Attila (2001) Mini-Series TV Review

After Attila the Hun has raided her village, slaughtered her people, and made her into a slave, a young woman name N’Kara falls madly in love with him, and vice versa. Your guess is as good as mine when they realized they were right for each other. Maybe it was when she saw him cut the throat of one of her villagers that made her go all weak-kneed whenever he’s around. Or maybe it’s knowing that she, now the love slave of his brother, was being “mounted more often than his horse” (as one character puts it) that gets Attila all hot and bothered. Or perhaps it could be that the movie “Attila the Hun” is as serious about historical accuracy as I am about never watching another movie again for as long as I live. Which is to say, not very likely.

It’s also very doubtful (I’ll even go so far as to say impossible) that Attila and the Huns spoke with an English accent. (Every now and then, we even get some Scottish and Irish accents!) For you see, the Huns were Asian, which means they don’t grow up to look like Gerard Butler or Steven Berkoff. In the annals of actual history, Attila the Hun wasn’t a romantic. He was a butcher. A killer without mercy, without repentance, and his one main goal was to rule the world. He succeeded in setting off a race war between the Asiatic people and the White Europeans. If not for the brilliant Roman General Falvius Aetius, there would be no such thing as Europe today.

The history lesson out of the way, Gerard Butler (“Reign of Fire”) is Attila, and Powers Boothe (“Frailty”) is Aetius. Simmone Mackinnon, soon to be seen running away from a giant CGI snake in “Python 2″, co-stars as N’Kara, the redhead conquest who ends up suffering from a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome. Originally created to air in the States as a 2-day, 4-hour mini-series (plus commercials) on basic cable, the version of “Attila” being reviewed here is the 3-hour, uncut DVD version, which has excised “the Hun” from its title. Could it be an attempt to make the movie seem more feature-length-esque? If that were the case, then just one look at this film would reveal its origins quickly enough. Despite being uncut, this version of “Attila” is still quite tame, meaning swords make the sound of slashing a throat, but you never see it.

Not surprisingly, the production value of “Attila” is lacking. What stands for the Hun’s supposed “kingdom” is a series of about 10 huts scattered about and about 50 “subjects” running around. Actually, it’s entirely possible that the filmmakers simply kept rebuilding “villages” over the same patch of land. After all, considering the scale of these villages, it’s not like there was a lot to keep tearing down and rebuilding. Also, does seeing about 50 guys on horses whirling their swords over their heads and whooping it up really count as a “horde”? I’m being overly facetious, of course. Although I’m not kidding when I say that no amount of Appropriate Music can convince the audience that a supposedly “major” battle is taking place when all that’s available is a few hundred men in ill-fitting uniforms running around and playing touch-my-sword-with-yours as the Appropriate Music swells, well, appropriately.

Taken for what it is — a TV movie with no redeeming historical value — the movie is a minor diversion, although why it took 3 hours long is a mystery. The only reason to sit through this movie at all is for Powers Boothe, who provides vastly entertaining sequences as his character schemes his way through the Roman hierarchy. Which means I could have done without the Galen character, which keeps jabbering about prophecies and visions and all that other mystical junk. It’s bad enough the film is replete with historical inaccuracies, but we have to put up with some inane mumble jumbo too?

“Attila” suffers from the same lack of resources as another wannabe historical epic called “Dark Prince”. The ambition is there, but the money to pull it off isn’t. There are not enough days to set everything up and there are not even enough extras to fill up the screen. When Attila brags that he’s conquering countries and kings are sending him tributes, you have to wonder where all that money is going, since Attila still lives on a patch of land surrounded by about 5 huts and has about 50 subjects running around. Oh sure, his hut now has two floors, but it’s still just a hut.

The problem is that while Attila’s real life might have needed 3 hours to tell, the plots they chose for this TV movie doesn’t. An hour and a half would be more than enough. Instead, we get 3 hours of very little happening. The film itself has only two large-scale battles to give us, but unfortunately a TV movie’s version of “large-scale battles” are not, well, very large at all. With the resources the filmmakers had at hand they probably did the best they could. But still, you to question why they bothered in the first place.

Dick Lowry (director) / Robert Cochran (screenplay)
CAST: Gerard Butler …. Attila the Hun
Powers Boothe …. Flavius Aetius
Simmone Mackinnon …. N’Kara/Ildico
Reg Rogers …. Valentinian
Alice Krige …. Placida

Buy Attila on DVD