Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Arabian Adventure (1979)

"Soar into a magical world of action, excitement and enchantment!"

Plot

Evil wizard Caliph Alquazar will stop at nothing to obtain the magical Rose of Elil, a talisman that will grant him immortality and power over the entire world. He dupes Prince Hasan into retrieving the rose for him, in return for his stepdaughter Princess Zuleria’s hand in marriage, and sends along one of his henchmen to assist, with instructions for him to kill Hasan once the Rose is in their possession. However, mischievous street urchin Majeed and his monkey sidekick are drawn to Hasan's quest when they end up in the possession of a magical jewel gifted to them by the spirit of Vahishta, thus putting a spanner in the plans of Alquazar. Together, the group must go on a quest which will pit them against fire-breathing dragons, evil genies and dangerous gangs of street bandits.

 

Nothing screams authentic Arabian mythology than stiff upper-lipped British actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing donning ridiculous head gear, good old American boy Mickey Rooney flapping around in some baggy pants and Cheers regular and notable animated voice actor John Ratzenberger pratting around on flying magic carpets. I’m sure raging liberals will call this “cultural appropriation” nowadays and demand apologies from the surviving cast and crew. I must admit, the white-lensed take on Arabian mythology is a little bit tacky at times, but it was a totally different time and so can only viewed in the light of day when it was made. Arabian Adventure is a cheap and cheerful British-made fantasy film from the same studio that brought such child-friendly outings as At the Earth’s Core and The Land That Time Forgot and helmed by the same director, Kevin Connor. One review from the time described it as ‘Star Wars with flying carpets instead of space ships’, though if it only had half as much excitement as Lucas’ immortal sci-fi. Being released in 1979, two years after Star Wars, only serves to highlight how low rent this type of film had become. Even the great Ray Harryhausen realised the game was up with the advent of new technology and he called it a day in 1980.



Arabian Adventure is squarely aimed at kids, though it’s difficult to see how kids would engage with this on any level. It’s extremely dull and plodding, kind of summed up by the largely generic and non-descript title, only really picking up steam in the second half. You’d think that the quest to find the Rose of Elil would be a bit more, well, adventurous and involves our hero coming up against a lot more mythical beasts and challenges, rather than taking half of the film’s running time to get him out on the ‘adventure’ in the first place. It’s hardly riveting stuff and bored me to death, so I can only imagine how kids with even more limited attention spans would be feeling. It’s not even bargain bin Ray Harryhausen-esque levels of awe and wonder, just a few random set pieces and the hero comes upon his prize. It somehow doesn’t feel as though he’s earned it.


The scenes involving the flying carpets are decent for the low budget and in the final battle, you can sort of see why the other reviewer compared this to Star Wars – the flying carpet duels between the forces of good and evil very akin to X-wings and TIE fighters dog fighting around the Death Star. But there’s little excitement during the fighting. There’s also an elaborate sequence featuring Mickey Rooney as some inventor, desperately trying to keep a pair of gigantic clockwork fire-breathing monsters working inside an active volcano, which really showcases some nice special effects. Despite the story and overall tone being another take on The Thief of Bagdad, its these original sequences which really offer up the promise that Arabian Adventure could have worked had more effort been put into the script first.


Alan Hume, the director of photography, would go on to become cinematographer for Roger Moore’s final three James Bond films (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill) as well as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. His early talent is evident here, with some dazzling colour photography which really brings to life the Arabian flavour of the bright set designs and lavish costumes. No expense has been spared in this aspect and Arabian Adventure looks the part from a production standpoint – audiences will have little trouble buying into the setting of some mythical Middle Eastern landscape from hundreds of years ago. But again, it’s all very superficial. Behind the gloss, there’s very little substance to it all and Arabian Adventure is a wholly pedestrian affair. Characters are poorly written to the point where they’re literally caricatures. The supporting cast are massively wasted in very small bit-part roles. The romantic leads are very dull, don’t really scream that they’re smitten and in love with each other. And not that much actually happens for us to really give a toss about whether good or evil wins out.


Christopher Lee could do this type of one-note villain role in his sleep so its to his credit and talent that he lifts the film with his sheer presence, never phoning it in and delivering his ridiculous lines with gusto. But it’s up there with Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow as far as his worst films goes. Cushing’s role is little more than two brief cameo appearances and is sadly underused. The fact he doesn’t share any screen time with his long-standing friend and co-actor Lee is an even bigger travesty – the two had an unmistakable chemistry dating back to the 50s and even a brief scene together would have been the film’s highlight. Young Puneet Sira is a little too cutesy in his role as the little boy Marjeeb but his performance is likeable enough and not overly annoying as the case can be with child actors who try too hard to impress. There are roles for a ton of supporting actors you’ll recognise from films of the 70s and 80s to add some flavour to the cast – Shane Rimmer (Warlords of Atlantis, a few James Bond films), Milton Reid (The People That Time Forgot and several other Amicus productions, The Spy Who Loved Me) and Art Malk (The Living Daylights) amongst others – which is a good thing because both Oliver Tobias and Emma Samms are very bland romantic leads.

 

Final Verdict

Arabian Adventure looked old fashioned when it was released in 1979, a film which would have been better served a decade or two earlier, but in the shadow of Star Wars it just looks really feeble and amateurish. There are limited thrills to be had here, with a total waste of an ensemble cast and largely generic and plodding story not helping matters.



 

Arabian Adventure


Director(s): Kevin Connor


Writer(s): Brian Hayles (screenplay)


Actor(s): Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mickey Rooney, Oliver Tobias, John Ratzenberger, Milo O’Shea, Emma Samms, Puneet Sira


Duration: 98 mins