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The Other Dune Sequel You May Have Forgotten: SYFY's 2003 Miniseries, Children of Dune

Let's take a look back at the epic miniseries adaptation of Frank Herbert's follow-ups to Dune.

By Matthew Jackson

Right now, Dune fans are closer than ever to a big-screen adaptation extending beyond the reach of Frank Herbert's original novel. Dune: Part Two is in theaters, setting the stage for future films that would adapt books like Dune: Messiah on a blockbuster scale.

But longtime followers of the franchise know that any potential Dune sequel movie wouldn't be the first time these sequels got screen adaptations. For that you have to look back 20 years, back to when SYFY was known as The Sci-fi Channel, and a little miniseries called Frank Herbert's Children of Dune.

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Back in 2000, Frank Herbert's Dune Debuted on The Sci-Fi Channel

In 2000, the Sci-fi Channel launched the first small-screen adaptation of Herbert's epic sci-fi saga. Frank Herbert's Dune marked the second live-action adaptation of the original novel, after David Lynch's divisive feature film 16 years earlier, and the first television adaptation of the book. Spearheaded by writer/director John Harrison (Tales from the Darkside) with a cast led by William Hurt (Duke Leto Atreides) and Alec Newman (Paul Atreides), the adaptation was spread into a miniseries length of three episodes made up of more than four hours pf material. That meant that more space was given to adapt Herbert's book, explain key elements of the lore, and even take some inventive adaptive steps along the way.

And it worked, or at least it mostly worked. While it's very clearly a made-for-TV affair, Frank Herbert's Dune was well-received, becoming one of the Sci-fi Channel's most-watched programs ever, and winning two Emmy Awards for its cinematography and visual effects. That meant a sequel was possible, but as longtime Herbert readers know, even by Dune standards, the sequels are where things get... complicated.

Frank Herbert's Children of Dune Followed in 2003

Susan Sarandon, adorned richly, looks at an own in Children of Dune (2003).

Three years after Frank Herbert's Dune, Harrison returned as screenwriter, working with veteran TV director Greg Yaitanes, to produce Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, another three-part Sci-fi Channel miniseries that, ambitiously, set out to adapt both the second and third books in Herbert's series, Dune: Messiah and Children of Dune

That's a very tall order, because things get really narratively twisted and ambitious in those two books. Messiah focuses largely on the challenges Paul Atreides faces once he's become Emperor of the known universe, including his continued dealings with the Fremen, plots to unseat him from the throne, and drama over his children and heirs as those seemingly loyal to him choose sides in a battle for the succession. Children of Dune, as the title suggests, focuses more closely on Paul's actual children, the steps they take as adults, and the conflicts that break out for control over influence and closeness to the siblings. It's also, as you may have heard, the book where one of Paul's kids merges his body with sandworms to become an indestructible hybrid creature, but that's a longer story than we have time to tell here today.

The complexities of these plots, and many other subplots including the return of Duncan Idaho (yes, really) to the story, means that Children of Dune is somewhat streamlined as a miniseries, and some of the weirder elements are smoothed over or ditched entirely in order to make the story a bit more straightforward for audiences that aren't necessarily Herbert devotees. Still, the propulsive plotting that made the original miniseries work is still there, and the sequel boasts an even more impressive set of stars, including Susan Sarandon, Alice Krige, and a young James McAvoy as Paul's son, Leto. 

Like its predecessor, Children of Dune was well-received upon its release, earning high ratings for the network and winning another Emmy for Visual Effects, along with several other nominations. So, should you watch it now? Sure, if you want to see all the different ways this story can be handled, and you have the patience to track it down. It's not readily streaming anywhere right now, but your local library might have a copy floating around, particularly if they use the Hoopla digital rental service. As we head into what might be an exciting new era for Dune adaptations, it's very much worth remembering where we've been before.

Want more epic science fiction? Check out the best sci-fi movies and TV shows streaming on Peacock right now.

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