Friday, January 07, 2005

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Directed by: Brad Silberling
2004, rated PG
In Theaters Now
3 stars

Converting children’s books into feature films can be difficult. If the book is popular, a director must consider the backlash when the inevitable changes occur. If the book is a series, the director must choose whether to make a series of movies, or to make only one. And, of course, the director must create a movie that is appealing, not only to the specific age group for whom the books were intended, but to a wide range of audiences and children. Such adaptations have been attempted with C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, and more recently with J.K. Rawling’s Harry Potter best-sellers. Now Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket tales have joined the list, with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, directed by Brad Silberling. The delightfully gloomy film has its ups and downs, while including a truly brilliant cast of well-known actors.

The film, which covers the first three books of the Snicket series, centers around the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and baby Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman). These three children are also rather extraordinary. Each has a special talent—Violet is the best 14 year-old inventor there is, her younger brother Klaus reads voraciously, and Sunny has a rapacious tendency to bite things. The lives of these three children are abruptly upset by sudden destruction of their home by a mysterious fire, which also took the lives of their parents. The adventure begins when the orphans are shuffled from guardian to guardian, all the while desperately trying to avoid the greedy and evil Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) and to uncover the mystery surrounding their parents’ demise. While the premise sounds promising, if morbid, the film leaves some rather large holes which the plot tends to fall through. Toward the end, especially, the flow seems to suffer, and eventually just trickles off into a weak attempt at mild cheerfulness. Up until that point, however, the film is captivating and interesting, and made all the more so because of its shady nature.

The film is narrated by the enigmatic figure of Lemony Snicket himself (Jude Law), in gloomy and depressing tones. In fitting with the title, the entire film is done in dark, ominous shades, with nearly every character dressed in black. When color is used, it either seems unnatural, or is used as a foreshadowing of dismal things to come. Fog and murky water nearly always surround the characters, and dark music in minor keys accompanies the children everywhere. A morbid fascination with strange deaths also haunts the film, adding to the overall darkness that shadows every scene.
Jim Carrey returns to his typical role of the comic character, contorting his features into strange positions for the brilliantly evil role of Count Olaf. As Olaf dons disguises in attempts to catch the children unawares, Carrey changes roles with marvelous hilarity, relatively convincing, but still maintaining the grim, ominous malice of the Count. His consistent malevolence is countered by the other guardians who attempt to care for the unfortunate children. Billy Connolly plays the snake-obsessed herpetologist Uncle Monty, a caring and wonderful, but sadly temporary, guardian. Meryl Streep plays the hyper-phobic Aunt Josephine, whose nervous habits conceal an astonishingly adventurous past. All of these good guardians leave clues as to the puzzling circumstances of the Baudelaire’s deaths. As the three children struggle to find happiness, battling the ever-present Count Olaf at every turn, they also decipher these clues in an attempt to unravel the mystery.

Lemony Snicket, as suggested by the title, and emphasized throughout the film, is not a particularly jolly tale. Very young children may find it too frightening and dark. Older children, however, as with the books, will find the film delightful in its shadowy gloom, and may also be charmed by the creativity of the Baudelaire children, who rely on their intellect instead of special super-human powers. For once it is useful, and even cool, to have read books, or to be at all intelligent. And as much fun as it is to watch Jim Carrey prance across the screen in all his foolishness, or to watch your favorite serious drama actors play ridiculously silly parts, it truly is the children who carry the film. Even if the series of events that they find themselves involved in do happen to be rather unfortunate.

Lemony Snicket official movie site

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