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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Arabian Adventure (Blu-ray)
Arabian Adventure (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // G // May 28, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted June 14, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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Arabian Adventure (1979) was the fifth and final film of a series of fantasy-adventures produced by John Dark and directed by Kevin Connor, following The Land That Time Forgot (1974), At the Earth's Core (1976), The People That Time Forgot (1977), and Warlords of Atlantis (aka Warlords of the Deep, 1978). Medium-budget films produced in the U.K., the best of these films, particularly The Land That Time Forgot, had a peculiar, hard-to-define charm, their rudimentary if plentiful special visual effects offset by engaging stories, characters, and well-cast leading and supporting players. These pictures did reasonably well theatrically, but made an even bigger splash on American network prime-time television, where they scored high ratings and were repeated multiple times.

Arabian Adventure enjoyed a higher budget of $4 million, probably about double the earlier films, though still less than half that of the first Star Wars (1977), and was not a success, bringing the non-official series to an end. The original script, by busy Doctor Who scribe Brian Hayles (who died at 47 before this was released) is essentially a reworking of The Thief of Bagdad, but on its own terms is quite colorful and fairly charming, though ultimately less involving than the earlier Dark-Connor films. Some ads touted it as "Star Wars on flying carpets!" but it could hardly compete with that film, though overall it is a bit better than the final Ray Harryhausen-Charles H. Schneer feature, the mostly turgid Clash of the Titans (1981), whose live action scenes were shot at about the same time.

The picture starts out well, with Sabu-like Majeed (Puneet Sira, quite appealing and now a major Bollywood director), arriving at a Bagdad-like mountain kingdom lorded over by evil caliph Alquazar (Christopher Lee). After days in the desert, the young boy and his pet monkey are dying of thirst, but the harsh city dwellers dismiss the boy as a beggar and most refuse to help him. Meanwhile, Prince Hasan (Oliver Tobias) accepts an offer from Alquazar to face endless perils in the desert to find a magical rose, the caliph promising him the hand of Princess Zuleira (Emma Samms) if he succeeds.

The caliph provides Prince Hasan a "bodyguard" in the form of cowardly informant Khashim (Milo O'Shea) and a flying carpet. Majeed, by this point having acquired a magical diamond that works much like a magical oil lamp, soon joins them.

Arabian Adventure had no chance of eclipsing the great 1940 film of The Thief of Bagdad, but its earnestness and flashes of imagination make it honorable effort that, admirably, is never condescending or campy, but old-fashioned in the good sense. Alan Hume's cinematography is unexpectedly lush, far more so than in the recent Harryhausen films, at times nearly approximating the brilliant primary lushness of the 1940 three-strip Technicolor film. Similarly, top-billed Christopher Lee was a great admirer of Conrad Veidt's performance as the villain in the earlier picture; Lee doesn't emulate it, but tries hard to leave a lasting mark with his own evil caliph.

The special effects are impressive given the limited budget. The optical composites are generally very good, though the flying carpet scenes - very hard to pull off under the best of circumstances - aren't convincing. Still, in high-definition on Blu-ray sharp-eyed viewers can just discern how these optical effects and miniatures were done, and many are well-executed. Intriguingly, some effects harken back to the days of Georges Méliès, such as the use of mirrors in a few of the flying carpet shots, and the use of sleight-of-hand tricks in a scene between Majeed and a thief played by John Ratzenberger, the future Cheers actor still in his British period. That scene also exemplifies the occasional cleverness of Hayles script: the magic diamond is extracted from an ordinary peach: in Majeed's possession it's a magical diamond, but when others hold it, it turns into a rotting peach pit.

Production designer Elliot Scott works wonders with the limited budget, and would soon move on to major Hollywood films, including Dragonslayer (1981), Labyrinth (1986), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the latter being his last film. Particularly fine are three enormous, fire-breathing dragons our heroes encounter in the desert, which turn out to be elaborate steam-powered contraptions operated by Daad El Shur (guest star Mickey Rooney). The production design in this sequence especially is not unlike something out of a Terry Gilliam film.

Other credits point to its mid-level but professional polish. Ken Thorne's score is above average and, besides Ratzenberger, familiar faces like the late Shane Rimmer, Art Malik, Milton Reid (as a malevolent jinnee), many associated with the Dark-Connor films, pepper its cast. Peter Cushing is fine in his brief appearance as a political prisoner of the caliph, but is isolated from everyone but Tobias and shares no scenes with Lee, alas.

Video & Audio

Previously available only in the U.K. via a poor DVD video transfer released in 2007, Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray, licensed from Studio Canal, is especially welcome. The 1.85:1 presentation looks splendid, really bringing out the color while vastly improving the sharpness. The DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) is good and accompanied by optional English subtitles. Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements include an audio commentary track with director Kevin Connor and a trailer. (An EMI production, in America this was one of the very first releases of Orion Pictures.)

Parting Thoughts

Not great but pleasant and a good rainy afternoon movie with the kids, Arabian Adventure looks great on Blu-ray and Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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