Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events review by Mike Long

It was bound to happen. While books for children (of all ages) had been around forever, once the "Harry Potter" books took off in popularity, it was inevitable that we would see a boom in the publishing of books for youngsters. This included many serialized books, which, like the "Harry Potter" novels, told the story over a series of volumes. One of the most popular of these books is the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books by an author named Lemony Snicket (AKA Daniel Handler). These books, like “Harry Potter” tells a somewhat dark and somewhat sinister tale, and have encompassed 11 volumes thus far. And like the bespectacled wizard, the characters from the Lemony Snicket’s books found themselves in a major theatrical film with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

As the film opens, we meet the three Baudelaire children; Violet (Emily Browning) is the oldest and she is a brilliant inventor; Klaus (Liam Aiken), the middle child, is an avid reader and absorbs every book that he gets his hands on; and Sunny (Kara & Shelby Hoffman), the youngest, simply likes to bite things. While the children are out playing one day, they are visited by Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), a banker, who informs them that there has been a fire and that there parents are dead. Distraught, the Baudelaire children now find themselves the Baudelaire orphans. Mr. Poe informs them that they will now be in the custody of an actor named Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Olaf lives in a dilapidated mansion and it becomes immediately clear that he is only interested in obtaining the children’s inheritance and doesn’t care for the kid’s well-being. The children, being brilliant, recognize Olaf for the scoundrel that he is straight-away, and begin to work on ways to get away from him. But, they soon learn that Olaf doesn’t take defeat lightly and that no matter where the children go, or what bizarre obstacles they encounter, he will try to get the money.

At first glance, it’s very easy to dismiss Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The overall feel of the story is very reminiscent of Roald Dahl and the movie looks like something that would come from one of Tim Burton’s daydreams. Yet, the movie does a great deal of assert its own position in the world. The main story of the film -- the fact that the Baudelaire children are now orphans and must fend for themselves -- is unoriginal, but the movie makes up for this by revealing a very detailed script. Each scene contains another challenge for the kids to overcome, and most of these scenes contain very colorful characters, such as Mr. Poe, Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), and Count Olaf's acting troupe. These situations and characters rise above the movie's basic premise and add a great deal of texture to the film. The film also benefits from incredible production design, and the viewer constantly finds themselves scanning the background, marveling at the amount of detail. As with films from David Lynch or the Coen Brothers, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events takes place in an indeterminate time, as the settings appear to be in the 19th century, but the characters talk about faxes.

The movie also gets a boost from its cast. As with Robin Williams, Jim Carrey's manic schtick has began to grew very tiresome as of late, but he has truly found a great role in Count Olaf. Carrey's tremendous energy feels very genuine coming from Olaf, and he adds just the right amount of menace to the character. And through the course of the film, Olaf dons several disguises and Carrey loses himself in these changes. Whereas Carrey's characters usual stand out to the point of being unbelievable, Olaf fits in very nicely in the world of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and brings the movie to another level. The actors portraying the Baudelaire children are very good as well. I typically cringe at the thought of films containing "clever children", but the kids in this are very well-written, and so bathed in cynicism that they aren't annoying. Emily Browning and Liam Aiken are very good as Violet and Klaus respectively, and they bring the right mixture of maturity and innocence to the roles. The film is also loaded with nice supporting roles by many famous names, which helps to make the odd and dark story more engaging.

As I haven't read the books (my wife read the first one and hated it), I can't say whether or not Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a good adaptation. I can say that the film is highly entertaining, incredible looking, and wholly engaging. Jim Carrey has found the role of a lifetime with Count Olaf, and the movie does a great job of mixing a fast-moving story with dark humor. (The film may be a little too dark for some youngsters.) I can only hope that we will see film versions of the other books in the "Lemony Snicket" series.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events comes to DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The movie is coming to DVD in three different versions, one widescreen, one full-frame, and a two-disc collector's edition (which is widescreen). For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks very good, as the image is very sharp and clear. The image shows basically no grain and is very detailed. The dark photography looks great and the brightness of the picture is always well balanced. The colors look very good. There are very minor examples of edge-enhancement, but there are no major problems from artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which sounds fantastic. The dialogue is always sharp and clear. Surround sound effects and subwoofer action abound in the movie and several scenes (especially the train scene) are showstoppers.

The various DVD incarnations of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events contain many extras. The single-disc version is the same as Disc 1 of the two-disc release. The extras on this disc are kicked off by two audio commentaries. The first features director Brad Siberling, who does a fine job of describing his involvement in the film, the actors, and the production. He goes into great detail on some subjects (such as the casting of Sunny), but never gets dry or boring. The second commentary has Siberling with "The Real Lemony Snicket" (presumably Daniel Handler). This is a truly odd chat, as Snicket is appalled by the fact that someone would make a film of his depressing stories and is constantly shocked by the visuals in the film. "Bad Beginnings" contains three featurettes. "Building a Bad Actor" (13 minutes) focuses on the characters that Jim Carrey plays and contains a great deal of test footage in which Carrey ad-libs, thus finding a voice for each character. "Making the Baudelaire Children Miserable" (3 minutes) also contains screen tests, as it explores the casting of the children. With "Interactive Olaf", the viewer can watch all of Carrey's screen-tests, changing audio and video on the fly. "Orphaned Scenes" contains 11 deleted scenes and extended scenes, which total 14 minutes. The extended version of the finale is quite funny. "Obnoxious Outtakes" has 14 minutes of bloopers, broken up into 5 categories. Those who truly loved the film, or simply want to know more about how it was made, will want to check out the 2-disc Collector's Edition, as it has some 11 featurettes exploring the film's special effects, sound design, costume design, production design, and score.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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