While that sounds like it just might be right up my alley, the first filmed adaptation (technically of the first three books The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window) misses the mark, or at least, MY mark by a couple of yardsticks. There's more than a little quality to be found in this film. The Set Design and Art Direction are both incredible. The twisted strange fantasy world positively comes to life on the screen, making so much of the film's rough parts feel anaesthetized by the disconnect from reality. Further, the acting is quite fine. This ranges from the obvious mention of Jim Carrey (as the ever-disguised Count Olaf) and the two principal leads, Emily Browning (as Violet Baudelaire) and Liam Aiken (as Klaus Baudelaire), to the more subtle notice of Shelby Hoffman and Kara Hoffman (who share the role of baby Sunny Baudelaire). If that's not enough for you, the film also features A Series of Recognizable Faces in Cameos of various weight, including Timothy Spall, Catherine O'Hara, Meryl Streep, Luis Guzmßn, Craig Ferguson, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Adams, Cedric the Entertainer and even Dustin Hoffman. The character of Lemony Snicket himself is represented, mostly in silhouette, at his typewriter, narrating the whole shebang in the voice of none other than Jude Law.
Unfortunately the Black Comedy he narrates is a lot heavier on the black than it is on the comedy. The Baudelaire children, Violet the Inventor, Klaus the Scholar and Sunny... the Biter, discover that their parents have died in a fire that has consumed their entire home as well. Further, they discover that they are to live with the evil Count Olaf (as opposed to Count Orlock), a greedy actor in a broken down mansion who enslaves, locks up, slaps around and starves the children all before trying repeatedly to kill them in the hopes of boggarting their wealth.
Sound unfortunate? Fasten your seatbelts, true believers. Each safe haven the children flee to houses a "relative" the kids can rely on and trust. Naturally, Olaf shows up in disguise each time and murders that person, in order to reclaim the children. About this time I was thinking about various acts of violence I might perform on such a mammie-rammer should such a wound-sucker really exist.
It all steamrolls up to the front porch of Olaf's sick plan. Well zark him, man!
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events manages the cool experiment of being completely bizarre and wickedly over-acted to the point that the characters become as surreal as the amazing sets around them, without ever feeling insulting or unintentionally funny. The target audience (I would hope) doesn't seem to be little children but Goth Teens, and just about anyone with a Jack Skellington Tattoo. Strangely, the released version is considered to be "toned down" and much less dark than originally intended and, of course, much less dark than the books. The dark tone is, of course, appropriate, but maybe not appropriate for little kids.
The main issue here seems to be the screenplay by Robert Gordon. Like the Harry Potter films, Gordon's script seems to collect a series of plot points, stringing them together with a surreal montage. To this end, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of payoff as the viewer watches this relatively mean spirited story in which one thing after another after another happens to these kids pushing pathos to bathos and then... whatever comes after bathos. It's hard not to imagine that the best-selling books this film is based upon have a lot more in the subtext department to make the whole tapestry feel like a well-rounded and engrossing adventure. I had the feeling throughout that there was a more tangible undertone of hope on the printed page, or at least more so than is found in the film. Don't get me wrong, the ending is relatively satisfying and there are a lot of fantastic moments herein to keep the audience rooting for these kids, including the character development, but especially the acting.
Further, this is a truly amazing film to watch from a visual standpoint. The Academy Award nominated Artwork is, as I've said, second to next-to-none, and the Academy Award Winning make-up is fantastic, especially on Carrey. Director Brad Silberling (who also helmed 1995's Casper) has been handed a great palate on which to paint his film, and he never squanders what he's been given. Sadly, he also never quite pushes the film to the next level in the overcoming of the valleys among the peaks.
If there's any justice, Emily Browning is going places and will be worth watching throughout her career. Liam Aiken holds his own next to her as well, and helps keep an unreal film human. When push comes to shove, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is not a great film, but it's worth a gander at Three Stars out of Five. Special effects and scenery goes a long way. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to fireproof my house. There's no telling how many bad community theatre actors I've pissed off in my day.
Nah, in all honesty, I mostly only pissed off the Directors. Oh, and the audiences.
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