Review: “Children of Dune”

The first “Dune” mini-series may have lacked the sheer scope of David Lynch’s wacky feature film version but as a piece of television it was an effective and very entertaining show with admittedly a few soft spots. In the end however it proved a far more solid adaptation of Frank Herbert’s vision and the whole the six hour odyssey ran pretty well overall.

Now thanks to its success comes the inevitable sequel – a smoother and faster vehicle, but lacking the class, scope and distinction that drove its predecessor. Like the first mini-series its the first part which is easily the strongest, followed by a weak middle and a solid ending. Done for obviously a much smaller budget, the third act is left short changed and feeling anticlimactic and whilst the first act has its own charms and strengths it is very different from the other two (and based on a different novel).

Performances, with one exception, are flat and somewhat stilted across the board. Daniela Amavia plays the evil Queen Alia as an over the top Dynasty-esque ice queen and simply lacks the conviction and talent required for the role’s tougher scenes including her manipulations by the Baron Harkonnen’s persona. Alice Krige is utterly forgettable as Jessica and has half the presence that Saskia Reeves brought to the part in the first film.

Susan Sarandon hams it up for her admittedly fun at times scenes as Wensicia but she’s a sideline character at best. Indeed, all the greats who have returned such as the Baron, Irulan, Chani, Gurney and Mohiam are all given the short shrift and none of them are anywhere near as distinctive or memorable this second time around. Given the most time is a ‘clone’ of Duncan Idaho though that subplot is left wasted for the most part even if he’s a decent actor.

Newman returns as Paul and has some nice scenes in the first part but later on becomes a rather annoying and useless character who we just want to see the back of. In many ways the opening few seconds of this mini-series undermines the entire emotional investment we put into the first series and ultimately both cheapens the overall story and sets our backs up right away. The sole outstanding element of this sequel show is spunky young star James McAvoy as Leto II who has a strong presence which holds our attention whenever he’s on screen. As tales of a messiah go he’s an easy guy to root for and the one character that makes the last half of this show worth watching.

Production design and CG FX look even cheaper than they did before (the blue eye syndrome has essentially vanished), even if there’s some creative new ideas in here. The large scale political intrigue, massive battles and overall mystical ‘journey’ storyline that made the first mini-series so great are essentially repeated here but on a smaller scale which also lacks any of the weight or tension it should have. Take the Baron subplot for example, so much could be done there but nothing is – its a total write-off. There’s some scenes which are worth seeing and fans of the previous series will for the most part enjoy it but there’s nothing here to bring in newcomers. One of the weaker mini-series I’ve seen, a shock considering its strong lineage.