A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events

August 13, 2010

Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events

We explore yet another literary adaptation tonight. One which I find to be particularly spectacular. A word which here means “it so well captures the spirit of the books that it is really quite astonishing.” I’m not sure that reading the books is a necessity to enjoy this movie, but it certainly enhances the experience.

It’s actually kind of appropriate that we watched this on Friday the thirteenth. (I only thought about that after the movie was already over and I had started my review. It was not a conscious thing when we chose to watch this… I would feel more clever if it had been.) There are thirteen books in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Each of them is a tiny thing that could be read in an afternoon, and I wouldn’t recommend reading them all at once. For one thing they get a little repetitive. For another they are unapologeticly bleak and upsetting. The books tell the lengthy and unfortunate tale of the three Boudlaire orphans. Violet, who likes to invent things. Klaus who likes to read, and remembers every book he has ever read. And young Sunny, who bites things with her four sharp teeth. In the first book their parents die in a horrible and unexplained fire and they are given into the care of the nefarious Count Olaf, who desires only to get his hands on the vast fortune that is their inheritance. Eventually they escape from his clutches and are delivered by their clueless lawyer Mr. Poe to some relative or other. For a while they feel that they might be able to start a new life in this new home, then Olaf shows up in disguise and ruins their new life, and they must somehow defeat him. Rinse and repeat.

I will admit that I never had the mental fortitude to complete the entire series. The whole angle of the books is that life is sometimes bleak and terrible, and awful things continually happen all around us. At first it’s refreshing and amusing to have the narrator of the books, Lemony Snicket, telling us that this is not a series where you can expect a happy ending or a life of peace and tranquility for the Boudlaires. It’s a sort of balm against the unrelentingly cheerful and colorful Disney world. The world of the Boudlaires is a grim, gothic and unhappy place, and it’s kind of fun to visit. But it’s not much fun to be stuck there for thirteen entire books.

Luckily this movie chooses to concentrate on just the first three books of the series, and it does a spectacular job of capturing both the humor and the bleak feel of the books. It’s also fairly faithful to the books. It does take the conclusion from the first book and stick it at the end of the movie (inventing a different climax to the first adventure involving the children being trapped in a car on some train tracks) and it tacks on a fairly hopeful ending and ties up loose ends, which is something that never happened in the books which I read. Maybe there are answers in the last book, entitled simply The End, but I never made it that far. But aside from those little tweaks the movie cleaves very close to what I remember reading.

The movie, like the books before it, is a triumph of style over substance. The story being told is secondary to the tone created, the humor and the themes presented. Right from the beginning the movie hits the right notes. It starts out with a sickeningly saccharine musical number about a happy little elf, accompanied by animated woodland creatures and such. Then it stops and tells us that this is NOT the story of the littlest elf. If we want a happy sunny cheerful movie then we are watching the wrong movie. Instead, Lemony Snicket informs us (played here by the velvet tones and handsome silhouette of Jude Law) that this is a story of awful, sad, horrible events, which to his great sorrow he has sworn to investigate and report.

There are three stars to this movie, and they are not the Boudlaire children (although all three actors do a wonderful job. Emily Browning as Violet wonderfully carries the weight of the dire circumstances that plague the children. Liam Aiken as Klaus is the sort of relatable life-line for the modern viewer. Only his character wears modern clothes and his reaction shots do a great job of cuing the audience into the notion that these children understand perfectly well how ludicrous their story is. Then there’s Kara and Shelby Hoffman as Sunny – how on Earth did the film makers get such an expressive performance out of such young children… it must have taken herculean patience.) No – the stars of the movie are the art direction, the costume department and the absolutely astonishing performance of Jim Carrey.

Every frame of this movie (once you get past the littlest elf) is filled with lush, brilliant, and creative looks. It’s like and Edward Gorey illustration come to life. The costumes are inspired by eighteenth century garb, all spats and tales and lacy bodices. Looking at the sets, such as Olaf’s decrepit mansion for example, you can instantly see that an enormous amount of effort has gone into creating this world. And don’t even get me started on the jaw-dropping animation of the closing credits. They alone are worth the price of admission.

On top of all that you have Jim Carrey. He was clearly given permission to ham it up just as much as ever he could want to as Olaf, and because Olaf is meant to be not just nefarious but also a notoriously bad actor the wild flights of fancy that Jim comes up with really work for the character. Jim also has a great feel for how to use the extreme make-up and look of Olaf. When he leers into the camera with his pointy beard and his great bushy eyebrows, well it’s as though Count Olaf has stepped right out of the pages of the book and is standing in front of you. There could have been no more perfect casting. In addition to that Jim gets to perform as Olaf in his various disguises, which allows him to show of his astonishing ability to morph completely into somebody else. Altogether it’s an astonishing performance, and it raises the movie from being great, which is would have been anyhow, into being an absolute wonder to behold.

It was so much fun to watch this movie again tonight. Even if the subject matter is grim and unfortunate, it’s still witty and clever. Much of the humor of the books is preserved absolutely intact, and the entire production is a wonder to behold. They have so deftly captured everything about the books that was great, and because the movie only concerns itself with three books it doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down or too depressing. Besides – I got to watch those closing credits again. Happy Friday the thirteenth, everybody!

August 13, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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