Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (PG) ★★★½

Review Date: December 17th, 2004

In the words of Mr. Lemony Snicket himself, ''I'm sorry to tell you the movie you are [about to read the review for] is extremely unpleasant, an expression that here means, 'it involves three ingenious orphans, a sinister villain and a hair-raising misadventure' … you are free to seek lighter fare, like [reading a review about] a documentary on cheese fondue.'' This reviewer, however, suggests you really try to stick it out because Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a dastardly unadulterated delight of a film.


''In this alarming cinematic event alone, you will encounter a terrible fire, dim lighting, high tragedy, a giant snake, low comedy, man-eating leeches and Jim Carrey,'' Mr. Snicket claims--and he isn't joking. It is indeed unfortunate times for the Baudelaire children, who are left orphaned by a tragic fire that burned down their luxurious mansion and killed their parents. Violet (Emily Browning), one of the finest 14-year-old inventors the world has ever known, her 12-year-old brother Klaus (Liam Aiken), a voracious reader, and their baby sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), an excellent biter, are now at the mercy of unknown guardians with vague connections to their parents. They include Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), a widow terrified of almost everything but who insists on proper grammar; Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), a kind and warm herpetologist, who holds a well-kept secret on the Baudelaire parents' past; and the most malevolent of them all, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), a wannabe actor, who sets about a series of ill-fated events for the Baudelaire orphans in hopes of obtaining their vast inheritance. It's almost too much to bear--but these orphans rely on their keen intelligence and unique talents to escape Olaf's clutches.


The distressingly talented if somewhat over-the-top Jim Carrey is tailored made for the ostentatious Count Olaf, much like he was for the Grinch in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas--but this time, he does it with a lot less green makeup. With a smelly disposition and one giant eyebrow, Carrey sufficiently oozes the right amount of villainy as Olaf without getting too ''Carreyed'' away. Streep also has a marvelous time playing the skittish Aunt Josephine, who is so concerned about any fateful event that may befall her inside her house, she doesn't seem to realize she lives in a precarious perch above a roiling sea full of killer leeches. Connolly, too, takes great pleasure wrapping snakes around his neck as Uncle Monty, the good-hearted reptile lover. Even Jude Law makes an appearance, thankfully only in silhouette, as the narrator himself, Lemony Snicket. Yet, even against veterans such as Carrey and Streep, the stoic Baudelaire orphans make the film. They're played brilliantly by Browning (Darkness Falls), Aiken (Good Boy!) and the cute-as-a-button Hoffman twins. Unlike the inexperience of, say, the young Harry Potter cast when they first started out, Browning and Aiken are pros, bringing a rather bright and inquisitive yet suitably morose quality to their characters.


''I begged them not to do it. I begged them not to get a good director. I begged them not to cast anyone talented. I begged them not base the movie on any of my books, and they chose three of them!'' exclaims Mr. Snicket. Good thing the filmmakers didn't listen to Mr. Snicket, aka author Daniel Handler, because the story of the Baudelaire orphans and their misadventures is too sweet to pass up. It follows along the traditions of other children's literature--from the Brothers Grimm to Roald Dahl to J.K. Rowling--of absurdly awful things happening to perfectly nice children. Taking from the first three books in the series--A Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window--director Brad Silberling (Casper) expertly creates the Snicket world, staying true to the visions and unusual style of Handler's bestsellers. Shot entirely on Hollywood sound stages, the film is virtual eye candy, dripping with austere sets--particularly Count Olaf's dilapidated mansion and Aunt Josephine's rickety house--that are reminiscent of Barry Sonnenfeld's creepy Addams Family and Tim Burton's bleak Sleepy Hollow (whose production designer Rick Heinrichs designed Snicket). Can't wait to see what they do in the next Snicket installment.

Bottom Line

As Lemony Snicket would say, ''Be prepared for a most dreadful spectacle of unparalleled disaster,'' which really means Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events will evoke magic, mystery, and stir the imagination of every unfortunate soul in the audience.