I enjoyed the Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune miniseries, but was also frustrated by its weak acting and special effects. Fortunately, the Sci-Fi Channel’s Children of Dune miniseries improves upon its predecessor in every way. It manages to provide an effective distillation of Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.
As in the novels, the story takes place years after the original Dune, as Paul’s jihad spirals out of control. When Paul (Alec Newman) becomes blind and Chani dies during childbirth, he wanders out in the desert alone. His sister, Alia (Daniela Amavia), becomes regent of the empire. However, she grows increasingly paranoid as she accesses the memories of her ancestors. Meanwhile, Paul’s children, Leto II (James McAvoy) and Ghanima (Jessica Brooks), must prevent the empire from collapsing under its own weight.
Fortunately, unlike with the Dune miniseries, the acting is generally good, at times even great. Most of the actors from the first miniseries reprise their roles in this sequel. Newman, who never managed to capture Paul’s charisma in the first Dune, seems more at ease with the older character in Children of Dune. McAvoy and Brooks manage to give the characters a playful side, but never lose sight of the fact that their characters possess inhuman abilities. Unfortunately, Amavia is a bit of a mixed bag. She brings an endearing vulnerability to the character, but seems to struggle with Alia’s despotic side.
The special effects are also a significant improvement on the Dune miniseries. While some of the CGI scenes are primitive by today’s standards (notably the flyovers of Arrakeen), the desert scenes no longer look like fake soundstage backdrops. I wish Children of Dune had used more scale models instead of CGI, but I understand that the practical limitations of a TV budget. Ultimately, the effects never distract from the story.
The miniseries makes few alterations to plot of the novels, but the biggest change is that it insists on making the characters more relatable. As I’ve said before, Frank Herbert’s characters tend to be humorless, to the point appearing inhuman. In this adaptation, the characters are much more relatable and frequently laugh, cry, and otherwise emote. At times, the miniseries risks making the characters too sympathetic, particularly Irulan, who becomes a bit too motherly to Paul’s children. Overall though, Sci-Fi made the right call; Herbert’s characters wouldn’t have translated well on screen for modern audiences.
Children of Dune is not a perfect adaptation, but it remains fairly faithful to the novels and works as a piece of drama. Moreover, it’s probably the only adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune sequels we’ll ever get (unless Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune adaptation is successful enough to spawn sequels).
My journey through Dune continues next week with Frank Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune, a book that will never be adapted for film…