"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," based on the first three books of the popular children's series, was supposed to be the flagship children's movie of December 2004. The movie boasts delicious visuals, Jim Carrey in one of his zaniest roles to date, and lots of unfortunate events. So what went wrong?
The movie starts off perfectly, with an unsettlingly cheerful beginning with dancing elves and smiling flowers. Then, narrator Jude Law informs us that this is not a movie about happy elves and if we do wish to watch a movie about happy elves, we should move on over to Theater #2. He warned us... why didn't we listen?
"A Series of Unfortunate Events" chronicles the lives of the young Baudelaire children, Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), as they suffer through - yes, you guessed it - a series of unfortunate events. After their parents die in a mysterious fire, they are sent to live with the dear Count Olaf (Carrey) - only he isn't a dear but a greedy murderer who wants nothing more than to kill the children and claim their inheritance for himself. Though the authorities are too dense to catch onto his schemes, the children do manage to be transferred to some other quirky relatives, namely Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) and Aunt Josephenie (Meryl Streep), but considering Count Olaf will stop at nothing to get what he wants... let's just say not all of the characters live happily ever after.
"A Series of Unfortunate Events" is like Tim Burton meets "Harry Potter" without Tim Burton or J.K. Rowling. I have no doubt that the books have plenty of wit, but the movie is merely pretty without any imagination inside. Visually, this film is great, with cartoonish but rich special effects and surreal settings. Unfortunately, the plot and screenplay are so lacking in substance I had more fun sitting in my car waiting for the windshield to defrost. There are funny moments, but none are cohesive with the overall feel or direction of the film. The characters go from one scenario to another without any mounting suspense or tension; there needed to be more to connect everything together. Ultimately, the biggest problem with "Lemony Snicket" is that it is just plain boring.
Why is this, you may ask? Well, reader, there are a few possible answers. One could be that these books just aren't made for the movies; somehow I'm guessing each individual book relies more on its quirky characters than plot, because there really isn't much of a plot. Two, and the most logical explanation, is that screenwriter Robert Gordon just didn't do a good job. And three, director Brad Silberling relied way too much on Jim Carrey to carry the film. I like Carrey, but have grown a bit old of his same goofy antics time and time again. More than anything else, this movie should have been about adapting a popular children's series, not giving Carrey his next star vehicle. He is not the main character in the movie, but Carrey does attempt to steal every scene he is in, and no matter how hard he tries, he is Jim Carrey - not Count Olaf. Had an unknown actor played the Count, I may have "liked" the character more, as much as one can like a character who tries to kill just about every other character in the story. Carrey is funny at times, but it seems as though the director and screenwriter relied on him to be so goofy that they forgot to think of creative ideas on their own.
As far as the kids go, they're pretty good. They are not nearly as enjoyable to watch as the "Harry Potter" threesome, but to compare this movie to "Harry Potter" is well... well, appropriate, since Paramount and Dreamworks definitely advertised this film as the next "Harry Potter" franchise. The baby Baudelaire is especially funny as her baby talk is translated into funny subtitles for our viewing pleasure. Meryl Streep is also quite funny in a supporting role, though even her character doesn't quite hit the mark. Jude Law, in his final film of the year, delivers a good and witty narration.
Basically, "A Series of Unfortunate Events" just drags on. After the first twenty minutes or so, the film repeats itself both in jokes and adventure, and there really isn't that much adventure - or anything else that will keep kids entertained for two hours. Though the movie treats its subject matter in an appropriate way, the story does have several murders, an apparent suicide and an attempt by Count Olaf to marry his 14-year old niece. Sadly enough, the wedding sequence serves as the film's climax, and it really is quite pathetic.
In the end, the film is entertaining to a point, but never comes close to capitalizing on its potential. A better screenplay and a more cohesive story would have helped. Still, considering the end result of this film and its so-so box office performance, "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" is an unfortunate event and hopefully will not be an unfortunate series.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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