'Let's see what the critics have to say'

Arabian Nights
1999
A Collection of Article/Review Excerpts


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ABC to air 'Arabian Nights' as four-hour miniseries

"Arabian Nights," a lavish, epic, four-hour miniseries from Emmy Award-winning producer Robert Halmi, will air from 9 to 11 p.m. Sunday and Monday, April 30 and May 1, as an ABC Premiere Event.

"Arabian Nights" features the magical stories of "A Thousand and One Nights," and boasts a stellar international cast, including Mili Avital, Emmy Award-winner John Leguizamo, James Frain, Alan Bates, Dougray Scott, Rufus Sewell, Jason Scott Lee and Tcheky Karyo.

In "Arabian Nights," a retelling of the timeless fantasy, tales of magic, mystery and wonder are spun by the beautiful Scheherazade (Ms. Avital, "Polish Wedding"), seeking to win the love of the sultan of Baghdad (Mr. Scott, "Mission Impossible 2," "Ever After: A Cinderella Story"). The sultan, betrayed by his former queen, has pledged that he will trust no woman. Forced to marry again, he has vowed to have the new sultana, Scheherazade, executed before dawn. But Scheherazade has a plan. She seeks to stave off her execution -- and win the sultan's love -- by telling tales inspired by a master storyteller (Mr. Bates, "Nicholas' Gift").

The stories unfold at night, from the adventures of Ali Baba (Mr. Sewell, "Bless the Child," "Dangerous Beauty," "Dark City"), a peasant who loots a treasure cave belonging to the vengeful master thief, Black Coda (Mr. Karyo, "Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," "From the Earth to the Moon," "Wing Commander," "Addicted to Love"); to the story of Aladdin (Mr. Lee, "Soldier," "Tale of the Mummy," "The Jungle Book"), the prince of thieves, and a pair of powerful genies (Mr. Leguizamo, "Freak," "Joe The King," "Summer of Sam"); to a king who trades places with a beggar (also played by Mr. Scott); and, finally, the fable of an amazing quest for the world's greatest wonder.

The cast includes Mili Avital as Scheherazade, Alan Bates as The Storyteller, James Frain as Schahzenan/Sultan Abraschild, Tcheky Karyo as Black Coda, Jason Scott Lee as Aladdin, John Leguizamo as the Lamp Genie/Ring Genie, Vanessa Mae as Princess Zobeide, Dougray Scott as Sultan Schahriar/Amin and Rufus Sewell as Ali Baba.

"Arabian Nights" was filmed on location in Turkey and Morocco.

Robert Halmi Sr. and Robert Halmi Jr. are executive producers and Dyson Lovell ("Merlin," "The Odyssey") is producer of "Arabian Nights," which was directed by Steve Barron ("Merlin," "The Adventures of Pinocchio") from a script by Peter Barnes ("Merlin").

All Contents ©Copyright The Oak Ridger

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cast of 'Arabian Nights'


Videotheek Barendrecht ONLINE: filmdatabase

synopsis from a dutch site:

ARABIAN NIGHTS

De jonge sultan van Bagdad, Schariar, moet voor de eerstvolgende volle maan een vrouw zien te vinden. Alleen dan zal hij het koninkrijk niet aan zijn jongere broer Schahzenan hoeven af te staan. Omdat deze samen met zijn eerste vrouw al eens een aanslag op hem pleegde wil hij elk risico uitbannen door zijn bruid een dag na de bruiloft te laten vermoorden. Scherazade, de dochter van de grootvizier, biedt aan met hem te trouwen, daarmee tegelijkertijd haar geheime liefde voor hem te onthullen en haar eiegen dood tekenend. Ondertussen treft Schahzenan in het diepste geheim voorbereidingen om met een gigantisch leger Bagdad binnen te vallen en zijn broer van de troon te stoten.

Mili Avital, Alan Bates, James Frain, Tchecky Karyo, Hason Scott Lee, John Leguizamo, Dougray Scott, Rufus Sewell.

Speelduur 180 minuten / kleur / nederlands ondertiteld / speelfilm / vanaf 12 jaar

TRANSLATION:

ARABIAN NIGHTS

The young sultan of Bagdad, Schariar (Dougray Scott), must find a wife before the next full moon. Only then will he secure his kingdom against the claim of his younger brother Schahzenan (James Frain). Because his first wife betrayed him with this same brother, he has vowed never to trust a woman again and has vowed to execute his new bride the day after they are married. Scherazade (Mili Avital), the daughter of the king's seer (Jim Carter), promises to marry him, plans to postpone her execution and win the sultan's love by telling him fantastic tales. Her task is to win the sultan's love and help him to meet the challenge of defeating his brother's army which is fast approching Bagdad.

Mili Avital, Alan Bates, James Frain, Tchecky Karyo, Jason Scott Lee, John Leguizamo, Dougray Scott, Rufus Sewell.

film length 180 minutes/ color/ dutch subtitles/ from 12 years old

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villianous brother Schahzenan arrives outside Bagdad with an army Movie Review

by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Arabian Nights

Steve Barron

Hallmark/Artisan 07/00 VHS

Not Rated

In this phantasmagoric tale filled with dragons, thieves, genies, flying carpets, and practical jokes, Scheherezade (Mili Avital) marries the mad Sultan of Baghdad (Dougray Scott) who, having been betrayed by his first wife, is convinced all women are out to get him - unless he kills them first. He decides to marry and have each bride strangled the next morning. But having been tutored by a master storyteller (Alan Bates) in the marketplace, Scheherezade foils his plan by starting a bewitching new tale each evening so that he will spare her again and again to hear the endings.

This beautiful and clever daughter of the Sultan's vizier (Jim Carter) proves to be a very imaginative storyteller. Two of the most familiar are Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and Aladdin and the Lamp. The moral of each tale is aimed at transforming the Sultan's heart, and sure enough there is a happy ending for the couple. Near the end, his villainous brother (James Frain) arrives outside Bagdad with an army. However, the Sultan has learned his lessons well and is able to creatively draw upon elements of all the stories in his conquest of the invading army.

Screenplay writer Peter Barnes has a marvelous time playing with the different genres of comedy, tragedy, magic, and romantic drama. The computer wizardry is dazzling, and the exotic sets, costumes, and music are all top drawer. Hats off to director Steve Barron for this spectacular 175-minute production!

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film poster Arabian Nights

Review by Chuck Arrington | posted September 19, 2000

ADV I C E
Highly Recommended

ARABIAN NIGHTS
Synopsis:

The literary classic "A Thousand and one Nights" has thrilled the imaginations of children and adults for ages and ages. Hollywood has attempted on many occasions to bring these pages to life. Heretofore, her attempts have been decently presented but they never really conjured the awe and majesty these stories have woven.

Hallmark Home Entertainment has put together what I would have to say is the best visual interpretation A Thousand and One Nights has ever seen! The productions are rich, lavish and incredibly well detailed. The story telling is first rate and the actors collected for this re-telling are incredibly well suited for their parts.

Of special note is John Leguizamo. His performances as both the "Ring Genie" and the "Lamp Genie" are some of the most involved and entertaining segments in the film. Mind you, this is not Robin Williams's genie from "Aladdin". But, Leguizamo's genies are, every bit as entertaining and fun!

For those who are unfamiliar with the story of "A Thousand and One Nights", here's an intro: Schahriar is the Sultan of a vast and great empire. On his wedding night his bride betrayed him to his brother and tried to have him murdered. In the resulting fight, he kills his wife who is also his brother's lover. So distraught by the events of that night, especially, the betrayal by his wife, Schahriar decides never to re-marry. Unfortunately, the law is not on his side. In order for him to keep his kingdom he must re-marry. Terrified by the thought of the possibility of another murder attempt, The Sultan plans to marry a girl of low standing for the sake of appearances. After the wedding night he will have her killed, thus meeting the letter of the law and maintaining his reign over his kingdom.

Scheherazade is the grand vizier's daughter. One of the most beautiful women in all the land. When word gets out to the women of the Harem of the Sultan's plan, she realizes that if the Sultan does this heinous thing, it will not end with his bride. A terrible precedent would be set and no woman in the land would be safe from her husband. Realizing that she grew up with the Sultan, she offers herself to him to wed, much to her father's dismay. Her plan is to weave a web of ever increasingly intricate tales to firstly, prolong her life from day to day and secondly, to win his heart by showing that she is nothing like her predecessor.

The tales she tells are those of Aladdin & the Lamp, Black Coda, The Magic Carpet and more. You will have to either read the book or watch the film to find out if at the conclusion of her stories Scheherazade succeeds or fails. No Spoilers here!

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video cover Arabian Nights

Scheherazade must tell a wonderful story every night, or die

Starring Mili Avital, James Frain, John Leguizamo, Alan Bates, Dougray Scott, Rufus Sewell, Jason Scott Lee and Tcheky Karyo

Directed by Steve Barron

Written by Peter Barnes

ABC

4 Hours

Airs April 30 and May 1, 8 p.m. ET



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Review by Rich Redman
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Arabian Nights is a four-hour miniseries from Robert Halmi Sr. and Robert Halmi Jr., filmed on location near Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, in Morocco and at Antalya Studios in Turkey. London's FrameStore created 500 digital effects for the film, while additional computer-generated effects were done by Medialab in Paris. The Jim Henson Creature Shop also added its unique magic to the production.

In the movie, Scheherazade (Avital), the daughter of court official Ja'Far, must marry the sultan (Scott). Because his former queen betrayed him, the sultan trusts no woman. Nevertheless he must marry again or lose his kingdom to his brother (Frain). Tormented by nightmares, he vows to have his new sultana executed before dawn.

The women in the harem catch wind of the sultan's intentions and tell Scheherazade. Scheherazade volunteers to marry the sultan, believing that her childhood friend could never kill her. While the people celebrate the wedding and the promise of peace between the sultan and his brother, the court executioner selects the proper silk rope with which to kill the sultana.

Scheherazade makes several attempts to connect with the man she knew as a child. As she often spends time in the marketplace listening to a master storyteller (Alan Bates), she tells the sultan a story, that of Ali Baba (played by Sewell). Each night after that, she tells another elaborate story, including the stories of Aladdin (Lee) and a pair of powerful genies, of a king who trades places with a beggar and finally of a quest for the world's greatest wonder. Of course, Scheherazade hopes the sultan will fall in love with her along the way and spare her life.

Exotic wonders

The original stories of the Arabian Nights came to Europe from French scholar Antoine Galland, who translated them from an Arabic source. As early as the 10th century, there was a Persian collection of a thousand tales. Other collections existed in India and farther east. This production reflects the tales' globetrotting origins, drawing characters from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It also reflects the adult nature of the original stories.

The series' creators give a fresh look to these old, familiar tales. The locations in Arabian Nights are appropriately exotic, and the sets match the natural wonders measure for measure. The visual effects work as shorthand for moods, great distances or rapid passages of time. Of course, they're also necessary for the genies, flying carpets and other wonders.

Writer Peter Barnes enhances the characters of the sultan and Scheherazade beyond their presentation in the original texts. The sultan knows that Scheherazade is tricking him and is appropriately furious, but at the same time he wants to know what happens next in each of her stories. The sultan is clearly lost in a private nightmare from which he desperately wants to escape. Barnes also inserts a few jokes for those paying attention, such as lines from Hamlet in "The Story of the Humpback."

The flaws in this show stem from its adaptation. The most interesting characters are Scheherazade and the sultan, but they make the briefest appearances. In the written collections, the tales take center stage, but in this production they compete with the framing story of Scheherazade and the sultan. Some of the genies' jokes are obtrusive anachronisms. Also, the pacing changes with each of the stories. Overall, though, this miniseries is both glamorous and enjoyable.

I expected not to like this movie. Reviews of previous Halmi productions were bad enough to steer me away from them. The production values, acting and writing swiftly overcame my bias, and my wife and I found ourselves fascinated. -- Rich

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Dougray Scott and Mili Avital Spinning a Tale of "Arabian Nights" for ABC

By Kate O'Hare, Tribune Media Services

"I was deeply moved," says Israeli-born actress Mili Avital. "I cried at the end of the story when I first read the script."

"For a long time, I wasn't really sure why I was affected so profoundly. But I've since come to realize it's because my character, Scheherazade, believes so completely in the power of love. Because of that unshakable belief, she's able to free her husband from the darkness within him."

" 'Arabian Nights' is also testament to the power of storytelling. I get to tell five incredible stories in this miniseries, and they explore every emotion known to humankind. There's great humor, and sadness. There's good, there's evil. There's great adventure, and great philosophy."

On April 30 (8-10 p.m. Eastern) and May 1 (9-11 p.m. Eastern) on ABC, producer Robert Halmi Sr. and his Hallmark Entertainment continue working their way through the world's great literature with "Arabian Nights" (following closely after TNT's "Don Quixote" and just before next week's "Jason and the Argonauts" on NBC).

Steve Barron (Hallmark's "Merlin") directs from a screenplay by Peter Barnes (Hallmark's "Merlin," "Noah's Ark" and "Alice in Wonderland," along with "Enchanted April").

Also known as "The Arabian Nights' Entertainments" and "A Thousand and One Nights," the collection of Persian-Indian-Arabian tales was originally written in Arabic, and arranged in its present form about 1450, probably in Cairo. In the original tales, as in the miniseries, Scheherazade, wed to a mad sultan, forestalls her execution by telling him a different story each night, leaving each with a cliffhanger ending, to be revealed the following evening.

"I'd say to the audience," says Scottish actor Dougray Scott ("Ever After"), who plays the sultan, Schariar, "be prepared for a magical and extraordinary journey with lots of wonderful characters that you've known about since your childhood. Now that you're adults, you can look at them anew. You'll be excited - and, I hope, intrigued and moved - by these extraordinary characters in these extraordinary stories. You'll be taken on a wonderful magic carpet ride!"

While some people may not be familiar with the framing story of "Arabian Nights" - the sultan being driven into paranoia by the treachery of his brother (played here by James Frain) and first wife, and threatening to murder his new wife on the day after their wedding - many of the "Arabian Nights" tales are familiar and popular in their own right.

Of the five stories chosen for the miniseries, "Aladdin" and "Ali Baba" have been the subject of many films themselves. This time around, "Aladdin," often set in Persia, returns to its original setting of China, with Jason Scott Lee in the title role, and John Leguizamo as both the terrifying, tattooed Lamp Genie and the rotund, cowardly Ring Genie.

British actor Rufus Sewell plays the good-hearted thief "Ali Baba," leader of the Forty Thieves, with Turkish-born French film star Tcheky Karyo playing the evil thief Black Coda.

The huge cast also includes Alan Bates as the Storyteller, to whom Scheherazade turns for advice; Jim Carter as the Vizier Ja'Far; and Hugh Quarshie ("Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace") as Aladdin's nemesis, the African magician Mustappa.

Rather than just use a studio backlot, Halmi went to Turkey and Africa to shoot his tale. Much of the filming was done in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, 400 miles southeast of Istanbul, a harsh landscape of volcanic rock (where cast and crew were billeted in caves for $19 a night, including breakfast).

After filming in Cappadocia, the 235-person company moved to the newly built Antalya Studios, near Antalya, Turkey, where the production was the facility's first tenant, utilizing 48 sets over a 15-week shoot.

Additional scenes were shot on the edge of the Sahara Desert in southeastern Morocco, where 150 camels were drafted for use.

"I think it's better than 'Merlin'," says Halmi of "Arabian Nights." "It's wonderful storytelling. It's almost storytelling at its best. Of course, the original material lends itself to that."

For Leguizamo, who grew up on the streets of New York, the landscape of "Arabian Nights" was already familiar. "The 'Arabian Nights' was huge when I was growing up. I read about it all the time. It was in the cartoons, there was always a little bit of 'Arabian Nights' thrown in there. And you had all these movies from Hollywood at that time that came out, with the flying horses and all the evil genies. That always grabbed my imagination."

John Leguizamo as one of his two genies "It was something that I always really wanted to be a part of. When this opportunity came, it was like 'Wow!' And I could be the genie. I could be two genies. I could fight against myself and hate myself. It was a beautiful thing."

Along with sumptuous costumes and the lion's share of the dialogue, Avital also got to play that rarest of fairy-tale creatures - a woman who survives on her wits and her heart, not just her beauty. "Absolutely," says the actress. "Besides the fact that it's almost a mythological character to play, which was such a great thrill for me, is the fact that she's so wise."

"When the sultan finally faces his last battle, and she gives him those last words of wisdom, it's really beautiful."

"These tales aren't told just for the sake of telling tales," says director Barron. "They're told in the service of saving a kingdom, saving a life, saving a love. These tales have to be told, and they have to be told right."

"We decided early on to make this about something. Underneath it all, 'Arabian Nights' is about the telling of stories. It's about storytelling. That's what weaves the whole tapestry together."

" 'Arabian Nights' is similar in a way to 'Merlin': the stories were handed down - at first verbally, then in print - from generation to generation, and they changed as they were handed down. We're just another link in the chain of storytellers. We're telling our version of these Persian, Indian and Arabian folktales."

"Every storyteller, when he comes to tell a story, wants to entertain, but he also wants to add a little sprinkle of magic in there as well."

"Hopefully, we've contributed some magic with this version."

© 1998-2000 The Seattle Times Company, Tribune Media Services, Lookahead Communications, Inc.

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April 30, 2000 The Washington Post Section:

TV WEEK

Good Night Stories From Arabia; Scheherazade Postpones Death One Tale at a Time

By: Harriet Winslow , Washington Post Staff Writer

One worries about Scheherazade. In agreeing to marry a sultan whose first wife betrayed him, the lady knows that he plans to kill her after one night of wedlock. So she invents a ploy: She begins telling him a very long story, "A Tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves." Ali Baba is a poor man who gains access to a cave of riches by uttering "Open Sesame." But once rich, he is hunted by the cave's former owners, the 40 thieves. Can he outwit so many men? Scheherazade regales Sultan Schahriar with this tale until daylight, when she explains that she can tell her tales only at night. Schahriar is enraged that he must wait for the outcome. But her life is spared -- for now.

ABC's "Arabian Nights" starts Sunday at 8 and continues Monday at 9. In addition to the tale of Ali Baba, played by Rufus Sewell, it overflows with stories from the childhood favorite "The Thousand and One Nights." There is the comic story of Bacbac, the court jester whose inconvenient death leads his body to be passed around in crazy scenarios before a trial determines who killed him. Bacbac's funeral leads to the introduction of the young pickpocket Aladdin, played by Jason Scott Lee. Aladdin finds his wishes granted when he releases the genie in the lamp, played by John Leguizamo. But just as trouble arrives to darken Aladdin's fate, Scheherazade stops talking -- it is daylight and Schahriar demands more. "Wait till tomorrow night," she says. And that is how the Sunday night installment ends.

James Frain as the bad-seed brother We too must tune in Monday for more. Cleverly done, "Arabian Nights" is packed with beautiful costumes and a classy cast that includes Mili Avital as Scheherazade, Dougray Scott as Sultan Schahriar, James Frain as his bad-seed brother, Alan Bates as the storyteller in the marketplace, Tcheky Karyo as the evil Black Coda and violinist Vanessa Mae as Aladdin's love interest, Princess Zobeide.

It is another project from the prolific producer Robert Halmi, who has been flooding TV with movies and miniseries lately, including NBC's "The 10th Kingdom" and TNT's "Don Quixote," both this season.

In "Arabian Nights," Halmi introduces American viewers to Avital, an Israeli actress who has worked on stage and large screen. As Scheherazade, she was at the center of the filming in the Middle East early this year. "This is so special and something that adults and kids can enjoy," she said. "It has special effects but also a very ancient flavor to it."

Avital has been living in the United States for several years, mostly in New York. Her film work has included "Stargate" in 1994 and "Kissing a Fool" in 1998. When she made the latter, she met "Friends" actor David Schwimmer, and the two have been dating for nearly three years, she said. "We've been very smart about keeping it [private]."

Avital's heritage should have made playing a Middle Easterner easy. Yet she labored over her diction and worked with a vocal coach to find the right accent. "It was a very special dialect that we went for," she explained. "The other actors were all British and they wanted a timeless accent but with a Mediterranean sound. It is not a British story -- it's an Arabic story."

And Avital said she consciously strove for authenticity, pronouncing a throaty "h" in Mohammed, for example. "That was really important," said director Steve Barron. "Thankfully for her Israeli roots, all I had to do was to keep reminding her to make it come from the Mediterranean, not from New York." Barron praised her work: "The stories with that rounded accent became so much stronger and belonged to her," he said. "You had to believe that this girl was telling stories to save her life. And that this man was buying them, and to get the audience to as well. So the voice is a major part of this. It's vital."

"Arabian Nights" is about "real people, and a real culture," added Avital. "We wanted to respect the originality of the story." That meant huge attention to detail. Foremost were the costumes -- 4,750 of them designed by an Italian who works in the opera. "They flew in fabrics from Paris or wherever," said Avital. "Whatever they needed really. I was completely drenched in silk all day long."

Barron, who directed "Merlin" for Halmi in 1998, said both tales have elements of magic and monsters, but were totally different to make. "We were able to be more cinematic than with 'Merlin.' We shot it all in the Middle East and in Turkey," he said. "And that gave us more production value than with England."

So for crowd scenes, Halmi was able to hire more extras, and money in general went farther. But it was physically more demanding, said Barron, "because of not having a real movie-making society behind you. In Turkey and Morocco and Jordan -- we filmed there as well -- those are three countries that are pretty limited in terms of film production. You have to bring a lot of people over. There are benefits on the screen, but it's definitely a more demanding way of doing it -- getting a large crane up a mountain and that sort of thing." It was 16 weeks of hard labor.

But the time was lightened by the energy of comic-actor John Leguizamo, who plays both the genie in the lamp and a second, cheerier one. "He was a joy and somebody I've always wanted to work with," said Barron. "When we got him involved, the script wasn't finished so we were designing the look of the genie with the curse across the face. We had a very good artist's impression of his face before [Leguizamo] accepted the job. He had a lot of other offers and I think he was going to say no until he got the artist's rendition." In the miniseries, Leguizamo becomes a scary creation with a black goatee and face paint. He also suggested some lines -- 60 pages' worth -- "because his comedic side would come out," said Barron. It does, especially during the battle between the two genies, where he plays both. And parts of the dialogue Leguizamo submitted for his roles made the final cut, said Barron.

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Amazon.com

When Sultan Said discovers his wife locked in a passionate embrace with his only brother, he flings his sword at the prince and accidentally murders his adulterous queen. Tortured by his wife's ghost, the maniacal and cowardly sultan must marry another to save his kingdom, but to avoid future matrimonial disgrace he plans to have her executed the morning after the wedding. Fortunately for him, Scheherezade, the grand vicar's daughter played by the lovely Mili Avital, jumps at the challenge and the chance to marry her childhood love. A master storyteller, the newly crowned sultana escapes death night after night with her mesmerizing tales of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, countless warriors, supernatural duels, and ferocious genies.

Although the main story line falls short of Scheherezade's seductive tales, audiences will be enchanted with fantastic special effects, elaborate costumes, and the magic of Persia. Wonderfully directed and edited by Steve Barron, Hallmark's Arabian Nights will particularly appeal to fans of magical computer-effects laden television miniseries. --Melissa Asher --


IMDB link for Arabian Nights

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