The Sci-Fi Channel has poured vast amounts of money into the
follow up to the visually stunning Dune Mini-series.
Has the gamble paid off? Paul Dempsey looks at the sequel:
Children of Dune as it started its run on American
TV on the 16 March 2003...
Paul Muad'dib's rule as Emperor, the planet Arrakis has enjoyed
a renaissance. However, the revolution Muad'dib has inspired
has transformed into a brutal jihad and a conspiracy threatens
to rob Muad'dib of his throne and his life. The future of
all of humanity rests in the hands of Muad'dib's heirs - specifically
his son, Leto II, who is destined to become a force for sweeping
changes, both on Arrakis and in the universe at large.
TV is getting real good these days, and while this second
mini-series from Frank Herbert's epic saga might not be
The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, it is riveting
stuff. A direct follow on from 2000's Dune, and featuring
much of the same cast and production crew, it is also a step
forward scripting, acting, directing and, most immediately
apparent, production values. Strange thing about TV, that.
Unlike film, it often is better the second or third time around.
ratings success of the first series has allowed the producers
to throw a lot more money at the screen. Where the first series
was criticised for mixing some good CGI with obviously painted
backdrops, Children of Dune is state-of-the-art.
time around, only the ad breaks serve to remind that you are
not watching the DVD from a big budget Hollywood production.
The CGI delivers some amazing cityscapes, angry looking worms
and stunning action set-pieces. The 'real' sets are equally
good, richly detailed and wholly appropriate to the tale's
this eye candy would count for nought, however, if script,
direction and acting were not up to scratch. Herbert's work
is a right old jumble of intergalactic soap opera, reflections
on religion and commentary on the use of power, to pick out
just three strands.
Translating that from the page to the screen - not to mention
dealing with some of worst names in sci-fi history and the
author's fetish for aphorisms - is a huge task where everything
has to be in place.
Harrison, the man behind the original series as writer and
director, returns but this time handling only the script.
He has the form, and most of the time skilfully blends the
saga's second and third titles - Dune Messiah and Children.
It's also worth saying that what he has to work with is more
dramatically interesting than the essentially traditional
antagonists in the first novel.
realisation that he is trapped by his own ability to see the
future, not to mention the way salvation paves the way to
a bloodbath, makes part one a gripping opener. As the focus
shifts in parts two and three to Paul's children and the way
House Atreides starts to eat itself away from within, Harrison
keeps the potentially confusing plot clear and engaging. Yes,
there are a few wince-worthy lines, but almost all come from
in as director, Greg Yaitanes [pictured left] - a veteran
of the most recent take on The Invisible Man and cult
series Cleopatra 2525 - is much more ambitious with
his camera than Harrison and keeps the pace snappy. He gets
great help from cinematographer Arthur Reinhart and editor
Harry B Miller III. Mini-series often seem leisurely affairs,
but this makes its points, maintains the tension and moves
along at a real clip.
other big plus comes on the acting front. Alec Newman returns
as Muad'dib and while he was good in the original, this time
he really gets to show off his range. His career perhaps did
not take off after the first Dune, but this time around
the Glasgow-born actor should get ready for something big.
Any kind of messiah is a thankless role but he lends his performance
depth, humanity and intelligence.
second starmaking turn comes from James McAvoy, another Glaswegian,
as Leto II. There is a similar depth and also a brightness
to his performance that make his ultimate sacrifice all the
a trio of outstanding newcomer performances is Daniela Amavia
[pictured right] as the tragic Alia. When she's bad, she's
scary, but she never goes too far - and again keeps the human
element clear and upfront.
These three also succeed in standing out amid good company.
Susan Sarandon brings a touch of Hollywood as the villainous
Wensicia - although the role is often underwritten as a piece
of Bond villainy - as does Borg Queen Alice Krige, who takes
over from Saskia Reeves as Jessica. Ian McNeice contributes
an effective cameo as a returning Baron Harkonnen (if you
don't know why and how, we won't spoil it for you) and Steven
Berkoff gets to play the good guy for a change as Stilgar.
good about all these performances - indeed, this praise goes
right across the cast - is that they play it straight. Even
Berkoff, renowned for his 'theatricality', manages to be physical
and imposing without succumbing to temptation. Hamminess and
Herbert do not mix - just ask David Lynch.
The biggest challenge with this project was probably satisfying
the saga's fans and producing something that the unitiated
could follow, even if many nuances and ironies would be lost.
Watching this mini-series with a complete Dune virgin
and someone who usually hates sci-fi, my conclusion is that
they have pulled it off - in spades.
of Dune was co-produced and shown by The Sci-fi Channel
in the US, but it is unclear at this time whether the company's
European subsidiary holds first run rights as well. Hallmark
Entertainment, which also operates a Sky Digital channel,
is another of the co-producers, and there are rumours that
Sky One has picked up the series. Children of Dune
will be released on a Special Edition DVD in north America