Follow TV Tropes


Series / Arabian Nights

Go To
An epic worthy of a Drew Struzan poster!

Arabian Nights is a 2000 TV mini-series from Hallmark Entertainment based on the One Thousand and One Nights story cycle.

As in the original, it consists of a series of stories told by Shahrazad to her husband, the mad Sultan Shahryar, to forestall his determination to have her executed before she can betray him as his first wife did. This adaptation elaborates on the first wife's betrayal, revealing that she was not only having an affair with Shahryar's brother Shahzaman, but the two of them conspired to overthrow him. It is also said that Shahryar only remarried because of a law requiring him to do so or give up the throne (in which case Shahzaman would get it after all).

To prevent things going on for the traditional 1001 nights — this is, after all, only a mini-series — a subplot is added in which Shahzaman is preparing to take the throne by force. In the end, Shahryar battles and defeats his brother, drawing inspiration from the stories Shahrazad has told him, and they live happily ever after.

Scheherazade tells versions of the following stories:

It also includes a version of the tale of "The Appointment in Samarra" (not from the source material), told to Shahrazad by a marketplace storyteller she asks for storycraft advice.

The frame story features Dougray Scott as Shahryar, Mili Avital as Shahrazad, and Jim Carter as Grand Vizier Ja'Far, Shahrazad's father. Familiar faces in the stories include Rufus Sewell as Ali Baba and Andy Serkis and his hapless brother Kasim, Alexei Sayle as Bak-bak the hunchback, Jason Scott Lee as Aladdin and John Leguizamo as his jinn, and James Callis as one of the Three Princes.

This mini-series provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: What happened to the first wife. Shahryar was aiming for his brother but hit his wife by accident.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Because Shahrazad is the first woman to marry Shahryar after the wife who betrayed him, he doesn't kill any brides in this version. Also he didn't mean to kill his first wife, he did so accidentally after she tried to kill him, and his decision to marry and then murder a girl is somewhat mitigated when it is established early on that he is suffering from PTSD from his wife and brother trying to kill him and this has caused him to develop a genuine mental illness. Unlike his literary counterpart he's not in full control of his actions.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Shahryar's first wife just cheated on him in the original tale. Here she was cheating on him with his brother, while also plotting to overthrow him.
  • Ambiguously Related: The Jinni of the Ring and the Jinni of the Lamp in Aladdin. Even the Lamp Jinni himself isn't sure. Apparently the tests were inconclusive.
  • Archer Archetype: Prince Ahmed in the tale of the Three Princes.
  • Author Avatar: Shahryar suspects this when Shahrazad is describing the beautiful, clever, independent Morgiana, to which she responds, "Like me? . . . Oh, no, she wasn't like me. Not like me at all." In the story being shown, Morgiana's face then changes from looking exactly like Shahrazad into a different woman.
  • Babies Ever After: At the end of the miniseries, it's revealed that the entire account was being told by Shahrazad, to her and Shahryar's children.
  • Benevolent Genie: The Jinni of the Ring in the tale of Aladdin is benevolent, but limited in its abilities. (The Jinni of the Lamp is less friendly, though not actively hostile.)
  • Broken Aesop: In-universe. When Shahrazad finishes the story of "The Death of the Hunchback," Shahryar asks her what the moral was. She replies that the moral was that people should take responsibility for their mistakes. Shahryar points out that the moral doesn't work, because if the many people who hid Bak-bak's corpse had taken responsibility and turned the body in, the entire misunderstanding would not have happened and Bak-bak would not have gotten his happy ending (a humorous death to be remembered by).
  • Brownface: Jim Carter is wearing this to look more Middle-Eastern.
  • But You Were There, and You, and You:
    • When Shahrazad tells the tale of the Sultan and the Beggar, Shahryar pictures himself as the tormented and possibly mad Beggar, his brother as the cruel Sultan, and Ja'Far as the Sultan's principled but loyal Grand Vizier.
    • There's an earlier, more subtle example with the demon's wife in Shahryar's dream. When Shahrazad meets with his harem girls, one of them is played by the same actress as the wife. Shahryar's dream reflected his paranoia about the "evils" of wives and women, and his mind put in a woman who he potentially had a relationship with.
    • In a more minor example, the actress of the lady in charge of the harem also plays Aladdin's mother.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Elements from Shahrazad's stories are used by Shahryar to defeat his brother's army (e.g. his soldiers hide under the sand, just as the Forty Thieves did).
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Shahrazad and Shahryar.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: In the tale of the Hunchback, each person who finds the hunchback's corpse is afraid of being blamed for his death, so they hide it somewhere else, where another person finds it and becomes afraid of being blamed for his death, so...
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Genie of the Lamp; when Aladdin's mother suggests they wish for money, he dryly comments, "I've never heard that request before."
  • Death as Comedy: The whole point of the tale of the Hunchback.
  • The Evil Prince: Shah Zaman.
  • Familiar: The sorcerer who recruits Aladdin to retrieve the lamp for him has a raven as a familiar.
  • A Family Affair: Shahryar's first wife was having an affair with his brother.
  • Framing Device: Based on one of the most famous ones in history.
  • Genie in a Bottle: The tale of Aladdin has the traditional Genie of the Lamp, and also the less powerful and prepossessing Genie of the Ring (who is also in the original story but usually left out of adaptations). Both are played by the same actor.
  • The Good Chancellor: In defiance of received tradition both Shahryar's Grand Vizier in the frame story and Harun's Grand Vizier in the tale of the Sultan and the Beggar are this, balancing loyalty to the Sultan with some attempt to shield those below from the Sultan's shortcomings as a ruler.
  • The Good King: The Sultan and the Beggar had the Beggar turned out to be a reform-minded and capable ruler that the Vizier and the Guard Commander have the Beggar as a replacement after the previous Sultan died (which was self-inflicted indirectly when the Beggar stabbed the door he was hiding behind during a breakdown from having to experience a life of a sultan to a beggar to a sultan).
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: How Shah Zaman meets his death: his brother kicks him back into a fallen rack of spears during their Duel to the Death.
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • This adaptation does a lot of tweaking to Shahryar's backstory to make him into somebody a modern audience would want Shahrazad to live happily ever after with. His wife wasn't just cheating on him but also plotting to overthrow him and he killed her accidentally, and while he does plan to do the whole 'marry and kill the next morning' scheme in his madness and grief, Shahrazad was the first one to marry him after that and instantly starts his healing process, so he doesn't kill anyone else. Also the two are established as knowing each other as children and Shahrazad already being in love with him from then so she's not just sacrificing the rest of her life to being a stranger's wife.
    • This version of the tale of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" leaves out the bit where Morgiana kills most of the thieves with boiling oil, replacing it with her getting them all captured by the city guards. Though they do still die but judicial hanging is friendlier on the age rating.
  • Magic Carpet: One of the three treasures in the tale of the Three Princes.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: The Sultan's advisers in the tale of the Sultan and the Beggar.
  • On One Condition: The law that the Sultan has to remarry or give up the throne.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Morgiana for Ali Baba. In the original version of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", Ali Baba is middle-aged and already married, and Morgiana winds up marrying his son.
  • Race Lift: Technically. The original Aladdin tale was set in China, but he's more famously thought of as a Middle-Eastern character. Here the story takes place in China, one of, if not the ONLY adaptation to keep the original setting of the tale.
  • Retcon: In-Universe. Several times during Shahrazad's first tale, things change on-screen as she changes her mind about details. The most obvious is when she narrates that the Forty Thieves came to town in a wagon, which is shown on screen, and then has a better idea and adds that they were in a wagon hidden inside large pots, and suddenly they are.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: When the sorcerer recruits Aladdin to retrieve the lamp, he warns him, "Don't try and betray me. If you do, I swear by Hector's feathers, you will never see your wedding day." And when Aladdin weds the princess, the sorcerer's raven suddenly loses all its feathers.
  • Ring of Power: The genie ring in the tale of Aladdin.
  • Shout-Out: The Wizard's name in Aladdin is Mustappa, which isn't quite a Disney reference. It is in fact from at least some versions of the story (though usually as the name of Aladdin's father). But...
    Shahrazad: But this is not his story.
    Shahryar: Then whose is it?
    Shahrazad: Um, Simba — no... Aladdin.
  • Shown Their Work: Aladdin is portrayed as an inhabitant of Samarkand, historically one of the capitals of the Kara-Khanid Khanate. The Kara-Khanid Khanate covered what is today Central Asia and the Chinese region of Xinjiang, these being the areas that comprised Turkestan, the most likely setting for the original Aladdin story. Furthermore, the Khanate identified themselves with China via their rulers calling themselves things such as "Khan of China", much of their territory having belonged to the Tang Dynasty, their rulers having formed marriage relations with China's Liao dynasty, and one of their scholars referring to the area around Kashgar, another of their capitals, as "Lower China."
  • Sultry Belly Dancer: Morgiana performs a dance at her wedding to Ali Baba - interspersed with Shahrazad dancing for the sultan as she tells the story. The dance has a practical purpose though: She's spotted Black Koda in disguise who has come to murder Ali, but Morgiana stabs him while he's Distracted by the Sexy.
  • The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: Well, not literally but damn close. Both genies in Aladdin make use of anachronistic tools, with the Genie of the Lamp using a modern wrench to turn off the rain and the Genie of the Ring unsuccessfully attempting to avoid harm with glasses (although oddly he doesn't actually know what they are).
  • Truer to the Text: The story of Aladdin was originally set in China but the character of Aladdin in most media incarnations is Middle Eastern. This series presents one of the very few Aladdin stories that explicitly takes place in China and the titular character himself is portrayed by Jason Scott Lee, an actor of Chinese descent.
  • Uptown Girl: In the tale of Aladdin.
  • William Telling: In the tale of the Three Princes, Prince Ahmed is called on to shoot a target balanced on a child's head— blindfolded— to prove himself worthy of the treasure he seeks. It turns out to be a Secret Test of Character; when he declines to take the shot, admitting he's not certain he won't hit the child, he passes the test.
  • You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses: The Genie of the Ring tries this when confronting the Genie of the Lamp.
    Genie of the Ring: You wouldn't hit a guy wearing...whatever these are would you?
    Genie of the Lamp: Hold still while I think about it...