"Dune" is the Koran of science-fiction and its hero Muad'Dib, the Mohammed.

Frank Herbert, a man who loves fishing, wrote the saga of the desert planet, its people, their prophet and the religion that swept a universe. Twenty years and millions of readers later, "Dune" comes to the screen.

Only an unknown could ever play the prophet, say director David Lynch and producer Raffaella De Laurentiis. Kyle MacLachlan, a stage-trained actor and, like Herbert, a resident of Washington State, was chosen. Lynch wanted a lead who was spiritually believable, even if he wasn't physically exactly like Paul Atreides, the teenage Duke who acquires spiritual maturity on the planet Dune, where he and his mother (Francesca Annis) become cult leaders among Dune's indigenous Fremen.

MacLachlan thinks millions of readers will expect a different Atreides. "When I auditioned, I knew I was too tall, that I had a very strong jaw, and that Paul had aquiline features," says MacLachlan, who is 25 but looks young enough for the part.

Dark-haired and good-natured, MacLachlan is as mellow and modest as his character is intense. "He has charisma, drive and revenge, not a sense of warmth," says the star. But the Muad'Dib is essentially a space Ayatollah who starts a holy war. And MacLachlan's not sure how many regular moviegoers will "want to see a bleak movie about a religious fanatic." But he's wowed by the film, with it's elaborate trappings and magnificent landscapes.

The surface of Dune, an Atreides freehold, is actually a Mexican no-man's land, a jagged lava bed with outcroppings that was a casual city dump. The crew cleared away bags of dog carcasses and glass, leaving only the fine reddish powder that rose in puffs at a footfall. MacLachlan and the cast wound up with orange teeth, and spice-blue eyes.

Dust, oxygen deprivation and diarrhea -- it was worth it, says MacLachlan, to work with the likes of Linda Hunt (as the Shadout Mapes) and Jurgen Prochnow (as Paul's father, Duke Leto Atreides).

Sting, as the villain Feyd Rautha, is claiming most of the media attention just now, what with his shower scene -- he shows up in nothing but a pair of jockey shorts shaped like a boomerang. But MacLachlan doesn't feel the sting at all. He's overjoyed with his efforts and can't wait for Dunesday.

It's enough to know that the film has captured the essence of the book, though the two can't really be compared, he says. "The film is such an overwhelming experience all its own. So much information is imparted on the audience at a rapid rate, it should come with a little 'Dune' appendix."

MacLachlan has already signed on for "Dune II," if the people want more. "I tried," says Maclachlan. "And I enjoyed the responsibility of being a hero for those numbers of kids who look up to Paul. I certainly did think he was pretty neat in the eighth grade."