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

  Directed by: Brad Silberling
Written by: Robert Gordon, Daniel Handler
Starring: Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Jim Carrey, Kara Hoffman, Shelby Hoffman, Jude Law, Meryl Streep
Links: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Children's

This movie gets: 8.50 (2 ratings)
nofreelist.com Ranking: Ranked equal 35th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) is also mentioned in citizenjoe's review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

"Delightfully wicked (or wickedly delightful)" - a review by mino

I confess I really didn't know whether to be looking forward to Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events (Snicket from here on in; I'm not typing that every five minutes). On one hand, I'm quite a fan of the series of children's books (written by Daniel Handler, using the ‘Lemony Snicket’ alias) the movie is based on, and the previews certainly looked promising, with the potential that such an impressive cast brings; on the other, big-name book adaptations are often awful, the fact that the first three books of the (so far) eleven-book series were being compressed into one movie worried me, and the aforementioned impressive cast wasn't without its concerns. Jim Carrey, in particular, I can take or leave: I really don't find his crazy improv schtick that exciting. Robin Williams capering about in exaggerated madcap fashion got tired for me a long time ago; and not only has he been doing it a lot longer than Carrey, he's a lot better at it.

That said, if there's one role that Carrey could well be suited to, it's that of Count Olaf, the villian of the Snicket books: an evil mastermind who comes up with an endless variety of plots to wrest control of a massive inheritance from the three Baudelaire orphans, whose every waking moment is an example of finest gothic tragedy. Olaf is a master of disguise, an over-the-top pantomime baddie who has pretty much everything but a waxed moustache and a black cape — the sort of role that could well prove to be right up Carrey's alley.

The other possible worry, of course, is the fact that the movie is about three young children — and if my opinions about child actors aren't well-known enough already, they're about to be: child actors suck. Well, let's clarify that: the vast majority of child actors employed by Hollywood suck. Haley Joel Osment sucks. Jonathan Lipnicki sucks. They nearly all suck. About the only two who don't suck, in fact, are Mara Wilson and the wonderful Dakota Fanning. Get bad child actors in a movie which hinges on them for its success, and, gee, you might end up with a crap movie, maybe? Oddly, no-one in Hollywood seems to have worked this out — or they actually think these kids are good actors. Neither option makes sense.

Luckily, both fears are unfounded. Carrey is quite brilliant as Olaf — absolutely relishing the role, camping it up just enough to be very funny and very entertaining but still menacing enough to be believable. Every now and again, there are moments that seem a little too ‘vehicular’ — bits where they perhaps let Carrey get away with being too Carrey-esque, as happens quite often with Robin Williams. Even better are the children — specifically Emily Browning as the eldest Baudelaire, genius inventor Violet, and Liam Aiken as Klaus, the Baudelaire bookworm. These two are absolutely brilliant — particularly Browning. They are absolutely perfectly cast, and do a wonderful job living up to the delightful characters from the books.

Much of the other casting is brilliant, too. Meryl Streep (who I don't rave about nearly as much as everyone else seems to) is perfect as the paranoid Aunt Josephine, and even Billy Connolly is very good as snake-loving Uncle Monty. Also noteworthy is Timothy Spall as the banker, Mr Poe, who takes care of placing the orphans with new carers each time misfortune befalls them (which is, needless to say, quite often). There are some odd casting moments, though, in particular one very odd cameo which I won't spoil here — I gather it's supposed to be considered clever or funny, but it just struck me as pointless.

It's not Streep or Carrey or Browning or any of the people I've mentioned, though, that I'd consider the biggest tar of Snicket: if there's credit to be taken, it should go to director Brad Silberling, the cinematographers, the art directors, and the costumers, who I guess are responsible for the ‘look’ of the movie. The gothic feel of the books is captured wonderfully, with a delightful Edward Gorey-esque look and a totally timeless, placeless feel which provides wonderful atmosphere and absolutely sucks you in to the movie. It's an absolutely sumptuous movie to look at — not at all unlike some of Tim Burton's work, say; there's definitely a touch of Sleepy Hollow (1999) or even Big Fish (2003) about what Silberling's done here, and it's just wonderful. Throw in Thomas Newman here, too, whose score is also totally suited to the movie and generally quite fabbo.

Fans of the books will find themselves slightly disoriented, as there are quite a few changes from the novels. Some of them are obviously just to make the story more suitable for the big screen, which of course upsets the purists but is almost certainly a good move (much as in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), say, or Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies), but I can think of at least one or two that I suspect are purely done for the purposes of disorienting people who have already read the books — a wicked little touch which fits in perfectly with the book's dark sense of humour. Some of the little running gags from the books — the garbled speech of the third Baudelaire child, baby Sunny, for example, or the rather twisted, tangentially-hinted-at backstory of the narrator, or the ongoing ‘definitions’ of some key words — are all handled brilliantly and serve to make the books' fans at home just as much as the changes disorient them.

Honestly, it's hard to say whether people who haven't read the books will find Snicket as entertaining as I did. I certainly think it stands on its own as an entertaining, wicked, Hilaire Belloc-like ‘cautionary tale’ with some great gags and the same cheeky humour as the books which will, I suspect, appeal to a certain class of child who is perhaps a bit sharper and more cynical than most. The movie's perhaps not quite as intelligent as the books, though the time constraints of compressing three books into one movie are probably responsible for the ‘dumbing down’ of some of the puzzles and situations the kids find themselves in.

By all means run out and see Snicket as soon as you can: I think it's one of the funnier, more clever, more entertaining kids' movies I've seen in a long time. Oh, and do make sure you stay for the closing credits — they're absolutely masterful. They're not filled with bloopers or gags: it's just a wonderful animated sequence which is a great way to finish off the movie. Having seen this on the same day as The Incredibles (2004), I fear I'm getting spoilt for entertaining end credit sequences. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. See it.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 1 Feb 2005

"A Series of fortunate Kids' Films." - a review by citizenjoe

Recently I saw A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Incredibles (2004). I have come to the conclusion that the only area of the film industry where there is any innovation is in the area of kids' films.

Can I say I am really looking forward to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004)?

I don't know what is happening to movies, and I am really referring to the big-ticket items here, but they have become incredibly bland. My guess is that at that level, with over a hundred million dollars now an average cost for a movie, there are just too many people who have an opinion.

Whereas with a kids movie, the executives are leaving the filmmaking up to the filmmakers and the execs are worrying about all the collateral items where they make real money.

So the result is a spate of terrific movies, great stories, beautifully executed. A Series of Unfortunate Events is just one example. (Let me say that Garfield (2004) is not one.)

The Baudelaire children are left with their uncle Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) following the death of their parents. I read the first book in the series before seeing the movie. I wish I hadn't as I don't like the way the ending has been handled.

Apart from that, this is one of the finest movies I have seen all year.

Jim Carrey, who I don't normally like, is fantastic.

Meryl Streep performs her best role since Adaptation (2002).

A $160 million budget has not been better spent all year. The look is amazing. The effects superb, the costumes outstanding; it captures the darkness and gothic nature of the books that are so loved by children (and me).

Oh, god, I hope the executives can keep their hands off children's movies for a while longer. I'm lining up to buy as much collateral as possible just so it's the thing they can concentrate on.

citizenjoe gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 30 Dec 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 8.50
Lowest rating: 8 (by citizenjoe)
Highest rating: 9 (by mino)
 
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Reader comments

  1. I absolutley love this movie and i think Liam Aiken, who played Klaus, is a total cutie. Emily Browning is a beautiful girl and i think no-one would've made a better Violet.

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from april on Fri 18 Mar 2005 21:37 #

  2. I LOVE this movie. I bought it one day after it came out. Its the BEST movie ever. Emily Browning is so beautiful and prolly the best fit for the part. Little sunny is soooooo cute and adorable. Liam aiken is really good and fits in to klaus perfectly. I sure hope there will be lots more. ive either read or listened to all the tapes (except # 11 havnet gotten it yet)

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Krista on Mon 09 May 2005 05:01 #

  3. Cool movie, everyone's casted in the right parts, really smooth-flowing plot, mucho funny, especially since they cast Carrey as Olaf, great job with end credits. I have a site about it if anyone wants to visit. http://www.freewebs.com/baudelaire_fan13

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Gingy13 on Tue 17 May 2005 08:45 #

  4.  This movie was highly inappropriate for anyone under the age of 12. Introducing the
    young audience to murder, suicide, pedophiles, violence, and greed. I suppose it sparks some
    hope in every adolescents bland little life that just maybe if they were faced with a similar
    situation they’d pull through because of quick wits and the bond of friendship and love between
    siblings, but let’s be honest...given the circumstances (you know with the absence of Child
    Services..just like the movie) the children would’ve died within the first few minutes of the film.
    So let’s get their hopes up and lead them to believe that anything is really possible and if
    a stranger tries to coax them into his van they’ll suddenly obtain super strength and fight him off.
    Yeah the film is over-exaggerated and is meant for entertainment purposes only but the subject
    matter in the film is what the problem is, not how it’s presented. I was offended with the
    beginning of film, which really bothers me, because you usually get the feeling of whether the
    movie is going to go well upon watching the first scene. For those of you who’ve viewed A
    Series of Unfortunate Crap you’ll know what I’m referring to. The opening scene is a clay
    animated toon lasting only a few minutes casting a few cute cuddly creatures and elves. Look
    closer and right before this scene will switch over you will catch a glimpse of one elf depicted
    with a large shotgun...now if the shotgun had actually been put to use it would probably have
    more meaning and I wouldn’t be bothered so much, but it had no particular reason to be
    there...only to incorporate violence into young minds as subliminally as possible.
    Is this really what we want to expose are kids to? As a film maker myself I know where
    to draw the line. Of course you start with a story and then you decide what age group you’re
    going to target. My stories are NOT appropriate for children in any manner, but that’s because
    there are boundaries and it’s very apparent that the makers of the film are not aware of these
    boundaries. It saddens me to think that parents are going to have preview films before letting
    their children see them, but this is the grim reality of it all.. Believe me, I am in no way a
    religious person, I’m a bad influence on my closest friends, and I have a love of profanity. I’m
    only writing this review to caution parents because all is not what it seems these days. Another
    thing, just a light note, I’m very proud that Tim Burton was not involved in this project Tim’s a
    brilliant man and obviously knows to steer clear of crap like this.

    Rating given: 2

    A comment from Nibs on Thu 02 Jun 2005 02:10 #

  5. THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I"VE EVER READ! after reading the first 3 that are in the movie i just wanted to read THEM ALL!!!

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from lisa on Sun 21 Aug 2005 11:24 #

  6. this movie is fine for a rental...provided you have plenty of people, booze, and something else to do.
    as for a movie, this one is slow, boring and loses interest before it gets it.
    there is a good chance that the book is more interesting, since the movie seemed to try to get an old feel with modern gizmos, but...jim carrey's acting sunk his parts, and the obviousness of his disguises were laughable. unfortunately thats about all that was laughable about the movie.
    there was definate star power in the movie, but the sad script overpowered them all.
    i didn't see this movie in the theatre, i downloaded a good copy, and i want my watching and downloading time back.

    Rating given: 1

    A comment from josh on Tue 04 Oct 2005 14:59 #

  7. biggest piece of crap i've ever seen

    Rating given: 1

    A comment from kevin on Tue 04 Oct 2005 15:02 #

  8. bad, just really bad

    Rating given: 1

    A comment from jess on Tue 04 Oct 2005 15:03 #

  9. hey
    wot an amazingly truthful review, i throughly enjoy people with the same point of view about this movie. it has got to be a classic and e around for decades. thankyou axxxxx

    A comment from katie mollins on Mon 27 Mar 2006 04:44 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 5.50 (8 ratings)

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