Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is based on children’s books written supposedly by one Lemony Snicket (who, as narrator of the movie, sounds suspiciously like Jude Law). The series of books, about the unfortunate adventures of the Baudelaire orphans, spans twelve volumes (so far). This movie covers the events in the first three books (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window). The books have a wonderfully lugubrious quality, so the question to answer here would be: does the movie successfully capture this tone? The Baudelaire orphans are Violet (Emily Browning), known for an inventive streak that would make MacGuyver feel inadequate; Klaus (Liam Aiken), known for never forgetting anything he reads; and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), known for being a fantastic biter. At the start of the movie they are not orphans yet, but their parents soon perish in a mysterious fire. The mean and nasty Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) is given custody of the orphans, and it soon becomes evident he views them as little more than slaves who will eventually be done away with once he can claim the Baudelaire fortune.

The movie, consisting of the contents of the first three books, has an episodic feel to it. Besides wriggling out of the evil Count Olaf’s clutches, the Baudelaire orphans must deal with an eccentric uncle herpetologist (Billy Connolly) who wants to take them to Peru to study reptiles, a wigged-out Aunt Josephine who seems afraid of her own shadow, and other dangers like giant leeches, bad actors, oncoming trains, and peg-legged sailors. These children manage to narrowly escape each time by utilizing their talents and sticking together no matter what.

So after writing the above gothic buildup of the plot, what can I say about the movie itself? I think it is a really good film, but unfortunately not great. Movie studios are itching to match the success of the Harry Potter movies, which is obviously why the Lemony Snicket books were turned into a film. Like the series based on the boy sorcerer, Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events is not afraid of a dark overtone (although in this case it is a deliberately overdone overtone so to speak). I don’t know about the books, but this movie lacks something that the Harry Potter series has in spades: I genuinely love and care about Harry, Hermoine, and Ron. Those children make the series – the adults are important but they are secondary. In this movie I found the children’s characters to be a little underdeveloped. I like them, I found them to be beautiful children and I do care about them, (and I really loved Sunny who gets the best lines in the movie), but still I felt their characters weren’t as interesting as some of the adults.

I could argue that the problem was Jim Carrey being cast as Count Olaf. He is the best thing about the movie, and is actually somewhat reined in (for Jim Carrey). I could claim he overshadowed the children but I still think it had more to do with the screenplay. It had scenes of the children uniting and fighting against their problems but I wish those scenes were deeper. The actors playing the kids did a good job but I still didn’t connect with them as much as I wanted to. The movie itself is gorgeous in a gothic, black-and-grey style. Maybe the sets and the cinematography overwhelmed the story. This review marks the first time I am going to give a DVD a better grade than the movie itself. This disc is DVD done right! Someone gave a damn about putting together a satisfying package for the movie lover and DVD enthusiast. First off the picture quality is stunning. This movie is wall-to-wall jammed full of fantastic imagery and the disc showcases it well. This movie was the first I played on a new sound system and the score, effects, and dialog all stand out apart from one another and are crisp and clear.

I also truly enjoyed the extras. Sometime sloughing through DVD extras can be a teeth-grinding experience but in this case I had fun. At first I groaned at having to go through two commentaries but I enjoyed both of them. Director Brad Silberling talks wall-to-wall on his solo commentary about behind the scenes stuff. In an effects-laden adventure like this movie I eat up commentary about it with a spoon. The secondary commentary, which has Brad Silberling and the supposed real-life Lemony Snicket is an absolute scream, an all-out hilarious commentary as Mr. Snicket moans about everything from the director’s sadism and Meryl Streep’s penchant for scaring the hell out of children in her films.

The extras include fun behind-the-scenes bits and outtakes and deleted scenes. All of the deleted scenes are worth watching, and I note that some of them expanded on the children’s characters. It’s too bad they were not incorporated into an extended edition of the movie.

To reiterate my earlier sentiment, the movie is good; really good, but I wish more care had been taken with the children’s characters. After watching it again I realized I was also let down by a somewhat anticlimactic ending. These problems, when viewed in context of the whole production, would be easy to overcome. The movie did mediocre business at the box office (in comparison to its budget) so I hope the DVD sales make up for it. I for one would love to see a sequel, especially if the problems from this movie were fixed. In the meantime, enjoy one of the better discs released so far this year.