Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Lemony Snicket (the unseen Jude Law) narrates the movements of three orphans after their parents are killed in a fire. Violet, Klaus and infant Sunny Baudelaire are all exceptionally intelligent children and each possesses a unique gift. They are an inventor, reader, and biter respectively. The three combine to form a collective “MacGyver.” Though Sunny does not actually speak, she is given many of the punch lines as her noises are translated via subtitle.
The trio is pitted against their first guardian, the evil thespian Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). He pursues the children in hopes of acquiring their vast inheritance. Though Carey dominated the film’s publicity, he does not overtake the film. Count Olaf fits Carey’s resume of outlandish characters. He plays Olaf as humorous and not dark and some of his lines (presumably ad-libbed) do not fit the film. ("I'll give him the old wax-on, wax-off.") Co-producer John Malkovich might have been better for the part.
Olaf’s acting troupe has many recognizable faces including Jennifer Coolidge (aka “Stifler's Mom”), Luis Guzmán, and late night personality Craig Ferguson.
The film is dark and almost instantly the viewer is subjected to the news of the first in a series of unfortunate events. The film presents Charles Dickens’ style quirky characters on a Tim Burton landscape. It is not surprising that Burton was once attached to direct this film. Under Burton’s direction, Johnny Depp was to play Count Olaf and Glenn Close was cast as Aunt Josephine. When Burton left the project, Johnny Depp bolted as well. Replacement director Brad Silberling replaced Close with Meryl Streep, feeling she better fir the role.
The film’s sets and costumes draw from a wide range of periods, giving it a timeless, fairy tale feel. It especially utilizes the vastly different Edwardian period and the 1950's. For the record, according to a letter the children receive at the end of the film, the Baudelaire Mansion, is located at 23 Prospero Place, Boston, Massachusetts.
The film is an adaptation of the 13-book series by Daniel Handler. The viewer need not be familiar with the books to appreciate the movie. Only eleven books had been completed at the time of the film’s release.
The movie condenses the first three books -"The Bad Beginning," "The Reptile Room," and "The Wide Window" - into one unit by sandwiching books two and three between the first novel. This gives the film a choppy episodic feel. The film also has countless allusions to other books in the series. The abridgement was necessary as the books are simply not long enough to merit a feature length film. Even so, this treatment has alienated some of the books’ loyal fan base.
The film has several positive themes such as the benefits of teamwork and the refusal to give up regardless of how dire the circumstances. Despite having children as the lead actors, this film is too dark for the small children, but is acceptable for most anyone else. There is almost no profanity and no sex.
On the negative, the payoff is weak and the plot is full of full of holes. Still, if you enjoy macabre fairy tales, there is a good chance you will like this film.
Current IMDB rating: 6.9/10. Chanalysis: 6/10.