"Arabian Adventure," a modestly diverting British production from the same team responsible for the perky "Warlords and Atlantis" -- producer John Dark, director Kevin Connor and screenwriter Brian Hayles -- attempts to recall the charms of an Arabian Nights spectacle like "The Thief of Baghdad."
Within its obviously limited resources and cramped pictorial quarters, the movie is adequate casual entertainment, a Saturday-matinee sort of attraction with a few magical and farfetched moments that may particularly delight kids.
The evil caliph Alquazar, played by Christopher Lee, lusts for absolute power, which may be his if he can acquire a fabled talisman, the Rose of Elil. Since only a virtuous individual can lay hands on this prize, Alquazar attempts to exploit a timely candidate, the noble Prince Hassan (Oliver Tobias), who has arrived at the caliph's court to request the hand of his stepdaughter, the beautiful Princess Zuleira (Emma Samms).
Alquazar promises to honor his request if Hassan brings back the powerful Rose from the island of Elil. Of course, Alquazar has no intention of keeping his promise. He sends along a flunky, Khasim (Milo O'Shea), to perform whatever treachery is required once Hassan discovers the Rose. Fortunately, Hassan is also accompanied by a loyal fellow adventurer, an impoverished but lion-hearted waif named Majeed (Puneet Sira), whose courage and compassion prove crucial to the success of the quest and the eventual overthrow of the cruel Alquazar.
Judging from the look of the sets, the swordplay and some of the trick photography, the production enjoyed neither the time nor money necessary to perfect its illusions. However, the most important spectacle, magic-carpet riding, is fairly effective. The happiest moments for kids appear to be the vertiginous back projecting shots of carpets aloft, flying over snowy mountains or preparing to meet in climactic dogfights above the caliph's castle. Awkward as it is, swordfighting aboard a flying carpet looks irresistibly entertaining.
Majeed's exploits are designed to be especially gratifying to children. There was a squeal of pleasure at a reverse-motion shot that showed him ascending through the air to roll onto a carpet in mid-flight. No doubt every kid in the theater will beam with satisfaction when circumstances allow Majeed to acquire the Rose, restore the life of Hassan, and deliver the coup de grace to Alquazar.
Mickey Rooney contributes an amusing mock-villainous performance as a kind of demented, boiler-room wizard, the guardian of three mechanically operated monsters intended to frighten away seekers of the Rose. From an underground command post he tends the furnaces and regulates the valves that lift these ponderous, fire-breathing bogies into view. He also supplies their growls and snarls, augmented by a giant amplification system. Understandably, he has grown a little screwball maintaining such a complicated plant and strenuous fiction.
(Rooney has a more important and endearing role in the sublime new adventure film, "The Black Stallion." It's distressing to learn that the picture's national release may be delayed until February. It's the best American movie of 1979 and one of the most beautiful, fundamentally stirring adventure stories ever filmed.)
"Arabian Adventure" isn't a classic. It's a decent entertainment, undeniably second-rate in many respects, but also animated by a sincere desire to please the young moviegoers it's intended to attract.