By JANE WILSON, Special Contributor | Published January 6, 2005
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” is a beautifully filmed movie that imaginatively brings to life the first three episodes in the popular series of children’s books.
Directed by Brad Silberling, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is the story of the three orphaned Baudelaire children: Violet, Klaus and Sunny. From the very beginning, the narrator, “author” Lemony Snicket (Jude Law) warns that the story is not intended for anyone looking for a heartwarming or happy holiday tale. True to the title, the siblings are subjected to catastrophe after catastrophe. Homes are destroyed, guardians die terrible deaths, and the children are constantly in mortal peril.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is the way it looks. The set design and wardrobe are a hybrid; modern elements coexist with antiquated touches. The tone is somber, but rich and incredibly detailed. This setting is the backdrop for some amazing special effects. In particular, one scene in which a storm blows away a house on a cliff, stranding the children, is stunning. The design and the special effects serve to create a fantastical world that is definitely unique and makes the outrageous action more believable.
The actors uniformly deliver good performances, but the characters themselves never seem particularly compelling. Jim Carrey gives the necessary flourish as the evil Count Olaf, and Billy Connelly and Meryl Streep are entertaining as the children’s more trustworthy guardians. The children themselves (Emily Browning as Violet, Liam Aiken as Klaus, and Kara and Shelby Hoffman as Sunny) do a fine job of portraying intelligent, talented children without being overly precocious. Regrettably, however, it sometimes seems so much effort went into bringing the unfortunate events to vivid life that character development was ignored. For the majority of the film, the characters seem too over-the-top to actually inspire much sympathy. This might be the fault of the slow pace of the film or the exaggerated nature of the action, or it might just be a result of the repeated and unrelenting tragedy of those unfortunate events.
Nevertheless, the horrible circumstances of the Baudelaire children have made the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books enormously popular, and they do provide a platform for some wickedly dark humor. The idea that adults never truly listen to children forces the three orphans to band together to save themselves, and the movie offers some valuable lessons on bravery and ingenuity. Each of the Baudelaires is able to use his or her unique talents to help the others and save the family. The children are an especially close-knit group, and the film gives us a positive view of family loyalty. After their parents are killed, the children must recreate their family unit, and they do an admirable job of looking out for one another as they face adversity. Even Sunny, the toddler, has an important part to play—as well as some of the funniest (subtitled) lines.
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” creates an imaginative, visually stunning world that keeps getting worse and worse, in a way that makes the film better and better.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.