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Children of Dune, written by John Harrison from Dune Messiah and Children of Dune by Frank Herbert, directed by Greg Yaitanes, 2002, 266 min.

I've always enjoyed the story of Frank Herbert's immediate sequels to Dune, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. As I discuss in my reviews of those two books, I see Dune Messiah as a crucial sequel to the original story of Dune, while Children of Dune mirrors the action of the first book in an interesting way. The first book uses the heroic rite of passage structure to grab our interest, and the second book makes it clear just how dangerous a charismatic hero can be. It's a notable downer of a story, and Herbert shows us the cycle starting all over again in the next book. Add to that Herbert's busy and intellectual narrative style, and it's a recipe for an unfilmable series.

Two attempts have been made to film the first book, with varying degrees of success. Nearly twenty years passed after David Lynch's Dune before another try was made, the miniseries version (Frank Herbert's Dune). Neither the movie nor the miniseries are entirely successful. John Harrison, writer and director of the first miniseries, hatched a plan to film both Dune sequels as one miniseries, and he passed the directorial reins over to Greg Yaitanes. Children of Dune the miniseries works surprisingly well. In fact, it's likely my favourite of any of the various adaptations and prequels that have cropped up in the Dune universe after Herbert's death. In comparison to the first miniseries, the acting seems improved, the computer-generated effects, while obvious, support the story, and the music is interesting and appropriate. The show is divided into three parts, the first not titled separately, followed by "The Children" and "The Golden Path". I liked the first segment best.

Far in the future, Muad'dib (Paul Atreides) is the ruler of the known universe, and as such, faces many plots against his life and rule, none of which surprise him due to his perfect prescience. His younger sister Alia is a pre-born, a person who was conscious in the womb and hears the voices of every person in her ancestral line. She faces the danger of possession, i.e. one of those ancestors taking over her life. Muad'dib's marriage to Princess Irulan happened for state reasons at the end of Dune; he is in love with his concubine, Chani. The first segment of Children of Dune focuses on the attempts by Chani to give Muad'dib a child. Irulan, in jealousy, has been secretly giving Chani a contraceptive. In order to overcome this, Chani uses a Fremen remedy that involves massive doses of spice -- spice is a powerful narcotic that induces mental powers and allows interstellar travel, and is, not surprisingly, very expensive -- and this makes the resulting children pre-born in the same way as Alia. The first segment ends with some excellent plot twists and a sequence that borrows from the famous massacre in The Godfather.

The second and third segments take place later, with Muad'dib's children as teenagers -- these two segments are taken from Herbert's third Dune book, Children of Dune. Leto and Ghanima are twins, with the typical closeness of twins amplified to the extreme by their advanced mental capabilities. They are worried about their aunt, Alia, and what her apparent susceptibility to possession might mean for their own resistance to the same peril. Furthermore, all assassination attempts are now aimed at the twins; the second segment ends with a cliffhanger as the Leto and Ghanima face two enraged tigers. The story is further complicated by familiar Dune elements: Fremen (rebellious or otherwise), Bene Gesserit, Spacing Guild representatives, smugglers, the Qizrate, giant sandworms, spice, and so forth. Most of these elements are explained in passing, if at all, and anyone who has not read the books will be lost almost immediately.

Interestingly, after I watched this miniseries, I saw again how closely all of the invented social structure and struggle in Herbert's series comes from spice. Herbert set up the world of Dune on the scarcity of spice (among other things that were going on), and all kinds of weird political and religious elements grow out of this one thing. For example, in the second and third books and in this miniseries, the Qizrate are the religious police that make sure that the leadership of Alia is never questioned. It took one generation from the victory of Muad'dib to a repressive religious state (actually less, since Alia is his younger sister). Alia's secular power flows from her control of the spice, the threat to her power flows from the knowledge that the rebellious Fremen have of the spice, and so on.

Frankly, I don't know how much of this will be apparent to someone who is watching the miniseries without having read the books. And it might not matter all that much, because Children of Dune has one strong trait in its favour: some highly charismatic actors playing the children of the title. All of these layers of plot are anchored by the twins Leto and Ghanima. The roles are perfectly cast, with depth and charisma and a credible sense of these two youngsters as advanced beings (for the record, the actors are James McAvoy and Jessica Brooks). Sure, some of their visions and accompanying mental/physical powers are cheesy in the way that they are shown onscreen. But the production lucks out in its casting of these two young actors; few low-budget genre flicks have this calibre of acting in crucial roles.

Children of Dune is available in a 2-DVD set. This set has minimal extras but the miniseries speaks for itself. Recommended for fans of the two books.

Last modified: March 2, 2005

Copyright © 2005 by James Schellenberg (

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