Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
One of the more unusual but equally delightful films you'll see this holiday
season, A Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the first three books
in a successful children's series. A combination of fantasy and reality, modern
and ages past, it's a unique blend of symbolism and charm. It won't be
everyone's cup of peppermint tea but for those who enjoy morbid humor, gothic
architecture, and just a touch of truth, it's a fun way to spend a couple of
hours. In a world of happy stories, there must be one darker one. Much to the
misfortune of Lemony Snickett (Jude Law), he has been required to record the
tragic history of the three Baudelaire children.
The eldest, Violet (Emily Browning) is a talented inventor who always ties her
hair up whenever she's scheming. Her younger brother Klaus (Liam Aiken) is an
avid reader who spends all of his time buried in the stacks of books in their
enormous library. And the youngest, Sunny (Kara Hfofman) loves to bite. It
doesn't matter what it is, from table legs to game pieces, if it's there to be
bitten, she's more than willing to oblige. One dreary morning of exploration,
the banker comes to inform them of sad tidings: their house has mysteriously
burned to the ground, and their parents perished in the flames. The children
have become orphans and are given into the care of their distant relative, Count
Olaf (Jim Carrey), who is an actor by trade, and evil by nature. He intends to
work the children hard until acquiring their immense fortune, at which point he
can happily leave them to be run over by a train.
When the children discover his schemes, they set in motion a plan to be free of
Olaf. But even when they believe themselves rescued and happy in the company of
Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), a zoologist with an enormous collection of exotic
reptiles, Count Olaf has not given up in his quest to reclaim the children's
guardianship and their fortune. It will take Violet's imagination, Klaus'
immense knowledge, and yes, even Sunny's biting talents to help them forge
eel-infested waters and ensnare the devious Count in his own clever trap. Along
the way they will experience many adventures in a 'series of unfortunate events'
that help them bond together, form their character, and ultimately come to
realize that while evil lingers in the world, it can always be overcome through
goodness. At times a very strange piece of work but always intriguing, the film
has many things in its favor. The story combines centuries past with the modern
Gowns with bustles, a lack of running water, and exotic but primitive sea ports
coexist with automatic locks in cars, towering refrigerators, and speed boats.
It sounds very peculiar but the strange thing about it is how the audience never
once questions this curious world of modern inventions and Victorian ideals. The
essence of the film is that of a fantasy universe where dark places are bleak,
and sunsets are breathtaking. The set and costume design are all marvelous,
highly unusual and very inventive. I was also impressed with the acting. Jim
Carrey's Count Olaf was over the top, but he was meant to be. From the very
first frame, the audience hates him. When he calls the adorable Sunny a little
monkey, we hate him more. And by the end we really loathe the slime wad. The
children are very personable, and I was impressed with how well they acted with
one another. Meryl Streep also makes a wonderfully comical appearance.
Rated PG for thematic elements and brief violence, the film is family-friendly.
Very young children will find many situations frightening -- a storm tears a
house from the cliffs and plunges it into the lake, with ensuing chaos as the
children are placed in direct peril from raging winds, flaming stoves, and
menacing flying ice boxes. They are nearly attacked by an enormous black snake.
Rabid eels attack a boat on two occasions; on the second, they also chow down on
the occupant. It's implied that a fire has killed several people, another is
poisoned, one is eaten by eels, and that one may have fallen to her death
through a high window. (A suicide note accompanies their discovery.) Sunny bites
Count Olaf on the leg after he's brutally slapped Klaus. There is one profanity,
several mild abuses of deity, and an instance when in subtitles Sunny's innocent
baby noises translates to "Bite me!"
There is no sexual content but the much older Count does attempt to force Violet
to marry him. His intentions are only that she has to turn over her money to
him, and do household chores, so there's nothing lecherous about it. Much of the
symbolism will go over its intended audience's head, but the entire film seems
to be a metaphor for what children face, and how they feel about it. The
exaggerated characters and situations translate very well to how children see
things -- overblown and dramatic. The loss of a parent, a divorce, and having no
control over the situations you find yourself in are common to every little boy
and girl. Here we see the Baudelaires in much the same predicament. But rather
than sitting back and allowing it to happen, they take charge and learn to build
a "safe little place in a threatening world." Ultimately the message is that you
must fight for your rights, that you're not completely helpless, that good
ultimately triumphs over evil, and most of all, that although the world has many
bad people in it, there are also many good people. Some may feel the film is too
dark but I found the events and ending conclusion worth any morbidity. If you
read and enjoyed the books, or are simply looking for an intelligent and
slightly off the wall children's film, you'll find yourself engrossed in the
world of Lemony Snicket.