This retelling of the classic story of 1001 Arabian Nights (abridged somewhat to just a few nights...) works surprisingly well. A mini series edited to form one movie, it may be a little too long to take in one sitting, but this is one of those rare things - a movie that adults will enjoy, but the kids will too.
The story is in fact several stories, as told by Scheherazade to her new husband, the Sultan, in a framing story. The framing story is a rare thing - a device to hold several stories together, which works as well as the individual tales. The Sultan is on the brink of madness as a result of his late wives betrayal. He now has developed a pattern of marrying and then killing the bride in the morning... a pattern Scheherazade intends to break by engrossing him in her tales enough to keep him wanting to hear the end the next night. As she tells her tales, she aims to help his madness subside and impart wisdom to help him confront the reasons for his torment.
And so we get the classic stories of Ali Baba, Aladdin, and a couple more that might be less familiar but are no less compelling, with a surprisingly diverse and well known cast including Alan Bates, Jason Scott Lee, Vanessa Mae, Dougray Scott, Andy Serkis and others.
Scenery and sets all appear surprisingly authentic and detailed, the big budget (for TV) is evident in the terrific effects (genies, magic carpets etc..) and of course the timeless stories work well.
There are a couple of gripes - the sound is in stereo only, and the dubbing is much worse than we should expect from a big budget production these days. Also, while the overall tone works well, the slapstick in places might be a little too much for adults, and the occasional gruesome death may unnerve younger viewers.
A short featurette outlining the undeniable scale of the production completes a package which is a success, provided your expectations are simply for some light entertainment, and nothing more substantial.