As faithful as possible of an adaptation highlighted by performances of its two leads. Children of Dune is the adaption fans have been clamoring for.
Children of Dune is the story of a young man’s rise to universal power on an embattled desert planet. It’s been twelve years since Paul Atreides’s (Alec Newman) desert-dwelling Jihad spread out across the universe to exterminate all that remained of the Old Imperial armies. As Atreides’ secret enemies grow in number. His only chance to protect the family’s supreme reign is in his new twins. Soon, the hope for planet Dune will be in the hands of his young son Leto II (James McAvoy). Heir to a power unimaginable.
Wisely split into 3 feature-length episodes we actually start the series with the book Dune Messiah. Then venture off into Children of Dune for the latter two episodes. This mini-series shines as a prime example as to how to make Frank Herbert’s novels accessible to a wider audience. Herbert’s books are notoriously dense and difficult to get through. Here writer John Harrison and director Greg Yaitanes have managed to navigate this expertly after doing so well in the Dune mini-series a few years prior.
Deciding to adapt both sequel books in Dune Messiah and then Children of Dune due to the obvious connections to the House of Atreides storyline. We can get a full arc for the family. It is bold as that was a long of content to get through and later on it will be clear whether it was a wise move. Interestingly though we spend more time with Alia than expected. Getting to witness her downfall due to her addiction to the spice. We see her breakdown and get a good basis as to why she is the way she is for the 3rd episode to truly hold more of an emotional impact. Harrison and Yaitanes, alter her story greatly. Due to time constraints and if anything improves on her finale scenes as she tries to overcome the powers controlling her.
Other than the first episode it has to be said how well written the other two episodes are. Sure there is a bit more melodrama than needed. But it all works towards a purpose or at least to the theme that the series was going with. The first mini-series tried to show the religious and spiritual side of this world and as a result of those actions in Dune, Children of Dune has to be more drama-filled to explore the fallout of Paul and House Harkonnens war.
Where the mini-series shines is in the casting of our twins. James McAvoy and Jessica Brooks carry an awful lot of the series on their backs and if they do not succeed as well as they do. Then the entire piece would have likely failed. Their chemistry and ability to slink into their roles bring some believability and much-needed charisma to Children of Dune. Some of the cast appear to be sleepwalking through their performances. With Brooks and McAvoy however, they are enthusiastic and engaging. Most importantly, you believe in their actions and emotions. You want to see where these twins take Arrakis. You sense that these are actors who can create well-rounded characters and they certainly do here.
Though it must be said no one is bad cast wise here, it is just those two shine the brightest and for a cast of mostly unknowns. They give solid to great performances in helping to enhance our two leads. Susan Sarandon’s appearance surprises and it looks as if she is lovely every moment of playing a villain. She is even given a bit more time than in the book. So either Sci Fi were making sure they got their moneys worth. Or her weight in the role was required more, I would tend to think the latter. Having these actors placed in a character-driven mini-series was essential and a shout out has to go to the casting director for that.
There are few issues with Children of Dune, but the most apparent is how thin on the ground the first episode is in comparison to the content-heavy second and third episode. It is understandable to have clean splits for narrative purposes given the structure of the series. However, there simply isn’t enough in the first episode to warrant its length. It would have been better placed as an extended prologue to the entire series so that we can have the dense Children of Dune novel spread out a little more to allow for more of the novel to be developed. Harrison perhaps falls foul of trying to have his cake and eating it here. The last two episodes appear rushed and some of the stories is oversimplified because of it.
This isn’t to say that the episodes do not work, they very much do. More that there seems to be something missing that made the previous mini-series work so well. The filmmakers were more focused on making the drama easier to consume whereas a bit more complexity would have been required to get the full scope of the story. It is a shame as throughout you believe something is missing and that is even if you have not already read the books.
Also, for those audiences watching this after the Dune mini-series. It is important to see Paul again. So a firmer connection can be made (especially as it was 3 years later) to him and thus the children. It would be bizarre to completely skip Paul’s arc and jump in with his children. As mentioned, perhaps that needed to be a standalone piece. Or even just truncated a bit more so we see the teenage children at the tail end of the first episode.
The weakest aspect of Children of Dune is the fact that it doesn’t have the budget to fulfil all that it wants to. You can see want was intended visually, but sadly it is obvious the budget wasn’t there to visualise it. So when we should be seeing great details and effects akin to the first series, these are diluted in quality. CGI backgrounds are as obvious as they come. Scenes are lit to hide details of the backgrounds as much as possible. It is a shame, but understandable as this wasn’t a network that could throw a great deal of money towards the production. That said it won an Emmy for visual effects, so what the hell do I know! Maybe in modern eyes, it just hasn’t aged well and for TV back then it was as good as you were going to get.
Regardless, Children of Dune is a monumental success. The difficulty in trying to juggle everything in those two books to get what we eventually have cannot be overstated. It would have been a difficult task, but given the runtime, he had available to him. Harrison has done as well as he could have here. By bringing characters into the stories earlier than intended he brings a fresh look at these books and for the most part, it works very well.
For fans of the novels, there is a lot to love here and there is clear evidence that while there are some deviations from the novels. Harrison has tried to be as faithful as possible, but with so much information in those tomes. He had to pick and choose his battles. The love the entire filmmaking team have for these books shows on the screen as a lot of care and attention is given to get as much right as possible. If there are changes or alterations that they mean something to their version of the story. Both Harrison and the experienced Yaitanes succeed with this adaption. With a strong if unknown cast they help Children of Dune become a marvellous dive into Frank Herbert’s world.
Signature Entertainment presents Children of Dune on Blu-ray and DVD 16th November.
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