Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

A cropped image from the credit sequence, featuring the title of the film and the children's silhouettes.

Alisa and I checked out Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events on DVD a little while back, and I must say that it was a very interesting film and a truly gorgeous one. It didn’t meet my expectations, but it didn’t let me down, either. It is very much its own world. I haven’t read the books, but I would guess that the film is more about the spirit rather than the letter of the tales (it takes events from a few of the books in the series).


The children Violet, Sunny, and Klaus.

The tale is, as the title suggests, full of misfortune. It has an entertaining ’we could be maudlin here, but I warned you about how this would go’ tone to it that keeps the film entertaining rather than aggravating, which I appreciated. There was a definite Edward Gorey-esque tone to the whole thing; a dry sinister wit that is skillfully aimed at both adults and children. Ironically though, the Baudelaire children appear far more morose than they actually turned out to be.

Violet.

Violet Baudelaire is probably the best example of this odd contradiction. She was expertly costumed, made up, and lit, but her attitude was one of optimistic resolution at times. The actress, Emily Browning, gave her a spot-on resourcefulness that worked most of the time, but occasionally she broke with the tone of the over film and seemed…I don’t know…too upbeat, I guess? The film is guilty of sometimes letting in a bit more sunlight than I’d hoped, as it’s best when it’s droll and dreary. However, I did watch it twice so that clearly doesn’t ruin the experience.

I don’t want to play down the other children, as they did a great job and were expertly cast, but there’s so much I could linger on that I’ll leave it at that. Oh, one more thing, don’t ever, every make CGI babies. They look creepy and never quite work. Seriously.

Count Olaf in front of his front door, which is carved with an eye motif.

Of course, I can’t discuss this flick without touching on Jim Carey’s performance as Count Olaf (and various others). Carey does a great job with the Count. Occasionally I was bothered by his tendency to err on the side of funny or goofy, but the result was certainly fun. His ability to inhabit and own each character was very impressive. I get the impression the book left a great deal of latitude, so he and director Brad Silberling spent a great deal of time crafting these personae as developed beings with a backstory, much as the Count would do (he’s a an actor). If you view the commentary/extras on the DVD you’ll see how much of the film was a result of this creative process. So I’m sure that purists were bothered by the liberties they took, but since I had no point of reference, I didn’t mind. Not only did he excel in his acting of the characters, but the makeup design was also superb. Here are examples of the Count, a fisherman, and a fraudulent reptile-studying assistant.

The biggest and best part of this film is, by far, the visuals. Instead of droning on about them, I’ll just show you some sample views:

Klaus sits at the edge of a misty sea, looking out on dead trees and a waning sun amongst grey clouds.

A car is ferried across a bay on a float that is powered by a seated man pedaling large rotors.

Violet enters the theatre as part of a play, with the spotlight on her.

Players in Olaf's play, with the audience looking on and strung lights above them.

A rickety old house stands just off a cliffside on spindly wood scaffolding.

In a picture held by two hands, Violet ties her hair back by the sea.

There are many of these finely crafted and entirely fantastic moments and sets. The visuals alone really are worth seeing.

Underneath it all is a story that moves briskly from moment to moment and doesn’t waste time trying to explain its oddness or sometimes implausible turns. Focusing too much on the general plot is not a good idea. The experience is best when you’re in the moment and enjoying what’s in front of you. From beginning to end there’s little cohesion, but a lot of talent and wit. Go rent it. It’s very well-designed fun.

The silhouetted narrator, Lemony Snicket, leans over his typewriter.

In my next post, I’m going to focus on the film titles for Lemony Snicket, which are absolutely perfect and, in my opinion, often exceeded the film.

MPAA Review: Thematic elements, scary situations and brief language.
Ad Exec Reviews: On December 17, Christmas cheer takes a holiday; Don’t say we didn’t warn you; This Holiday, Christmas Cheer takes a break; At last a holiday movie without all that pesky hope and joy; Mishaps. Mayhem. Misadventures. Oh joy; Ruining Christmas December 17; We’re very concerned; Darkening theaters December 17.

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