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Michelle Thomas

Published December 17th, 2004 | by Michelle Thomas

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Review

Classification: PG Director: Brad Silberling Rating: 4/5

I was both pleased and apprehensive to see that Daniel Handler (for such is Mr Snicket’s real name) was credited as a scriptwriter on A Series of Unfortunate Events, bearing in mind the numbing effect that the presence of a certain Joanne Rowling on set had on the first two Potter outings. Thankfully Daniel Handler’s contribution seems to have ensured that the films remain true to his hilariously sardonic, deadpan vision while not being dragged down by a weight of exposition.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events is based on the first three of the best-selling books and tells the story of the three Baudelaire orphans who, despite being unusually clever and charming, lead lives filled with misery and woe. Violet (a 14 year old inventor) (Browning), Klaus (a bookworm) (Aiken), and Sunny (a biter) (the Hoffmans) live happily with their wealthy parents until one day their home is burnt down in a mysterious fire and they are sent to live with their ‘beloved’ Count Olaf (Carrey), a cousin they have never heard of. Count Olaf lives in a decaying mansion full of rats and cockroaches and it soon becomes clear that he is only interested in the Baudelaire fortune. After several attempts on the children’s lives, Count Olaf loses custody of them, and they are sent to live first with their reptile-loving Uncle Monty (Connolly) and then with mad Aunt Josephine (Streep) before being returned to Olaf’s clutches. Can the children foil Olaf’s evil plans and discover what really happened to their parents?

A Series Of Unfortunate Events suffers slightly from being adapted from three books but its still a very enjoyable and funny film. It’s book-ended with Lemony Snicket (Law) himself starting to recount the story in just the same way as he does in The Bad Beginning, and his voiceover is used very cleverly to increase suspense and shocks, which stops it feeling too literary and dull. Its clearly a nod to fans of the books, as Lemony Snicket reminds us that we can always leave the cinema and go and watch a film about a happy elf instead, or sets us up for a happy ending only to let us down with ‘I wish I could tell you that was what happened’. I also liked the fact that, with all the humour, there is a real sense of jeopardy and tension.

The film looks amazing – production design on this must have been so much fun. Particularly fabulous is Aunt Josephine’s cliff top house, but everything is this weird mixture of Victoriana and modern technology that looks really cool, like Gothic Steampunk. The performances are uniformly good. Jim Carrey has the show-off part, chewing the scenery as Olaf as well as doing an Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts & Coronets, but Meryl Streep shows an unexpected gift for comedy as the paranoid Aunt Josephine, who won’t switch on the radiator in case it explodes, advises the children not to touch the doorknobs in case they shatter and blind them, and is terrified of realtors. The children are also very good, especially Kara and Shelby Hoffman as Sunny, and the film makes some subtle points about reading, and the way society dismisses children, without laying it on too thick.

All in all, superior family entertainment, despite the slight pacing problems, which should find itself very popular in a world bereft of The Lord of the Rings Christmas outing. And do have a look at Count Olaf’s – Actor, Humanitarian, Heartthrob and Ultimate Dad – website, countolaf.com.


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