Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
November 16, 2005
Over the last few years children have been treated to the magical tales of Harry Potter through a series of blockbuster novels and movies, but now comes something for those children who found Potter a bit mainstream: a bleak, askew story of gothic proportions, a twisted tale for twisted children. Like Potter, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is based upon a popular children’s book or rather three books. Taking the stories from the first three of eleven (to date) books and producing a macabre fairy tale that seems to be the perfect aberration of Tim Burton and Roald Dahl.
This is not your average fairy tale, no piglets, cookies or mirrors on the wall and the Littlest Elf can bugger off as well. This is dark, dirty and grim. The story follows the Baudelaire children, who, after the tragic fire in which their parents perished the three orphans are placed in the care of their distant relative, Count Olaf, who has a wicked agenda for his sudden generosity. Olaf, an actor by trade, is vain, self-centered, eccentric and greedy, and quickly turns nasty when he discovers that he is not entitled to the Baudelaire’s inheritance. After a shocking attempt on their lives, the children are taken from Count Olaf and placed with other weird yet wonderful family members: snake enthusiast Uncle Monty and bag of nerves Aunt Josephine. But that doesn’t stop Olaf as he makes every effort and use of his questionable acting skills to capture the children back.
Jim Carrey has once again found a marvelous character, in Count Olaf that enables him to do what he does best, play the fool. Not since The Mask has Carrey captured the caricature elements or comic timing of a role so perfectly. His eccentric vanity and downright madness plays well against the three orphans, who as far as child actors go, aren’t that bad either. In fact Emily Browning is almost as perfect as Carrey, as the genius inventor Violet Baudelaire. The many cameos also add to the well acted performances from Billy Connelly, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman and Cedric the Entertainer.
The script is solid except for the fact that it so blatantly obvious that this is a hybrid of three separate stories, and two of the stories follow the same structure and repetitive feel, but this is hardly a massive concern – it works and that’s the main thing. There are moments when Olaf’s madness degrades a step further into scary, as his sinister scheme reveals murderous plans and a controversial plot point that involves him forcing the 14 year old Violet to marry him. As intended, the time period in which this story takes place is unplaceable, from the costumes to the mise-en-scene, there’s something taken from various eras and societies, Victorian, Elizabethan, Contemporary – they are all blended in so well that the production team have created a world of their own. Adding to this era-blending is the amalgamation of the dark, gothic imagery and although cliché-ridden with black splaying trees, bats, crows and pinstriped clothing; this too also seems very natural in this movie.
While some of the themes here seem quite murky and adult, this is not the work of the occult. There’s no swearing, or anything of a sexual nature and the violence is handled without being graphic, although the use of words like “Lothario” and “Verisimilitude” might raise a few question marks from a younger audience, A Series of Unfortunate Events is disturbingly pleasant, gothic viewing for all the family.
The menus are suitable with their twisted, card-like animations and stick to the gothic themes that are visible in the film. Disc One shows you the deleted scenes which clock in at 15 minutes and feature more in depth look at Jennifer Coolidge’s character who is barely seen in the film. The outtakes seem to be more like extended scenes in most cases but are funny and worth a watch. As you can imagine, Jim Carrey comes up with rib-tickling ad-libs. For extra ad-libage, see the Jim Carrey screen tests – lengthy but amusing, to a point. There is a choice for the commentaries, you have the option of director Brad Silberling monotonous track or the painstaking unfunny, yet trying his very best to be, track with Brad and the real Lemony Snicket. His sarcastic comments of “oh this is just dreadful” and “turn off this film,” should make you want to.
Disc Two fairs much better when it comes to information value. In fact, it’s information overload, but fails on entertainment value. Extremely overly lengthy pieces on every aspect of The Making of…, including approximately an hour plus worth of viewing on both Set Construction and Sound Recording. Although quite interesting and reasonably unique in the world of extra features the presentation of these features is hard to sit through. Interviews and voiceovers are rare and we are left with the raw footage of a group, most of which we have no idea who they are, discussing how to solve a problem with recording hiss as accompaniment. The target audience of the young will not be impressed.