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

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #50

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Title Commonly Abridged To: Lemony Snicket
Title on IMDb: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 108 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 16th December 2004 (Australia & New Zealand)
UK Release: 17th December 2004
US Release: 17th December 2004
First Seen: cinema, c.2004

Stars
Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Liam Aiken (Stepmom, How to Be a Man)
Emily Browning (Sucker Punch, Pompeii)
Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow)
Billy Connolly (Mrs Brown, Quartet)
Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice, Mamma Mia!)

Director
Brad Silberling (Casper, Land of the Lost)

Screenwriter
Robert Gordon (Galaxy Quest, Men in Black II)

Based on
A Series of Unfortunate Events, a series of novels by Daniel Handler Lemony Snicket. In particular, the first three: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window.

The Story
After their parents are killed, the three Baudelaire siblings are placed into the care of a series of kooky relatives, while the scheming Count Olaf attempts to track them down and murder them for their money.

Our Heroes
This is the story of the three Baudelaire children: resourceful, inventive eldest sister Violet; bookish Klaus; and baby Sunny, who is very perceptive and can also bite things. No one knows the precise cause of the Baudelaire fire, but just like that, the Baudelaire children became the Baudelaire orphans, and were put into the care of…

Our Villain
Count Olaf, the kind and friendly guardian who wants to kill the orphans for their inheritance. A master of disguise… sort of.

Best Supporting Character
The film is wittily narrated in the erudite English tones of Lemony Snicket himself, who gets all the best insights.

Memorable Quote
“This would be an excellent time to walk out of the theatre, living room, or airplane where this film is being shown.” — Lemony Snicket

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“I will raise these orphans as if they were actually wanted!” — Count Olaf

Memorable Scene
The end title sequence re-tells the film in a pop-up book / shadow puppet show kind of style, which is awesome.

Memorable Music
The film has a great, fun score by Thomas Newman. The downside to it is you can hear the style bleed in to other, less appropriate work, like Skyfall.

Technical Wizardry
The entire film was shot on soundstages, including exterior scenes, utilising forced perspective and matte paintings, as well as greenscreen. No doubt that helped create its surreal, fantastical, timeless style. Indeed, the whole thing looks great, with superb gothic/steampunk-inspired design work across the board (and all of it Oscar nominated). If you want to be critical I suppose you could call it “Burtonesque”, but if it works… Plus, it was shot by Emmanuel “three time Oscar winner” Lubezki, so you know that’s good.

Truly Special Effect
Baby Sunny was largely played by a pair of twins, but certain sequences that were either dangerous or required specific actions necessitated the use of various effects techniques. Several scenes were created with an entirely CGI Sunny (motion captured from the animation supervisor’s own baby daughter); some shots of her talking have the lower part of her face replaced with a virtual version; and they built an animatronic baby, too.

Making of
Olaf: “I must say, you are a gloomy looking bunch. Why so glum?”
Klaus: “Our parents just died.”
Olaf: “Ah yes, of course. How very, very awful. Wait! Let me do that one more time. Give me the line again! Quickly, while it’s fresh in my mind!”
That’s Carrey genuinely asking for the line again, in character. Director Brad Silberling liked the moment so much he kept it in the film.

Next time…
Although plans for a sequel and/or sequels were mooted, the kids long ago aged out of such things. Instead, the books are being re-adapted as a Netflix series, starring the legen- (wait for it) -dary Neil Patrick Harris as Olaf and with Patrick Warburton narrating. It’s being produced/directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, who Handler Snicket had originally developed this film adaptation for. An eight-episode first season is due later this year. Personally, I’m quite excited for it.

Awards
1 Oscar (Makeup)
3 Oscar nominations (Score, Art Direction, Costume Design)
2 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Make-Up)
1 Teen Choice Award (Choice Movie Bad Guy)
2 Teen Choice nominations (including Choice Movie Liar)

What the Critics Said
“As the title suggests, Unfortunate Events belongs to the grim but vital strain of children’s literature in which children suffer terribly, parents and kindly adults have the same life expectancy as villains in action movies, and courage and ingenuity are all that keep kids alive. […] At its best, A Series Of Unfortunate Events is the stuff nightmares are made of, a sick joke of a film that realizes the best children’s entertainment doesn’t hide from the bleaker side of life, but plunges into the void and respects kids enough to assume they can handle it.” — Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club

Score: 72%

What the Public Say
“While there are certainly dark currents under the surface of this fantasy, the director Brad Silberling doesn’t let them overtake the film. Yes, bad things happen—people die and children are in jeopardy. But there’s a dry wit that balances out and also a sense of fun in how the kids use their abilities to discover a new way to survive whatever comes next. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a strange, dark film, and I recommend it for being just that.” — Tanner Smith, Smith’s Verdict

Verdict

I’ve never read A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I get the impression some of its fans aren’t too enamoured with this film adaptation and its changes. As a movie in its own right, however, it’s a clever, witty, gothic adventure… for kids! Jim Carrey is on fine form as the evil Count Olaf, there’s quality support from some recognisable thesps in guest-star-level roles, the kids are a likeable bunch, and baby Sunny’s subtitled observations are frequently the highlight. Some reviews describe it as “superficial” or a “pantomime”, but even if it is, it’s devilishly entertaining.

#51 will be… professional.

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