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A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS - 2004
Nickelodeon Movies / Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks SKG / Scott
Rated: USA: PG
Possibly the best Tim Burton movie I've ever seen was not even touched by Tim Burton. All the signs were there. You could almost, nearly see his footsteps wandering through the scenes. That is to say, you could see a strong influence of Edward Gorey permeating every car, every house, every shadow. And the Tim Burton humor, which is to say that most specific morbid humor of Gahan Wilson who, along with Charles Addams, is likely the only artistic peer that the other two men ever had (though I'm willing to entertain the idea of Gary Larson in that group).
The movie begins with a narrator seen only in silhouette. He identifies himself as Lemony Snicket (Jude Law: eXistenZ, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW) and it is his regrettable task to tell us the following tale of woe that befalls three undeserving children known as Baudelaire. There is Emily Baudelaire (Emily
Browning: GHOST SHIP), the inventor; her brother Klaus (Liam Aiken), The Reader; and their baby sister, Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), The Biter.
The children have a wonderful life of learning and knowledge (which, for them IS wonderful) until the day comes when their house most mysteriously catches fire, destroying everything it would seem, including their parents. The now orphaned Baudelaire children are taken to their closest living relative by the curator of the family estate, one Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall: GOTHIC,
DREAM DEMON, THE WISDOM OF CROCODILES, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN). Mr. Poe is all business and regulations but infuriatingly bureaucratic and stupid. Even the children are quick to point out that taking them to "their closest living relative" is a matter of bloodline and not some 5th cousin geographically living a few blocks away.
The movie also has the most perfect role for Vincent Price and, had he not been dead for the past decade plus (and had been 20 years younger), he would have most likely played the part. The children are brought before the decrepit house of one Count Olaf (Jim Carrey: ONCE BITTEN, THE DEAD POOL, THE MASK). Carrey's look for the role was designed by Bill Corso (INNOCENT BLOOD, SPECIES, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL , PLANET OF THE APES , DREAMCATCHER) and Hair by Anne Morgan. This is an important mention because Corso and Morgan have worked with Carrey on many movies and seems fully adept at creating a look that allows for Carrey's full rubbery range of expression. When we first meet the Count - a frustrated actor - he is more concerned with the act of displaying emotion than the true feel of it. His balding head - not quite crowned by a gnarled yet swept back mane - gives the face a seemingly quick cast of thrusting itself forward even when still. The bird beak hook nose adds to the inherent aggression in the Count's countenance and fully embodies the character as so drawn by Snicket illustrator, Brett Helquist. In one moment, Olaf is genuinely curious as to why the children seem so gloomy. Reminded - yet again - that they are there because their parents just died, Count Olaf dramatizes a sad face then quickly dispenses with the matter.
Once Mr. Poe is gone, Count Olaf shuts the door to let himself out. He reveals his true insidious nature to the children and from there, things only get worse. The tale is told across the spread of the first three short books - that would normally make up one book - of Lemony Snicket's (real name: Daniel Handler) story of the Baudelaire children. Throughout the course of the movie, Count Olaf creates truly cretinous plans for the demise of the children, only to be foiled in his attempts (which we know, of course, since the books are up to 11 already) by the clever machinations of the children, who rely on each other's talents to save themselves. Staying alive and one step ahead of Olaf isn't easy. Though Olaf's foul plans are simple minded, the children are beset by a variety of stupid relatives like their Aunt Josephine (Meryl
Streep: SILKWOOD, DEATH BECOMES HER, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE), smart but naive relatives like their Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly: ABSOLUTION), or stump-brained government imbeciles like Mr. Poe, Justice Strauss (Catherine O'Hara: DOUBLE
NEGATIVE, BEETLE JUICE, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS), and the Constable (Cedric the Entertainer).
Director Brad Silberling (CASPER), allows Jim Carrey his stride to engulf the character of Count Olaf with his natural comedic menace - without swamping the film with his presence. Silberling also brings out scene chewing fun from Streep, who clearly loves doing comedy. His main stars however, are the children, and the biggest laughs actually come from them, most notably, the subtitle translations of Sunny's baby sounds. Silberling's direction is tight while allowing extra seconds - just enough, to transition from one full story to the next in this triad.
Screenwriter Robert Gordon, who at his best wrote the great Galaxy Quest, takes a gardener's care in pruning Snicket's three short novellas into one film. As with all books, even and especially popular ones, "Sacrifices had to be made." (as Count Olaf might say). No one can tell what fans of the popular series of books might think, but no movie is ever a book anyway - so there!
Thanks also go to the wife and husband team of Producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes (MEN
IN BLACK, MINORITY
RING) for keeping a perfect hand in the creation of this film. When one speaks of Studio heads crapping up a flick, these are the people they usually refer to. Mood perfect music is thanks to the soundtrack composition by Thomas Newman (WHISPERS IN THE DARK,
FLESH AND BONE, THE GREEN MILE). The music was written to stay in the background, setting a dark gothic tone without ever overwhelming a scene.
These days, with the advent of digitizing the light of a shot long after the film is in the can, its difficult for me to tell just where the cinematography stops and the software begins. But the lighting is still picture perfect and thanks likely go to Emmanuel Lubezki (SLEEPY
But what truly envelopes the whole is the world created for this story.
As I earlier mentioned the morbid gothic feel of Addams, Gorey, and Wilson: this atmosphere is captured in Production Design by Rick Heinrichs (FARGO, SLEEPY HOLLOW, PLANET
OF THE APES , HULK); Art Direction by John Dexter (MARS ATTACKS!, SLEEPY HOLLOW, PLANET OF THE APES , HULK) and Martin Whist (PHONE
BOOTH); Set Decoration by Cheryl Carasik (EDWARD
IN BLACK, MEN IN BLACK II, HULK); and costumes by Colleen Atwood (MANHUNTER, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, ED WOOD, THE GROTESQUE, MARS ATTACKS!, SLEEPY HOLLOW, PLANET
OF THE APES ) and Donna O'Neal (PLANET
OF THE APES ).
Remember earlier how I said you could almost see his footsteps walking through the scenes. As you can see from the talent above, these are the people who made Burton's shoes!
LEMONY SNICKET'S: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, is a Thriller that sometimes remembers that its a Mystery that sometimes remembers that its a comedy. A very dark comedy. The best thing about this film though is that it can sometimes be one or the other without starving the remaining two. Fascinating, dreamy, and compelling, the only thing keeping me from giving this film a perfect five are those moments when Carrey was allowed to be too Carrey and not enough Olaf.
Four Shriek Girls.
copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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