The Sci-Fi Channel, following the enormous, Emmy-winning success of their miniseries adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune in 2000, in 2003 produced a sequel miniseries entitled Children of Dune. This second series follows the events of both Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, with nearly all the actors from the first series reprising their roles.

Sci-Fi, however, greatly increased the budget for the second series, and it outshines the first in almost every single aspect. Gone are the cheesy outdoor sets and wild costumes, here are much more nuanced performances and elaborate location shoots (thanks digital technology!). As directed by Greg Yaitanes, written by John Harrison (who wrote and directed the first miniseries), and most especially as scored by Brian Tyler, nearly everything about this production is more lavish, expressive, detailed and most importantly entertaining. Which, since the first mini in this author's opinion was far better than David Lynch's Dune motion picture released in 1984, is saying quite a bit.

Herbert purists may get ticked off at some of the details that have been changed to bring these two books to the screen--Princess Irulan Corrino is no longer part of the conspiracy to assassinate Emperor Paul Muad'Dib Atreides, having been replaced by her older sister Princess Wensicia Corrino for example--and some of the special effects are lame--any living creature that's been rendered via CG is incredibly bad--but this should not in any way lessen Dune fans or the casual viewer's enjoyment of this six-hour tale of imperial court politics, religious ruminations, and the ultimate destiny of the species homo sapiens.

Of special note is the acting: Alec Newman must have attained some serious chops between 2000 and now, as his portrayal of Paul--a man hopelessly lost to both destiny and the jihad he has unleashed upon the entire universe--is superb, better than his initial outing in 2000, and completely blows away anything Kyle MacLachlan tried to do in Lynch's motion picture. Also incredible is the portrayal of Leto II by young talent James McAvoy, whose subtle potrayal of the future God Emperor of Dune is a marvel to watch.

In fact, this miniseries actually suffers from the big-name star power brought to it: much like the wooden performance of William Hurt as Duke Leto Atreides in the original mini, Susan Sarandon's performance as the evil Wensicia tends to be a bit too broad and hammy. Most of the other actors seem to be taking their nigh-shakespearean roles seriously, whereas Sarandon is just playing evil for evil's sake. However, her screen time is limited and does not detract in any way from the overall majesty of the story unfolding.

Lastly, the music this time 'round is far more powerful, more epic, more majestic in every conceivable way. Brian Tyler's score, most effectively used in lavish CG flyby shots of Dune's capital city Arrakeen and during a stunning montage (lifted straight from The Godfather) during which Chani (marvelously portrayed by the absolutely radiant Barbora Kodetová) gives birth to twins while Paul has his conspirators assassinated is hair-raising good stuff. I've always contended that the score to a filmed piece of entertainment should be every bit as much an actor as the actors themselves, and Tyler's score satisfies that in spades.

Casual viewers may not understand the many-layered plots and intrigues if they're complete newbs to Herbert's work, and it's strongly advised that the books be read, or at the very least the first miniseries be watched, before attempting to fully enjoy this highly-entertaining, lavishly produced miniseries. You don't often find a satisfying blend of both science fiction and high drama in one work, but Children of Dune does just that, and does it for the most part very well.

Here are the principal credits for the production, taken from IMDB:

Directed by 
Greg Yaitanes    
  
Writing credits (WGA) 
Frank Herbert (books Dune Messiah, Children of Dune)
John Harrison (teleplay)

Cast 
Alec Newman        ....  Paul Atreides 
Edward Atterton    ....  Duncan Idaho 
Ian McNeice        ....  Baron Vladimir Harkonnen 
Barbora Kodetová   ....  Chani 
Steven Berkoff     ....  Stilgar 
Daniela Amavia     ....  Princess Alia 
P.H. Moriarty      ....  Gurney Halleck 
James McAvoy       ....  Leto II 
Jessica Brooks     ....  Ghanima 
Jonathan Bruun     ....  Farad'N 
Rik Young          ....  Javid 
Martin McDougall   ....  Scytale 
Gee Williams       ....  Bijaz 
Alice Krige        ....  Lady Jessica 
Susan Sarandon     ....  Wensicia 
“You wish to be tested further?”
Leto laughed. “No. It's my turn to test you.”

-Children of Dune,
Book Three of the Dune Chronicles
by Frank Herbert
Prior Events:

“To know a thing well, know its limits.”

Dune began the story of Paul Atreides and his Golden Path. By becoming the Kwisatz Haderach he managed to overthrow the Harkonnen, put both the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild off balance, as well as assuming the role of Emperor of Known Space. All this came with a deadly title of Godhood that he refused to accept.

Then, in Dune Messiah, the religion of Paul Atreides (now Paul Muad'Dib) has become inescapable. Where Paul could once use his religion, now his religion uses him. In the end, it uses him to his death. After a betrayal by the Fremen, Paul is blinded. His prescience is all that guides him to the last parts he is to play along the Golden Path. When Chani, his consort and lover, produces the royal twins that destiny requires, he walks into the desert to die, once more a Fremen.

Plot Introduction:

"To know the future is to be trapped by it, but knowing there's a trap is the first step in evading it."

When Children of Dune opens it has been nine years since the events of Messiah. Children is the third book in Frank Herbert's science fiction world of Dune. And this story returns to it's Dune roots. Where Messiah separated itself from the ideas of Arrakis, Children returns us to that story. Leto II follows a path that is similar to his father's. The difference is that he knows that the Godhead must not just be symbolic. In order to save the Golden Path, there must be a living god.

A plot against Muad'Dib's children gives Leto the chance to escape from Alia's watchful gaze. With this freedom, Leto begins to finish his father's work. Thinking her brother dead, Ghanima begins plotting to kill Prince Farad'n of House Corrino. This necessary separation of brother and sister ends up being an important part of the Children of Dune story. With the separation becoming literal, Leto goes on his journey into the desert to find out why he has dreams where his skin is not his own.

Duncan Idaho, the ghola-mentat, has his own story in Children of Dune. He, married to Alia, is forced to watch as his wife slips further and further into the Bene Gesserit Abomination trap. While, at first, he has little role to play but husband, he turns into a central character about halfway through the book. The catalyst of this is when he catches her and Javid, a priest, in bed. Instead of killing Javid right then and there, Idaho lets his anger simmer. Thus, Alia still thinks him loyal to her, while he is free to act in the name of the Atreides family. For the second time, his loyalty to the Atreides banner proves to be his death.

Characters:

Leto II and Ghanima Atreides

“Growing older is to grow more wicked. ”

Muad'Dib's children are reaching the edges of puberty. Their bond is more than just brother and sister, as they have the same preborn abilities as their aunt, Alia. Ghanima and Leto have the ancestral memories of their mother and father. While they are family, they also fit into the niche of lovers. Unlike their aunt, neither of them have fallen into the Bene Gesserit Abomination of allowing their ancestors to control them.

The separation between Leto and Ghanima is one of ability. Leto's strength in prescience puts a gap in their relationship. He sees the same universe his father did, one of despair. His vision allows him to see where his father left off on the Golden Path, the key to humankind's salvation. Where Muad'Dib could not continue, Leto comes to the realization that he must at least attempt to. He must begin a journey parallel to his fathers. It is for this reason that he and Ghanima plot to escape their Aunt.

Ghanima, although she realizes that her and Leto must depart from their bond, struggles to escape the Golden Path even as she progresses along it. For her, Children of Dune is the struggle against that breaking. When she realizes that Leto may have died, she continues that fight. She wishes, like any innocent child, for that which she loves to never change. And all Leto's talk of the future makes her see that change is, indeed, coming.

Alia Atreides

“Enemies often appear as angels.”

Where Leto and Ghanima have escaped the terror of Abomination, Alia has succumb to it. Her preborn memories have managed to overtake her, in the form of the Harkonnen Baron Vladimir. She has become a cruel and merciless dictator. Her own grandchildren are nothing but pawns, in her eyes.

In Dune and Messiah we were able to pity her. Her pains were not of her own doing and so we were given the chance to feel sorry for her. Now, she has been given every opportunity to save herself. But she refused to take it. Thus, she is no longer pitied, but loathed for the destruction she has brought upon Arrakis. She is unable to recognize that Arrakis faces this destruction, not because of enemies, but because of her own doing.

Duncan Idaho

"I give you the desert chameleon."

Where flickers of Hayt still existed at the end of Dune Messiah, now only Duncan Idaho remains. Loyal to the Atreides name, to Alia, and the safety of Muad'dib's children. But as Alia slips further and further away from her husband and into herself, Duncan begins to undergo a strong character change.

In Dune and Messiah Duncan was not an intellectual character. Smart, yes, but he would rather solve problems with the knife than with his head. As Children of Dune progresses, he loses this sense of violence and becomes much more intelligent with his plans. Where the first half of the book was dedicated to the twins and their exploits, Duncan becomes pivotal in the second half. In fact, by the end, Duncan saved the Atreides name from the threat that is Alia so well that Leto needs only pick up the pieces afterwards.

Personal Review:

“A universe of surprises. That is what I pray for.”

Children of Dune returns the Dune Chronicles to its original roots. While Messiah separated dramatically from the first, Children comes back to that same story of accepting the religion mantle of destiny. The politics and religion that covered the second book are almost gone in Children. While this comes as a disappointment to those of us who loved Dune Messiah it also comes with a more powerful and compelling story.

As one reads, a sense of impending doom enshrouds the characters. At first, I didn't understand why I felt so nervous about Leto. Even as he succeeded, some part of me knew that accepting what his father could not would be a dreadful task. This was amplified by the nervousness in Ghanima at her brother's distance. But even as I worried for the characters, I understood that they worked towards the greater good and to the salvation of humankind.

Children of Dune, although it tells a slightly different story, is very similar to the original book. If you enjoyed Dune, then you'll probably enjoy Children. If you were turned off by the change brought with Dune Messiah, than you've got a better chance of enjoying this book. Either way, it's another amazing look into the Dune world. Not to mention, the Duncan Idaho storyline is a thing of beauty. My advice? Go grab this book. It's the last time that you'll see a lot of your old Dune friends.

Title: Children of Dune
Author: Frank Herbert
ISBN: 0-425-04075-5
Publisher: Berkley Books
Date Published: 1977
Length: 408 pages
Genre: Science Fiction

Props to Ouroboros for reminding me to talk about Duncan Idaho!

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