Harrison’s Dune looked better, or at least as good.
Now Harrison’s Dune works well because the writing is great! The series takes four and a half hours to tell the story of Herbet’s novel, and that is a very comfortable runtime for the material. All the characters have room to grow and develop naturally (mostly), and the political intrigue turned prophetic fantasy really drives the story! I have it on good authority that Yaitanes’s Children of Dune follows the books just as well… Which isn’t a good thing.
The story itself is a mess. There are aspects that are genuinely interesting of course! I loved the story about Leto and Ghanima, and for a while Irulan, Alia, and Muad’Dib (Paul) were all interesting characters! But after a while we start to realize that the story is stuck in the mud spinning its wheels. In an attempt to get free, we are thrown very lazy tropes like bringing dead characters back, dramatic reveals that have no payoff, death fake-outs, returning characters that don’t matter- and not much else. At a point the only interesting story IS the titular Children, who begin to represent the two parts of the Dune lore that keeps the first story so balanced!
Should I blame the show for adapting the books so accurately? Yes, it’s called an adaptation. If something doesn’t work, change it. Alia was a really interesting character until she started to be manipulated by a literal ghost. Simply put, I think Herbert ran out of ideas after Messiah, which is where Harrison should have stepped in and given the story some more to go with. For the record I don’t blame Yaitanes either. Except for the CGI mouse thing. Ew. The music is a step up though! Good job- Brian Tyler? The Fast and Furious composer? Wow.
For a while the performances carried this series. Alec Newman returns as Paul and does a fine job, as do returning cast members Julie Cox and Steven Berkoff. Lady Jessica is recast as Alice Krige, who simply put is no Saskia Reeves. Daniela Amavia does an incredible job as Alia! until she’s being haunted… Susan Sarandon joins the cast as the Emperor’s eldest daughter, even though she is only four years younger than Giancarlo Giannini… Anyway I have no doubt that Oscar winner Susan Sarandon is great. She’s just very bad in this series. Somewhere between writing, direction, and performance, her character was executed like she was in the 1984 film. Anyway yeah, so Jessica Brooks and very young James McAvoy carry this series. McAvoy especially (because he is given more to do) really gets the material, offering a performance so good that I started to grow impatient every time he wasn’t on screen. Bravo James, bravo.
So like I said, the series isn’t great. I wish it were better, but it’s not. If you watched the 2000 miniseries, this is a worthy follow-up just for the sake of finishing the story. But if you don’t feel the need to spend another four and a half hours with Dune, you don’t need to really. Or just watch the first episode (which follows Dune Messiah). Some of the characters and performances do stand out, and the series is not without its compelling storylines! I really enjoyed seeing the continuing political intrigue! But there’s a point where this series simply nosedives and the only thing standing is James McAvoy. To little fault of the showrunners, it’s a very mediocre miniseries. 5/10. (But honestly one I didn’t regret watching!)
So Children of Dune? Have you seen it? What did you think? And which adaptation of Herbet’s novels is your favorite? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and check out our reviews for Dune (1984) and Dune (2000) on our website! Thanks for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince