Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Posted by on Dec 16, 2011 in Scary | 1 comment

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Disclaimer: Not a film about a happy little elf. The movie you are about to see is extremely unpleasant.

If you like stories about clever, reasonably attractive orphans, suspicious fires, carnivorous leeches, Italian food, and secret organizations, then see this film. With the disclaimer and the line above, thus begins Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. And though the narrator doesn’t mention it, the film also includes a diabolical villain, hordes of snakes, and several deaths – all quite good for a scary childhood film.

Lemony Snicket (Jude Law) begins to narrate the film, writing laboriously at his typewriter, and we are introduced to three children: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. These are the Baudelaire children (not related to French poet Charles) and each is extremely gifted. Violet (Emily Browning) is an intelligent 14-year-old inventor, Klaus (Liam Aiken) is a 13-year-old bookworm, and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) is a toddler who bites things.

Within the first six minutes of theLemony2 film, we are introduced to the children, hear about their parents’ fiery demise, and meet Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), a banker who takes the newly orphaned children to their closest relative. It sets the pace for a fast film, even by adult standards, and doesn’t so much allow us to live these unfortunate events as one of the children, but view them as a fly on the wall. At some point in this fast sequence, the children visit their burned-down mansion and find a golden spyglass in a bureau, which is the first in many clues to reveal the secret lives of their parents.

The Brad Silberling-directed film spans three of Daniel Handler’s nine books of the same name (and excellent ones, by the way). The first, “A Bad Beginning,” has the children stay with their third- or fourth-cousin, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Olaf is an eccentric over-actor (which is perfect for Carrey) who lives in a broken-down castle with creepy eyes etched everywhere. Olaf looks like Lon Cheney and acts like Vincent Price on speed as he works with his theater troupe and waits to inherit the Baudelaire family fortune. But as Olaf quickly realizes, he cannot inherit the money until Violet turns 18 or the children die. Guess which route he attempts to pursue …

The rest of the movie has the children fleeing from Olaf’s homicide attempts as they stay with other eccentric relatives. In book two, “The Reptile Room,” they stay with Uncle Montgomery Montgomery (Billy Connolly), a caring reptile scientist. In book three, “The Wide Window,” they’re with the unreasonably insecure and grammar-obsessed Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), who lives in a house on a cliff that looks like it’s from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The film’s unbelievable sets and visuals are matched by some terrific performances, especially from Carrey and Streep. It also includes fun cameos by the Aflac Duck, Dustin Hoffman, Cedric the Entertainer, and a few of Christopher Guest’s players (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman).

However, the fast-paced film doesn’t give us enough time to empathize with the children or even grieve for their “unfortunate” circumstances. They never seem to react to their misery other than to immediately cope and try to find solutions. Plus, Sunny’s only purpose seems to be entertainment for those people who enjoyed Bob Saget narrating America’s Funniest Home Videos as she speaks garbled phrases and cutesy subtitles appear.

Everything is kept light and humorous,  perhaps the only way to deal with treachery and tragedy, and while we should be frightened or sad, instead we’re happily awaiting the next two films (which look like they’ll never come – but hey, at least we have great franchises like Transformers, Chronicles of Narnia, and Pirates of the Caribbean instead).

On the other hand, the flick is a genuinely fun adventure with treacherous scares including the Incredibly Deadly Viper and the lake full of carnivorous leeches. While it’s not likely going to scare teens, it’s a perfect fright for youngsters who can’t handle Jurassic Park.

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