Arabian Nights is a 2000 TV mini-series based on the Arabian 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 Shah Zaman, but the two of them conspired at his overthrow. 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 Shah Zaman 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 Shah Zaman 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:
- "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"
- "The Death of the Hunchback"
- "The Sultan and the Beggar"
- "The Three Princes"
It also includes a version of the tale of "The Appointment in Samarra" (not from the Arabian Nights), 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, Scheherazade's father. Familiar faces in the stories include Rufus Sewell and Andy Serkis as Ali Baba and his hapless brother Kasim, Alexei Sayle as the hunchback, Jason Scott Lee and John Leguizamo as Aladdin and his genie, 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.
- 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 Genie of the Ring and the Genie of the Lamp in Aladdin. Even the Lamp Genie 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.
- 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.
- Benevolent Genie: The Genie of the Ring in the tale of Aladdin is benevolent, but limited in its abilities. (The Genie 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
- 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.
- 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 Shahrazad was the first one to marry him after that, so he doesn't kill anyone else.
- 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.
- 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 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. But...Shahrazad: But this is not his story.
Shahryar: Then whose is it?
Shahrazad: Um, Simba — no... Aladdin.
- 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.
- 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...