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Attila: An Epic on a Shoestring

Attila, the USA Network miniseries, is a prime example of making the most of relatively little. A rousing historical drama loosely based on the life of the fifth-century Hun warrior known to history as "the scourge of God," the film recounts the struggles of Attila's "barbarian hordes" against the dwindling might of the Roman Empire during Rome's waning days.

Such epics as Gladiator

have stretched audience expectations (as well as production budgets) as to the sheer spectacle that modern "sword and sandal" epics can provide. But Attila
harkens back to a relatively simpler day in which manpower, optical trickery and miniatures created the illusions that today come almost exclusively from digital technology.

Scottish newcomer Gerard Butler ( Mrs. Brown, Dracula 2000
) provides an imposing presence in the title role. His Attila is a good-looking, sympathetic hero who attacks Rome because that is the only way to organize and unite his nomadic and fratricidal people.

On the other hand, Rome-as personified by its two emperors, Theodosius (Tim Curry) and Valentinian (Reg Rogers)-is a festering sore on humanity. It has grown fat on its past glory and is on the verge of collapse due to the weight of its own moral rot and internecine intrigues.

Filmed completely on location in Lithuania, director Dick Lowry and writer Robert Cochran are able to inject a grandiose sensibility into the story, despite a less-than-Hollywood-sized budget. Instead, the producers enlisted local artisans, craftsmen, extras, mounted police and parts of the Lithuanian national army to recreate the world of 1,500 years ago.

Powers Booth, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of the Rev. Jim Jones in the telepic Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, stars as Attila's rival, the Roman general "Flavius Aetius," Rome's ultimate defender and military commandant. He openly admires Attila as the type of man that Rome was descended from, and muses that if there were more men like him within the Empire, they could conquer the world all over again.

Simmone Jade Mackinnon (Baywatch Hawaii) costars as both "N'Kara" and "Ildico," sisters who were both married to Attila. In a classic good-girl/bad-girl role, Mackinnon has a memorable turn as Attila's true love and later, his ultimate downfall.

The film also stars, Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact) and Tommy Flanagan as Bleda, Attila's vengeful half-brother.

Flanagan, who sports a pair of memorable facial scars, has a brooding presence, which fills the screen and nearly steals the thunder away from Butler. A classic "mo" (a second tier actor who makes the "most" of his limited screen time), he's most familiar to movie audiences for his work in such films as Gladiator, Braveheart
and Face Off.

debuts Jan. 30 on USA Network.