Frank Herbert’s series of Dune novels has not done too well in respect of being adapted for the screen. Through the 1970s various aborted attempts sought to bring it to cinemas. Then in the 1980s David Lynch actually got a film version made but not only did it stall at box offices; it remains a divisive movie among fans, especially of the book. In 2000, the Sci-Fi network (as it was then) broadcast a fairly well received mini-series based on Dune. It followed it up with this sequel in 2003, which adapts the second and third books in the series.
It’s borderline impenetrable from the start, even for those who know the books. Cramming in a looooooot of plot Children of Dune is very talky and at the same time any action sequences seem to clip by too briefly. Characters are frequently indistinguishable from each other and it’s patience testing in its mood and broad-strokes atmosphere attempts. It does not help that the acting ranges from very respectable to jarringly awkward. Happily, things start to improve in the second part with even those dodgy performers having settled into their roles (amazingly, Susan Sarandon, we mean you too here). It folds in the book series' themes around religion, failing empires and the idea that even the best leaders are inherently flawed and tries to make it at least moderately entertaining.
The production is nearly 15 years old and though grand in visuals at the time, it’s testament to how far CGI has come that the effects now appear so dated. It’s balanced out with some physical sets that save this from being just a nostalgia piece for those who caught it at the time. If nothing else it suggests that if any of the subsequent attempts to start a cinematic franchise for Herbert’s creation ever come to fruition, it should be spectacular stuff. This Blu-ray release comes courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment and the picture is fine (it was shot in widescreen at the time, which helps) for a TV product of the time. The extras are a contemporary 14-minute making of on VFX, storyboards with commentary and another visual effects featurette, so nothing new and nothing that in-depth or essential.
Children is as pretentious as sci-fi TV entertainment gets, and what works on the written page doesn’t always transfer to the screen. Trying to condense Herbert’s mythology and two books totalling hundreds of pages into a coherent and compelling narrative is a hard job. It’s probably reasonable to say then that rather than fans of the books, and considering those inessential extras, this will appeal to those who enjoyed the original mini-series only.
CHILDREN OF DUNE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GREG YAITANES / SCREENPLAY: JOHN HARRISON / STARRING: JAMES MCAVOY, ALEC NEWMAN, JULIE COX, SUSAN SARANDON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW