ATTILA THE HUN – one of history’s major heavies or merely misunderstood?
You guessed it. Seems he had the fifth-century equivalent of a dysfunctional childhood, watching his beloved father slaughtered in front of his eyes, among other things. His role model was a warrior uncle; his best friend a wacky witch.
But still, Attila grew up valiant, struggling to unite his “fierce and independent” people and defeat the decadent, corrupt Roman Empire.
Ah . . . OK. Most of us don’t really know all that much about Attila, except that his name has become synonymous with violence and cruelty. So it’s odd to see him turn up showing his softer side as the hero of an epic miniseries.
In “Attila” (8-10 tonight and Wednesday on USA), Gerard Butler’s Hun may use skulls as spear-chucking targets, but he’s equal parts honey. He loves his family, suffers heartbreak and resists the temptation to grab power before the “ancient prophecy” that guides him comes due. He even proves able to accept a Roman leader (Powers Boothe) as a mentor, not an enemy.
None of this, however, prevents “Attila” from offering a massacre, complete with beheadings and impalements, about every 4.5 minutes. Fast-forwarding through the slaughter cuts viewing time almost in half. What’s left is some campy humor and so much inspirational talk about leadership and cooperation that we might as well be at a team-building seminar.
Filmed on location in Lithuania, “Attila” features an eclectic cast. Butler is a Scot who’s building quite a resume of reviled characters, having recently played the lead in Wes Craven’s “Dracula 2000.” To say his accent isn’t quite right would imply that we know how Attila sounded, so let’s stick to the positive: He has the wild-eyed look down pat.
Boothe, as Roman general Flavius Aetius, is a Texan best known for playing the Rev. Jim Jones of mass suicide fame. Both of Attila’s love interests (don’t ask) are played by Simmone Jade MacKinnon, a cast member of “Baywatch Hawaii.” Americans, Australians and Brits (including Tim Curry as Emperor Theodosius) also turn up, but apparently no natural-born Huns.
Is “Attila” history or hokum? Writer Robert Cochran says he relied on a section in Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” for source material. And Cochran pointed out, when discussing “Attila” with TV writers last summer in Los Angeles, that “the history was written by his enemies, for the most part, so you have to filter it through that.”
For Butler’s part, he says he hesitated only briefly when asked to play one of history’s most reviled characters.
“I just went in and did it.”
Copyright 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.