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While only 3-years separate the original Dune miniseries from this, the follow-up effort, there is little question that the production team involved came away with many lessons learned. This coupled to an era of quickly advancing visual technology and a less restrictive budget all result in a film that more than makes up for the fan complaints and shortcomings of the original.
Perhaps most surprising was the decision to bring on Greg Yaitanes as the project’s director while retaining John Harrison as teleplay writer and producer.
Despite a title that suggests a direct adaptation of the third book of the series, this miniseries does in fact span both the second and third novel of the “Dune Chronicles”. Only the second and third parts of the film have been adapted from the novel "Children of Dune"; the first part is based on "Dune Messiah".
The picture opens roughly 12-years after the events of the first Dune whereby the ancient prophecy has been fulfilled and the people of Arrakis are free of the tyrannical rule of the empire. And indeed, under the rule of the renowned Muad’dib, not only has freedom been restored but a very unlikely transformation of the scorched wasteland itself has begun to take place. Clouds now drift in the atmosphere of Dune and the once barren wasteland receives regular rain thanks to the Fremen’s ability to enact a long-standing plan.
However, crusades and a slightly lusher desert environment aren’t achievements enough to keep the Great Houses of the Empire from rumors of conspiracy, plotting and betrayal. Worse still, the new Arrakis climate isn’t sitting well with the resident sand worms, which just so happen to be the galaxy’s only known source of spice production.
While it would certainly be stretching it to insinuate that the original Dune, in any of its incarnations, is a bright & cheery tale, Children of Dune succeeds in making it look awfully ebullient in comparison. Considering the simple fact that this 267-minute miniseries actually spans two of Frank Herbert’s subsequent Dune novels, the acclaim of the material at hand need be divided between Harrison, Yaitanes and Frank Herbert himself fairly evenly. As such, I will do my best to critique the film of its own merit, with the brilliance of the prose itself belonging unequivocally to the material’s original author.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength then lies in the simple cautionary message that sometimes even the best intentions can cause undesired (and long lasting) repercussions. While the first installment of Dune tells of young Paul Atreides’ rise to idolism as the prophesized "Muad'dib", Children of Dune focuses on the inevitable unraveling of the purity of his undertaking. Political strife and feuding factions still litter the forefront of Arrakis (Dune) but the core of this section of the grand tale weave a message of the hopelessness in trying to undo the very ideals that united a people in the first section.
The film very nicely depicts the consequence of shaded fidelity to a once-pure belief through crusades on many worlds throughout the galaxy: Of the counterintuitive logic of spreading violence in the name of peace. Additionally, and perhaps the most powerful cue in the narrative, is arguably Muad'dib’s greatest contribution to his followers of all: his tireless efforts to crush the very legend of himself. Children of Dune operates, or better still thrives on the concept of what happens when the momentum of a culture begins to build in strength with such authority that even the very cause of the momentum is powerless to stand in its way.
Considering the first tale’s disposition of establishing Muad'dib as a sort of antihero, one then wonders if his efforts at undoing his legacy are what actually make him a true hero in the end.
Pacing of the miniseries is slightly brisker than that of the original and spans only two discs with its three parts (thanks to a much slimmer special-features set). In this case, special features are limited to a short featurette on the second disc: “Making Dune's Children: The VFX Revealed".
Somehow the quality of the acting seems to have matured exponentially in the three short years between miniseries releases as well. Critics of Alec Newman’s fairly cobby performance as Paul Atreides/ Muad'dib will most certainly retract any such claims upon witnessing his efforts in this, the follow up project. Truly it is difficult to imagine a more fitting actor for the role here.
Additionally a few casting changes had to be made between projects, perhaps the most notable of these coming in the form of Alice Krige coming in to play the role of Paul’s mother Jessica (for the pregnant Saskia Reeves). The interesting thing is that both actresses do a fantastic job with the character despite the fact that their portrayals are different enough to make forgetting the actor swap nearly impossible.
New to the cast is Daniela Amavia as Paul’s younger preborn sister Alia who does a magnificent job with the tortured character. The books could rightfully be accused of depicting a slightly more vigorous personality but Daniela’s portrayal is convincing enough to perhaps even overwrite some of the mental images inspired by the books alone.
Susan Sarandon also joins the fray as the conniving princess Wensicia Corrino (sister of Irulan Corrino who is once again portrayed brilliantly by Julie Cox). Finally Jessica brooks and James McAvoy nail the roles of Ghanima and Leto Atreides respectively.
The visuals, like every other aspect of the film, seem to have improved exponentially over the 2000 miniseries. The VFX featurette reveals that much of the CGI work this time around was done with blue screen techniques not unlike those implemented in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones; a big budget major motion picture that was in theaters roughly the same time. Perhaps most impressive is that both of these titles seem to hold up about equally well today visually; no small feat considering Children of Dune was done on a television budget (CG tigers excepted).
In all Children of Dune is quite a wonderful achievement and perhaps the first motion picture adaptation of the books truly worthy of Frank Herbert’s original vision. Some argue that it’s a bit too long winded in its narrative but a story this vast and complex demands nothing less. The best comparison would perhaps be the cliché “Dune is to science fiction what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy” in that if you suffer from a short attention span or happen to be in a rush, you are probably better suited to avoid the franchise altogether.
Invariably many will feel the need to ask which is superior (the 2000 miniseries or the 2003 follow up being reviewed here) to which the only proper response would be to think of the two miniseries as companions to one another. Yes Children of Dune ups the ante in most conceivable aspects of filmmaking, but at the same time cannot stand-alone. In other words, imagine Children of Dune as being an intricate skyscraper: there is no denying its beauty and engineering integrity but at the same time, though perhaps not as fancy or pretty, the foundation on which it stands upon is essential. As much as I hate comparing the 2000 miniseries to a basement, the truth is that these films have a slightly similar relationship and I have no trouble recommending both.
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