The novels that influenced ''Star Wars'' and spawned David Lynch's notorious flop come to the Sci Fi Channel

By Sandra P. Angulo
Updated December 01, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

When the Sci Fi Channel presents its first original miniseries, ”Frank Herbert’s Dune” (airing Sun. through Tues., 9 to 11 p.m.), it will be the network’s most expensive programming event to date. Starring William Hurt and shot by Oscar winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (”The Last Emperor”), the six hour epic cost $20 million to make, and even more to promote through theatrical trailers, video billboards, and an Internet ad campaign that began early this year.

Herbert’s 1965 futuristic saga — about an avenging, messianic young hero who challenges an interplanetary empire — has a large and active fan base. Some 12 million copies of the original book have been sold, and it’s the topic of more than 100,000 websites, not to mention five Herbert sequels. But that alone doesn’t guarantee the miniseries’ success. After all, by the time ”Dune” first made it to the big screen in 1984, the similar but more action oriented ”Star Wars” saga had gotten there first, and David Lynch’s $45 million movie — at the time, the most expensive feature film ever made — became a commercial and critical flop, grossing only $27 million.

True, the czar of bizarre’s version included slow, impenetrable inner monologues, embarrassingly phallic looking sand worms, and really scary hairdos — not to mention an over the top performance by a nearly naked Sting. ”I didn’t set out to correct or remake Lynch’s movie,” says John Harrison, the mini’s writer and director. ”It’s impossible to do justice to the book in a two hour [feature]. I had the advantage of six, and I just tried to create a faithful adaptation of Frank Herbert’s book.”