To attempt an understanding of "Dune," the party, without understanding "Dune," the movie, as Frank Herbert writes in "Dune," the book, is "to attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood. It is the attempt to see the Light without knowing Darkness. It cannot be."

Dino De Laurentiis, the filmmaker, looked around the neon-illuminated atrium of the Kennedy Center and said proudly, "It is an important town for an important movie. The Kennedy Center is the most important in the United States. That is why we have the premiere of 'Dune' here."

After 2 hours and 15 minutes of giant sandworms, of mystical, mythical and mechanical beings, in what for "Dune" cultists may be the movie of all time, more than 1,000 guests crowded into the Kennedy Center atrium, decorated to look like a palace from a far planet. They came not from the far galaxies but, as you might expect, from Embassy Row, congressional space committees, Hollywood, the White House and the Washington art community -- those who have painted or photographed NASA's space shots.

After all the brown sand and dialogue about the scarcity of water, the guests headed straight to the plentiful bars.

Stars of the evening were:

* Frank Herbert, the author of "Dune," who got the biggest applause before the movie;

* Kyle MacLachlan, who plays the hero, the God Emperor, Paul Muad'Dib, ne' Atreides, who got the biggest applause after the movie;

* Francesca Annis, who plays Paul's mother and later becomes a Bene Gesserit reverend mother possessed of strange powers, most recently seen here on television in the Agatha Christie "Partners in Crime" series. She was wearing a 1920s costume topped with a hat that made her look very much like Tuppence, the Christie character;

* Dean Stockwell, who's one of the villains;

* And De Laurentiis' daughter, Raffaella de Laurentiis, who produced the movie.

MacLachlan, starring in his first movie and wearing a thin gold ring in his left ear and a black-and-white dinner shirt under his tuxedo, patiently autographed copies of "Dune," scraps of paper and some unidentified objects. His smile didn't slip once.

"Nope, I don't feel like a God Emperor," he said between signings. "I just feel like an actor. Actually, the process of filming it was boring and tedious. The fun came in seeing it in its final form. This is the second time for me; I saw it once before in New York.

"Yes, I do hope there's a sequel. I'd like to be in lots more. I'd read all the 'Dune' books years before the movie, but once I was cast in it, I began to read them voraciously."

Herbert, posing with MacLachlan for a photograph, was asked if MacLachlan looked like the figment of his imagination. "He's not real, he's a robot," Herbert said. He added, more seriously, "He didn't look like the way I imagined Paul Muad'Dib, but he's so powerful an actor, he makes it work. I think the movie captures the book. Of course it leaves out scenes, but it would have to, otherwise we'd be here 14 hours."

Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani and his wife Anne Merete Petrignani said they hadn't read the book, "but we will over Christmas." Photographer and art dealer Franz Bader shook his head and said it was not his kind of film. But another artist, Lily Spandorf, followed the movie crowd around, sketching them. Patricia Garfinkel, of the House Committee on Science and Technology, was there with her son Jeff, a "Dune" fan, getting MacLachlan's autograph.

If Raffaella de Laurentiis has her way about it, there will be a sequel -- "There are five books you know, and another coming out in March."

"And I'm plotting the seventh," said Herbert.