Epic 'Attila' takes liberties but entertains

Category: Attila Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: January 30, 2001 | Publication: The Houston Chronicle | Author: ANN HODGES, Houston Chronicle TV Critic
Publication/Article Link:

Attila the Hun is off on a four-hour race to build himself a Western empire. To see what makes Attila run, cable's USA is the place to be tonight and Wednesday.

It's a big step for USA to bring this epic warrior tale with a big international cast (filmed in Lithuania) to the small screen. But USA does it in swashbuckling stride, taking liberties with history like Attila took Gaul and all that stood between him and the seat of the Roman Empire.

This is ancient history with a very large spoonful of bloody battles, sex, greed and intrigue to make the medicine go down.

Part 1's prologue sets the scene. In A.D. 400, the Roman Empire is waning but still the world's greatest. Then the Huns appear, backed by an ancient prophecy that one day a great leader would emerge to challenge Rome's right to rule the world. There's more than a tinge of mysticism to this account of Attila and his Huns.

That leader is still just a lad when we first meet him tonight, and his father is teaching him to be a leader: "It is foolish for Huns to kill Huns," he counsels. "How can we conquer the world if we fight against ourselves?"

Daddy has the right idea, but he's not long for this world. Attila's whole family is wiped out in an ambush. The boy manages to escape, surviving (pass this one on to those Survivor tribes) by drinking the blood of his horse.

Luckily, his uncle rides up out of nowhere to save him before he has to eat his horse, too. And since his uncle is also the king of a tribe, young Attila soon gallops his way to manhood.

From this point on, Scottish newcomer Gerard Butler plays Attila, and once the sexy Roman princess Honoria (Kirsty Mitchell) cleans him up by luring him into her Roman bath, he cuts a pretty impressive figure as the wild but winsome warrior king.

As Attila's Huns proceed to rape, burn and pillage, the powers that be in Rome see trouble coming. And from then on, we're privy to what's happening on both sides of that impending battle to the death.

Powers Boothe plays Flavius Aetius, the only general who can save Rome from the Huns, and right now, he's in prison. He's been put there by Placidia (Alice Krige), the scheming mother of the stupid Emperor Valentinian (Reg Rogers). Later, Aetius will appoint himself the mentor of Attila, figuring that making him a friend will keep him from becoming an enemy.

Good plan, but it doesn't work.

Simmone Jade MacKinnon plays two roles, as the red-haired slave who becomes the love of Attila's life, and as the look-alike slave dispatched by Aetius and his co-conspirator, Theodosius (Tim Curry) to dispatch Attila.

There are many scenes for battle lovers to love - from mano a mano to great balls of fire catapulting around the castles.

Those battles, like the victory march into Rome, are also a victory for the crafty magic of a special effects crew that turns hundreds of soldiers into thousands, and models into the splendor of the Roman Empire.

Forget the history and go with the flow.

Attila, 8 tonight and Wednesday, USA. Grade: B+.

Copyright 2001 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company