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ATTILA

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Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Gerald Butler, Powers Boothe, Simmone Mackinnon, Tim Curry, Reg Rogers
Director:  Dick Lowry
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0
Video:  1.77:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  USA
Features:  See Review
Length:  177 Minutes
Release Date:  April 3rd, 2001

“We should rule…the world!”

Film ***1/2

I was somewhat taken aback when I learned that the USA studio was going to make a TV movie based on the life of Attila the Hun.  Referred to commonly as the “Scourge of God,” the bloodthirsty Hun and his barbaric hordes are credited with pushing back civilization, driving Europe into the crippling “Dark Ages.”

Needless to say, I wondered how filmmakers could make someone who is seen as the “Middle Ages Adolf Hitler,” into a sympathetic protagonist, with feelings, motivations, and desires just like any normal person (I mean, even if you excuse things done in war, what normal person makes his enemy’s head into a drinking cup?)?  In the end, the filmmakers are forced to pull a little bit of a Disney on this one, changing historical facts slightly, thus making events more favorable to Attila and his legion of warriors.

In this case, the Huns are depicted as a rag-tag band of warriors who fight to improve their condition in life, while the Romans are portrayed as incredibly decadent fools (so decadent that at points I thought I was watching a Roman version of 54, with women eating grapes off each other), led by an Emperor who seems mildly retarded.  As well, the two main characters, Attila of the Huns, and General Flavius Aetius of the Romans, are portrayed in a similar fashion to their peoples: Attila, like the rest of the Huns, is honest, noble, and incredibly handsome (certain parts of his character are played down, such as the complete genocide of civilians in the towns that he captures, and his many concubines), whereas Aetius, while incredibly smart, is portrayed in many scenes as evil, manipulative, and subversive, even as trying to overthrow the Emperor.       

Despite its historical inaccuracies (like why do all the Huns have British accents?), I still managed to appreciate the entire film, enjoying the story, not getting bored, despite its almost three hour running time.  First, the battle scenes are surprisingly well done for a TV movie, and I was impressed by the overall production value that the movie seemed to reflect.  Second, I enjoyed the performances of the two stars, Scottish newcomer Gerard Butler as Attila, and Powers Booth as General Aetius.  Butler brings not only a needed “rugged handsomeness” that the role calls for, but also an earnest passion.  Similarly, Booth does an excellent job as the powerful and manipulative Roman General, who truly pulled Rome’s strings towards the end of its empire. 

Overall, this was a pleasant surprise and worth checking out.

Video ****

Although you wouldn’t expect it for a television movie, the film quality seems quite good throughout.  The lush colors of Rome transfer especially beautifully and I noticed no problems with color saturation.  There are also no problems with color bleeding and flesh tones also look solid.  A superb transfer from USA! 

Audio ***1/2

Both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and Pro Logic track are included, and the Dolby Digital is somewhat aggressive at points, again a welcome surprise for a movie released on television.  While the dialogue mainly is center channel oriented, there are many battle scenes that are quite aurally impressive, with people screaming, arrows flying, and clanking swords.  As well, the score is somewhat active throughout the film.   While this isn’t, say, Gladiator, with its DTS EX, Attila still boasts a pretty good 5.1 track. 

 

Supplements **

 

Included is a trailer and a thirty-minute-behind-the-scenes featurette entitled “The Making of an Epic Mini-Series.”   Somewhat sparse on the supplements, but I enjoyed the featurette, which was more than an annoying “I just loved working with so and so” behind the scenes look.

 

Summary:

 

In conclusion, Attila is a well done mini-series by USA.  With great performances, an engrossing story, high production values, and a nice video/audio transfer by USA, this is affordable at $19.99.  Recommended.