Tonight’s Viewing – Children of Dune (2003)

So, I thought I would stick this on as I’ve been rereading the book over the past few weeks (I listen to it while going to sleep so I have to start over and over again with the last part I can remember each time).

I remember much preferring this three part mini-series put together by the Sci-Fi channel in 2003 much more than I did their interpretation of the original book a few years before. Certain things about that version I could never really get over enough to really enjoy it. Alec Newman is a fine actor but I could never quite buy him as Paul Atreides. Until I see Timothee Chalamet’s rendition of the role, I will never shift Kyle Maclachlan from my vision of the character. There were other casting choices in that original mini-series that grated on me, and others that shone.

Barbara Kodetova as Chani, Karel Dobry as Liet Kynes and most specifically Julie Cox in the expanded role of Irulan are particular examples of where things went right. Where they went wrong in my opinion (and it is only that of course) were with PH Moriarty as Gurney Halleck, Saskia Reeves in the pivotal role of Lady Jessica and James Watson as Duncan Idaho. I know that there are many who laud this much more highly than David Lynch’s much debated vision from 1984, but that version brought much more of the epic scale of things to view, especially in the first half and at the very end as Shaddam’s chickens come home to roost. Newman’s version of Paul is far too much the sulky teenager at the outset and never captures the part as Maclachlan does.

Enough of Dune, however, as I came here to write about its sequel, which fuses in its three parts the second and third books of Frank Herbert’s original series. The first part joins Paul as he presides over the repercussions of a galaxy-wide jihad brought about in his name. He fights against plots against his rule while simultaneously struggling with the future. Newman puts on a much better show in this role and he grows and grows as the story unfolds, especially as he transitions in part two to the wandering character of The Preacher.

Part two also introduces us to his almost grown up children (much more grown up than in the novel), Leto and Ghanima, played by James McAvoy and Jessica Brooks. If I have a problem with this adaptation, it is the way that Ghanima’s character is sidelined somewhat. In the novel, she and Leto are treated as complete equals in every way and they themselves state that it could be either of them that ushers in the Golden Path. It is only a stroke of fate that means Leto is left to take on the mantle. Their confrontation with the laza tigers is changed completely and it leaves Ghanima stranded like a damsel while Leto takes on both the animals. In the book Ghanima kills one of them herself, despite having been injured. She is constantly shown in this TV version as being somehow secondary to Leto and that bugs me a little, even though the novel version of her admits that Leto is the stronger of them. That’s one quibble; I’ll get the others out of the way before I move on the positives, of which there are many.

Susan Sarandon was obviously thought of as something of a coup in terms of casting; a big name for the poster. She’s a big fan of the novels. Believe me, I love her but she just seems wrong as Wensicia. Steven Berkoff is generally very good as Stilgar but he’s responsible for one of the most cringeworthy line readings in history. “Send men to (breathe) summon (breathe) worms!” It’s complete with a fist action that actually made my sides hurt.

Now, on to the good. Where to start? This is just so much more enjoyable than the original mini-series. It moves along at a good pace despite its length and weaves together the various plot strands very well. There are some major successes in casting too. As I said, Newman makes a much more epic version of Paul, beaten down by his own legend. Julie Cox continues to shine as Irulan. Really, I can’t praise her or the writers enough for what they did for her character.

Beyond them, Alice Krige creates a great version of Jessica, at once sympathetic and powerful. Edward Atterton, who I can never quite separate from his brief but memorable role in Firefly, makes a far more believable Duncan Idaho. He has an intensity in the role that is every welcome at times.

There are many more cast members I could name who give a good account of themselves. Jessica Brooks does well as Ghanima but it’s a shame as I said that she is not given more to do and given more of an edge. In the mini-series she kills her Fremen betrayer outside the sietch with her crysknife while his lover looks on. In the book she kills him with a poison dart and saves her knife for the woman. I understand how things get changed but if Leto can be shown to have a ruthless edge, why not his sister?

Aside from her, I’d like to mention two more people. First, Greek-born actress Daniela Amavia plays a great Alia. She really captures the descent into madness and never quite loses the audience’s sympathy.

Lastly, James McAvoy. He absolutely crushes it as Leto II. He brings real gravitas to the role and is a joy to watch in every scene. I don’t quite understand why the FX department didn’t go the whole way with his sandtrout skin, settling for one arm instead. Presumably it was just so the audience would get to see him topless and it seems a misstep to me.

The effects in this mini-series stand up fairly well given when it was made and the budget. It is very nice to look at with some well-framed shots and an epic feel to it. The music by Emmy-nominated Brian Tyler goes from brilliant to, and I hate to be critical, something that reminded me of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

I would love to have seen what they would have made of book four of the series. I can’t imagine anyone will ever attempt to put that on screen, although stranger things have happened.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I really enjoyed watching this again and, as I said, it stands up pretty well today. I expect the trailer for the new film to be released tomorrow but I don’t know when I will get to see it. I’ll put a reaction up here when I do. In the meantime, if you enjoyed reading this, please feel free to check out my other related posts by following the links below.

Cheers,

Richard

Casting Dune – Vanity Fair First Look reaction

Tonight’s Viewing – Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Casting Dune – Logo reaction

5 thoughts on “Tonight’s Viewing – Children of Dune (2003)

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