Written by Robert Gordon
Directed by Brad Silberling
Running Time: 1:47
for thematic elements,
scary situations and brief language.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was an entertaining movie but one that didn't live up to the splendor of the books upon which it is based.
The three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, are orphaned when their parents die in a mysterious fire. Clueless Mr. Poe, the executor of the estate, finds them a place to live with their closest relative, Count Olaf. The not-so-good Count is only interested in the Baudelaire fortune, and devises a way to get the money by killing off the kids. But he is foiled by the inventive Violet, with help from book smart Klaus, and the biting prowess of baby Sunny, and the kids are shuttled off to their Uncle Monty and his reptiles. But scheming Count Olaf is never far away, and in a not-so-secret disguise, tries to steal the children from Uncle Monty. He is found out, and poor Uncle Monty meets an unfortunate demise. The kids are then sent to live with Aunt Josephine, a woman who lives in a house built on stilts, on the edge of a cliff. Aunt Josephine is afraid of just about everything but the kids think they're safe, until Count Olaf shows up once again. This time it is Aunt Josephine who meets an unfortunate ending, and Olaf thinks he has the ultimate plan: he'll marry Violet and inherit everything! But the Baudelaire children, wise beyond their years, find a way to save themselves, and in the meantime, learn more about their parents, and the mystery surrounding their death.
I have read all eleven books in the A Series of Unfortunate Event series, with two more books due out to complete the collection. The movie is based on the first three books, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window, although the film does take a few liberties. It is those liberties that made the movie less entertaining that I had hoped. Had I not read the books, I may have enjoyed it more. First off, it's hard to take three books and boil them down into one film. Yes, the books are short and a quick read, but they are complete stories, and picking and choosing which spots to show is a hard thing to do. The movie starts with book one, goes to book two, goes quickly to book three, goes back to the ending from book one, then tacks on some additional scenes not in any of the books. It made the movie move very fast and I kept thinking to all the little things that weren't included.
The first thing that came to mind was the Harry Potter books and their translation into film. So far it's been one book per movie, which makes sense. And while little things were left out of all three, they were all faithful to the books, especially the first two movies. Plot lines weren't altered, characters remained the same and motives remained the same. In Lemony Snicket, there were a lot of changes from the book, beyond the time line being changed. First off, it's not until much later that the children realize their parents were much more than they let on. There is nothing about a spyglass in any of the books. Uncle Monty doesn't want to take them to Peru to save them; he's going there on business. And there were some others. Basically in the books, almost all the adults are complete morons, and it is only the children that have any clue as to what is happening. The books are very dark, which one would expect with all the people that die. The movie does a good job at keeping that darkness, but feels the need to tack on a sappy ending to make the story feel complete. But if they were going to do that, they should have made the entire story a closed circle, instead of answering some questions and leaving others open. It's fairly obvious this is a planned film franchise, and unless it completely tanks at the box office, there will be another two or three films at least, so they could have left the stories more like the books to allow for the right flow. The author, Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, knew what he was doing when he wrote them so let his vision continue.
I loved Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. He's the person I imagined when I first read the books, and this character is right in his wheelhouse. It allows him to don disguises, do different voices, and overact to the best of his ability. The children, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken and the Hoffman twins, were all well cast. Much like the Harry Potter trio, this group will get better as they get older, although unlike the Potter books, it isn't one book per year, so if they're going to keep the same cast, they have to get a move on. And I loved how they got around the book's way of having Sunny talk through the narrator, by having her lines subtitled. She had some of the best lines in the film. Seasoned veterans played all the secondary characters. Billy Connolly as Uncle Monty, Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine, Luis Guzman, Jane Adams, Jennifer Coolidge, Craig Ferguson and Jamie Harris as Olaf's henchmen. All were wonderful in their short time on screen. Then, and this is a minor spoiler, there was the curious addition of Dustin Hoffman as a theater critic. The role wasn't in the book as far as I can remember, and he had little or nothing to do in the film except be there. It was very odd. The look of the movie was picture perfect. It was a very dark and gothic film, keeping in line with the tone of the books. It had a very Tim Burton-esque feel to it, and I think the production designer did a tremendous job.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I enjoyed Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I wish it had been more faithful to the books. Because I enjoyed the books so much, I'd probably see the movie again in the theaters, but I'll wait till I get to a place where it's not $10.50 per ticket.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince