Author: Chuck Russell & Barry P. Ambrose
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:When a ruthless general stages a bloody coup on the ancient kingdom of Sumer, a kind-hearted soldier must join forces with a pirate and a thief to restore order.
Synopsis:SHAHERAZAD, a beautiful Sumerian princess, narrates the adventure of heroic CAPTAIN SINBAD rescuing his crew from a deadly cyclops. The enthralled children listening to the story want to know what happens next, but they’re ushered away by nurses and parents for an evening festival. Left alone, Shaherazad hears strange noises and goes to investigate. A mysterious intruder grabs her from behind and threatens her. Unafraid, Shaherazad threatens right back. Eventually, it’s revealed that this intruder is KAMAR, a soldier whom Shaherazad intends to marry. He comes with a gift: a peacock quill for Shaherazad to write down her imaginative tales. That night, KING SULUMON stages an elaborate festival at his palace, for two reasons: Kamar will be sent with a peace treaty for a Tanzanian maharaja, and when he returns, he will marry Shaherazad.
Everyone in the kingdom is in the mood to celebrate — except for sneering, sinister GENERAL SABUR and his toady, CAPTAIN HAMID. They scheme about how to get Kamar and Shaherazad out of the way so Sabur can marry Shaherazad’s passive younger sister, AZURA, and rule Sumer. As a priest begins a blessing, a strong wind blows out all the torches and candles, plunging the festivities into darkness. A mysterious stranger arrives at the palace gates. Fearing the storm will kill him, Sulumon allows the stranger inside the palace. It’s quickly revealed that he’s a strange half-man, half-goat creature. He bleats a warning that the alchemist PHAROTU has returned, then dies. Everyone ignores the warning, because allegedly Pharotu was burned at the stake years ago. Kamar insists on investigating the stranger’s claim, but Sabur steps in, insisting that Kamar’s duty to deliver the treaty is much more important. Sabur tells Sulumon that he will seek the truth while Kamar goes on his mission.
Shaherazad tells the children a story about Sinbad killing Pharotu. Kamar fears this will give them nightmares, but Shaherazad thinks that knowing the alchemist is dead will make them feel better. At dawn, Kamar leads a squadron of men into the desert. He takes his trusty falcon, HORUS, with him. Watching from a distant hill, Sabur asks Hamid if he arranged an ambush with the maharaja. Hamid agrees. Sabur, Hamid, and a small group of men move through the kingdom toward the last known whereabouts of Pharotu. As they get closer, storm clouds build, and eventually lightning begins to target Sabur’s men. Everyone but Sabur and Hamid is killed. A cliff wall cracks hopen, revealing a castle built into it. Sabur and Hamid enter to find Pharotu sitting on a floating magic carpet. Pharotu’s pet, a huge spider with a human face, terrifies Hamid. In an effort to impress Sabur, Pharotu demonstrates a number of tricks — the ability to harness storms, to bring Sabur’s dead soldiers back to life, even to create hybrids of men and animals. He transforms Sabur’s soldiers into flying condor men.
At a desert oasis, Kamar and his men are ambushed by the MAHARAJA and his soldiers. Kamar is a smart and ruthless fighter, however, so he’s able to survive long enough for the Maharaja to arrive. Kamar hands over the treaty, and the dubious Maharaja calls off the attack temporarily, so he can review it and decide what to do. He gives them a reprieve until dawn. Shaherazad receives a letter from Kamar (via Horus the falcon). She begins writing back when the condor men attack the castle. She watches Sabur decapitate Sulumon. Terrified, she scrawls a quick note and sends it with Horus. Sabur finds Shaherazad and her two sisters and announces his plans to marry Azura. She immediately attempts suicide by jumping off the balcony, but Sabur’s condor men prevent her from succeeding. Fearing for her sister, Shaherazad reluctantly agrees to marry Sabur. Kamar gets Shaherazad’s note and immediately prepares his men to return to the kingdom. They ride into the day, and when they come upon a village that’s been attacked by seafaring pirates, Kamar wants to continue without helping. He soon realizes that using their ship would be a quicker way to get back to Shaherazad. Intercut with Shaherazad’s marriage preparations, Kamar rides his horse to the harbor and leaps onto the leaving ship. He’s attacked by the pirates immediately, but Kamar fights through them until he reaches the captain — Sinbad, a filthy, washed-up version of the legendary hero glimpsed earlier. Sinbad tells his men to kill the intruder.
Before the ceremony, Shaherazad contemplates suicide. She can’t go through with it. Pharotu appears, offering her something mysterious inside a silver box that will allow her to participate in this sham of a marriage. Back on the ship, Kamar fights with Sinbad and his men. Sinbad is still a wild, fearless fighter, but so is Kamar. Kamar tries to convince Sinbad not to harm him, that he’s an emissary of the king. Sinbad doesn’t believe it until a CABIN BOY opens Kamar’s saddlebag and finds a gold, jewel-encrusted scroll case holding the signed treaty. Kamar begs for Sinbad’s help, offering a full pardon and a lot of gold. Sinbad reluctantly agrees. Shaherazad receives a new update from Kamar, which she reads to Sabur as if it were one of her stories. Sabur is more interested in sex, but Shaherazad has drugged him, so he falls asleep before anything can happen. With Sabur asleep, Shaherazad writes a letter back to Kamar, explaining what has happened. Pharotu’s spider pet witnesses all of this, including Kamar’s map showing exactly where Sinbad’s ship is. Back on the ship, the cabin boy reveals he’s actually a cabin girl — and she goes by the name ALI BABA, the thief subject of many of Shaherazad’s stories. Kamar is shocked, but he reluctantly agrees to keep his secret when she intimates that she knows more about the black magic than she should, and that she knows of a magic object that can fight Pharotu’s evil. Pharotu creates a huge storm to toss Sinbad’s ship about. The ship ends up sinking, and Kamar nearly drowns, but Sinbad, a few of his men, and Ali Baba manage to get to land. The following day, Pharotu shocks Sabur by removing his beating heart — so Sabur cannot be killed. He also reveals Shaherazad’s betrayal and that the Maharaja signed the peace treaty. He urgers Sabur to have his men attack and kill the Maharaja while they’re not expecting it.
Sinbad’s angry at Kamar for withholding that they’re up against an evil wizard. He gets angrier when Kamar announces it’s Pharotu. Sinbad claims to have killed Pharotu years ago, as revenge for the alchemist killing the only woman he’s ever loved — a mermaid. He wishes Kamar luck but refuses to fight an unbeatable foe. Ali Baba announces that they can win. She leads them into the Forgotten Desert, in search of the lost treasure of the 40 thieves. This blends with Shaherazad telling Sabur (who’s bored and irritated) the story of Ali Baba learning the location of the treasure from her pick-pocket mentor, just before he was executed. Meanwhile, Kamar and the others cross the vast, seemingly endless Forgotten Desert. Eventually, they come upon a huge, beautiful castle. They come upon faceless golem guards protecting the castle. These golem allow Kamar’s group to pass unharmed. Inside the castle, golem servants provide them with all the food and drink they desire. In the Sumerian palace, Sabur presents Shaherazad with a feast of his own — roasted falcon, with Kamar’s note protruding from its beak. Soldiers surround her, ready to imprison her for treason. Shaherazad immediately stabs Sabur in the heart — but it has no effect.
After feasting, Sinbad hears yelling. They investigate the source and stumble on ALADIN, who yells at a blue cloud of light. When they arrive, the blue cloud sucks itself into a brass lamp. Aladin explains that inside the lamp is a GENIE who can grant any wish its user desires. Kamar explains his situation and asks Aladin for the Genie’s help. Aladin gives him the lamp. Kamar offers the Genie freedom from the lamp in exchange for help in defeating Pharotu. The Genie explains that Pharotu was the one who imprisoned him in the lamp, so he’d be happy to help, but Pharotu can’t be killed because he keeps his heart hidden. Kamar is in a hurry to rescue Shaherazad, so he wishes to be returned to the palace. The Genie grants the wish.
Imprisoned, Shaherazad waits for execution. Kamar, Sinbad, DOMINGO (Sinbad’s Spanish comrade), Aladin, and Ali Baba arrive. Kamar wishes for each of them to have magic carpets. They fly around, attacking Sabur’s condor men and generally wreaking havoc on the kingdom. Pharotu, now living in the palace, has created an enormous “changeling” wheel. When he sees the attack, he begins summoning lightning to this wheel, which is spun quickly by a team of six horses. Just before she’s beheaded, Kamar saves Shaherazad. Shaherazad confesses that she can no longer love — Pharotu took her heart so she could bear to live with Sabur. Kamar and Shaherazad head for Pharotu’s tower. The magic carpet is shot down by Pharotu’s lightning. Kamar, Sinbad, and Domingo are forced to fight Sabur and his men. Meanwhile, Aladin, Ali Baba, and Shaherazad rush back to Pharotu’s tower. They find a secret room where Pharotu stores three hearts in identical silver cases. They don’t have any idea which heart is Pharotu’s — until his spider pet arrives to protect the heart, giving away which of the three it is. Pharotu throws himself onto the changeling wheel and becomes a huge chimera (an elephantine combination of a lion, bat, and cobra). Just as Sinbad chops its head off, Shaherazad plunges a dagger through Pharotu’s heart. He is defeated, and Sabur and Shaherazad’s hearts are returned, just in time for Kamar to kill Sabur. Kamar and Shaherazad are married and preside over a happy, peaceful kingdom. Sinbad and the others return to sea.
Comments:Arabian Nights strives to be a fun, exciting action-adventure movie. While it does succeed in providing imaginative visuals and complex action sequences, its silly storyline and one-dimensional characters prevent the script from becoming truly engaging. As written, it merits a pass.
The writers simply have no desire to make these characters interesting. Each has one stock character trait (Kamar the generic hero, Sabur the mustache-twirling villain, Shaherazad the tough gal, Sinbad the tortured warrior-poet), but they never rise above the clichés or do anything unexpected or even interesting. With no investment in the characters, it’s hard to care about who’s fighting whom, which makes the action set-pieces a tedious and repetitive instead of thrilling entertainment.
The first act does a solid job of introducing a huge ensemble of characters and conflicts. The ancient-kingdom political machinations aren’t anything new and aren’t particularly interesting, but the script does become intriguing when the supernatural elements are introduced. Unfortunately, the rules governing these magical forces are never clearly established, another problem detracting from the action sequences. For instance, it’s never made clear why Pharotu the all-powerful alchmeist requires Sabur to do his dirty work, or why he has any investment in the kingdom whatsoever (aside from wanting to maintain control over Sabur, he’s never shown as having any interest in the power of a king).
The second and third acts forsake story and character development for almost nonstop action set-pieces. It’s a novel idea to have Shaherazad’s fictional stories turn out to be true, but it’s ultimately disappointing. The introduction of the characters and story elements serve no purpose other than adding more bodies to the fights and more magical elements to the supernatural fireworks. The introduction of the Genie muddles the rules of this universe even more, because it’s another all-powerful creature whose powers are limited to teleportation and creating magic carpets. The practical reason for these limitations is to add some difficulty to the heroes’ struggle against evil, but why not come up with an explanation rather than insisting Pharotu and the Genie can do anything they want at any time, when they don’t?
Arabian Nights has an excellent concept for fantasy/action fare, but the writers squander the potential by not allowing audiences to get invested in the characters or their problems. They put too much weight on the action sequences. If the action and special effects don’t impress, there won’t be anything left for an audience to latch onto.