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Case Number 06701

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Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Paramount // 2004 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 2nd, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle was relieved to learn that it wasn't just his luck that sucks.

The Charge

Don't say we didn't warn you.

Opening Statement

The tail end of 2004 finally saw the release of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, the film based on a series of wildly popular books for young adults…and it wasn't helmed by Chris Columbus! Oops, sorry…I'm thinking of those dang Harry Potter movies. Anyhow, for those who enjoyed Jim Carrey's manic portrayal of Count Olaf—and for those just curious what the fuss is all about—Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is now available on DVD in a two-disc Special Collector's Edition, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

Pity the poor Baudelaire family. First, Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire are killed when their home catches fire. Then their three children—whiz kid Violet (Emily Browning), voracious reader Klaus (Liam Aiken), and frequent biter Sunny (Shelby and Kara Hoffman)—are orphaned to their next of kin. Well, actually, he's more like their fourth uncle three times removed…or something like that. Either way, it's plainly obvious that the Baudelaires' series of unfortunate events have led them to the dank, ominous castle of Count Olaf (Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), an actor who appears to have gained his fashion sense and flair from Liberace, except not in a good way. Right off the bat, it's plain to see that Count Olaf has no interest in the children or their well-being, only in the enormous inheritance left to them by their parents.

When the children are able to squeeze their way out of Olaf's grip and into the arms of other equally freakish family members (including an aunt who's petrified of everything, and an uncle who lives with snakes and three-eyed toads), Count Olaf is hot on their heels in his quest to gain their fortunes. Now it's up to the three clever children to figure out the mystery of their parents' deaths, and fend off a villain who may be more than just a master of intricate disguises.

The Evidence

Finally! A black comedy for children! In what may be a first, director Brad Silberling (Moonlight Mile) has crafted Bad Santa for the 13-and-under crowd. Of course, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is not nearly as vulgar or despicable as the aforementioned film, but it does share Bad Santa's dark spirit, with only a few rays of sunshine poking through the looming despair that hangs over the picture like a chloroform cloth coming in for the kill. Lemony Snicket revels in death, murder, evil, deception, and greed. That it makes its main villain, Count Olaf, into a comedic tour-de-force tells you something about what kind of movie the filmmakers were attempting to produce.

Lemony Snicket's (actually, writer Daniel Handler's) book series—aptly titled A Series of Unfortunate Events—has become an enormous hit with both children and adults alike. Because I am only at a second grade reading level (yet I can write so well…the irony is staggering), I have yet to sit down and read a single one of Snicket's books. Without any background knowledge, I was able to watch Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events with an open mind and clean slate. Alas, while the film has good qualities, its broodingly sinister humor overshadows what could have been something truly special.

Jim Carrey's manic portrayal of Count Olaf is sometimes entertaining, oftentimes over the top, and at vital moments too outlandish for the story's own good. Because the Baudelaire children are so morose and sad, Carrey's dastardly chipper Count Olaf seems to inhabit an altogether different movie during most of his time onscreen. Thus, if the movie was shooting for black comedy, it's overshadowed by Carrey's egocentric performance, one that may have worked far better in a different, lighter movie. While Carrey isn't nearly as annoying as he was in movies like Liar, Liar and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (the latter resides on my "bottom 10 worst films of all time" list), his Count Olaf is too scattershot for a film of this type.

Carrey's performance is so bombastic it makes everyone else—even other big-name Hollywood stars—look tiny by comparison. Meryl Streep's panicky Aunt Josephine and Billy Connolly's reptilian Uncle Morty are two odd characters that never shine very brightly due to Carrey hogging most of the screen time. Streep tries her best to make Aunt Josephine's neuroses funny (you see, she's afraid of everything under the sun, including staying far away from the 'fridge in case it falls on her). Connolly's Uncle Morty is the better of the two, mostly due to the fact he resides in an odd house filled with creepy, crawly creatures that you wouldn't find on the worst parts of Fear Factor. The three children are all good in their roles, though the standouts are Shelby and Kara Hoffman as Sunny, who speaks gibberish throughout the film with funny subtitles to compliment her speech (her character garners the biggest laugh in the movie).

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events's production design is the true highlight of the film. Designer Rick Heinrichs (who also worked on Tim Burton's fantastic Sleepy Hollow, a distant relative to Events) and art directors John Dexter and Martin Whist have produced eerie, creepy-looking sets filled with jagged landscapes, towering homes, and weather that always exudes evil. Their visions are complimented by Emmanuel Lubezki's truly dreadful cinematography, and I mean that in a good way.

By the end of the film, the Baudelaire children receive a letter that includes the passage, "At times, the world can seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe us when we say there is much more good in it than bad." I wish the same could be said for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. While the visuals are striking and the performances sometimes amusing, its dark overtones and paper-thin characters tip the scale out of its favor.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Well, I can't fault Paramount for making a bad transfer—this picture looks great. The colors (lots of grays, blues, and weird color palettes) all look excellent. Black levels are deep and solid without any graying or off tints. In fact, to be honest I couldn't find any problems with this image—dirt, grain, and other imperfections are noticeably absent. Overall, a strikingly fine DVD transfer.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. Much like the video presentation, the soundtrack for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is in great shape. There is a plethora of surround sounds to be found throughout all of the speakers—though it's not an "action" film per se, there are still enough high-octane events to keep your sound system engaged. All aspects of the mix are free of any hiss or distortion. English subtitles and also included on this set.

This Special Collector's Edition is packed with extra features. Starting off Disc One are two commentary tracks. The first track is by director Brad Silberling; the second is by Silberling and the real Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). The solo commentary by Silberling provides details on the casting choices, the artistic choices, and the story choices for the film. Silberling is obviously proud of the final version, and while the track is somewhat dry, it's a decent listen for those interested in the film's back-story and production. The second track with Silberling and Snicket is less exciting, though at times moderately entertaining. Snicket / Handler adopts a Count Olaf-esque personality, often commenting on how dark and dank the film is. This one-joke idea goes on for the entire commentary and will surely entertain children more than adults.

Disc One also includes deleted scenes that give viewers a bit more backstory on the characters and plot developments (as well as an alternative ending with Count Olaf), some mildly entertaining outtakes, make-up tests with Jim Carrey, and a small featurette on the children from the film.

Moving onto Disc Two, we find more featurettes (covering sound design, special effects, et cetera) for fans to sink their teeth into—roughly two-and-a-half hours' worth. These featurettes span everything from CGI in the film (like the viper in Uncle Monty's house) to the remarkable set designs to the music score by Thomas Newman, and everything else in between. In fact, this is a relatively thorough making-of feature that should give fans a lot of info (more than they need, most likely) about what it took to bring Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events to the big screen.

Also included on the second disc are a few still galleries of behind-the-scenes shots from the production.

Closing Statement

While Paramount has produced a decent DVD edition of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, I can't say the filmmakers produced a great adaptation of the books. I was slightly put off by the mix of morose themes and odd comedy supplied by Jim Carrey—black comedy is fine and good, but this mixture just didn't mesh for me.

The Verdict

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events isn't totally unfortunate, but it's not a complete success, either.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 96
Audio: 94
Extras: 88
Acting: 78
Story: 84
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• All Ages
• Blockbusters
• Comedy
• Fantasy

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary Featuring Director Brad Silberling
• Audio Commentary Featuring Director Brad Silberling and Author Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
• Featurette: "Bad Beginnings"
• Featurette: "A Terrible Tragedy"
• Featurette: Sound Design
• Featurette: Special Effects
• Deleted Scenes
• Outtakes
• Stills Galleries


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• Official Site

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