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LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
Collector's Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jim Carrey, Jude Law, Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Timothy Spall, Catherine O'Hara, Billy Connolly, Cedric the Entertainer, Luis Guzman, Jennifer Coolidge, Meryl Streep
Director: Brad Silberling
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: April 26, 2005

"I must say, you are a gloom-looking bunch. Why so sad?"

"Our parents just died."

"Ah yes. How very, very tragic. Wait! Wait! Give me that line again, while it's fresh in my head."

"Our parents just died?"

"Yes. Very horrible."

"What a schmuck!"

Film ***

Dear Reader,

If you enjoy films which carry a genuinely bizarre quality and unfold in a slightly unpredictable way, then Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is the perfect film for you entirely.

The world of Lemony Snicket, aka author Daniel Handler, is one of unique imagination. Think Roald Dahl, mixed in with the world of Harry Potter, only with a slightly more demented atmosphere, and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about. The author himself always made sure to inform the reader of the gloominess that was to be expected from his stories in the form of a message on the back of the book.

For sure, the movie adaptation follows the same procedure through a clever and misleading opening. It opens with what appears to be an animated short titled "The Littlest Elf". Then a voiceover pops up in the form of Lemony Snicket himself (voice provided by Jude Law), who informs us that if we've come to see a movie about a happy little elf, then we have stepped into the wrong theater, or in this case, bought the wrong DVD.

The tale Mr. Snicket has intended to tell us is that of the three Baudelaire children, whose parents have just died in horrendous house fire. The three newly orphaned kids are comprised of Violet (Emily Browning) who loves to invent, Klaus (Liam Aiken) who loves to read, and infant Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) who, with only two teeth, loves to...well...bite things. She also carries a good level of intelligence herself.

Though distraught, the three kids seem to take the news rather well. The family banker, Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) informs them that they will be living with their nearest relative. The new caretaker is the much mysterious Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), an actor of sorts who's living in a gothic home which seems to be falling down slowly but surely. Upon meeting their new guardian, the children grow extremely concerned.

Count Olaf claims that he's either their fourth cousin three times removed or a third cousin four times removed. He has but one wish; for the kids to do any and every command that comes to his brain. His real plan is to rid himself of them so that he can get his hands on the enormous fortune they're entitled to as a result of their parents' death. And he's mean if he doesn't get what he wants, as demonstrated during a dinner of pasta made by the kids, when the Count demanded roast beef, or as he puts it-"the Swedish term for BEEF that has been ROASTED!"

When it's revealed to the Count that he can't officially get his hands on the money unless the children are dead, he proceeds to do just that. The three children are then sent to their actual close relative, Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), a herpetologist who shares a mansion with a vast amount of pet snakes and other reptiles. Then a stranger shows up in their midst, Olaf in an outlandish disguise, and the Uncle is soon met with an ugly demise.

Following this incident, the Baudelaires are then sent to Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), a phobic-plagued woman who lives in a mansion alongside a rocky coast and over a constant stormy sea. Olaf isn't too far behind them, meeting up with the children in a sea full of leeches. Once the Count discovers that the money will go to the children once at the age of 18, or if one of them becomes a husband or spouse, he hatches yet another devious plan.

Olaf's final plot involves marrying Violet in a wedding ceremony, disguised as a scene in a town play. If Violet refuses, young Sunny will be plunged to her death at the Count's request. While Klaus executes a rescue attempt, secrets concerning the parents' death will be revealed.

I can certainly gather that devoted readers the original three Lemony Snicket adventures "The Bad Beginning", "The Reptile Room" and "The Wide Window", will admire the film more than those who haven't read them. On the other hand, I found it to be a most enjoyable piece of movie entertainment without ever reading a single line of the original stories. There is plenty to admire in this film, and I will point out two key factors.

First off, there's Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. Carrey had quite a year in 2004, most of which came as a result of his tour de force in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which was a unique, quiet performance that seemed new even when compared to his previous dramatic turns in The Truman Show and The Majestic. It felt as if it had been a while since Carrey tapped into his trademark zaniness.

As Count Olaf, Carrey has found the perfect role to delve his manically funny persona into. Since Olaf is an actor who attempts a few disguises along the way, Carrey is effortless in creating multiple deceptive personalities. His one disguise as a supposed "research assistant" is a pure howler.

Secondly, the movie carries a most outstanding production value. Director Brad Silberling (Moonlight Mile, City of Angels) was no doubt an admirer of the original stories, and wanted to get the visualization of the world of Lemony Snicket just right. Along with production designer Rick Heinrichs (Hulk, Planet of the Apes) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Ali, Sleepy Hollow), Silberling has accomplished in doing what he set out for with amazing results. The movie scored a number of Oscar nominations for technical categories, and even won an Oscar for Best Makeup, which I can tell you was well deserved.

Highlighted by a marvelous production scale and Jim Carrey's over-the-top brilliance, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is wondrous piece of cinematic entertainment, much like that of the Harry Potter movies. Like J.K. Rowling's famed series, I can see a possible franchise to be built out of Daniel Handler's work, which is most welcomed.

BONUS: Dustin Hoffman pops up in a funny cameo as a drama critic.

Video ****

Paramount executes visual brilliance with this magnificent presentation which is likely to be one of the top video performances of the year. Just about every frame of the movie presents a treat for the eyes, and the level of detail that has gone into every shot is delivered in sheer beauty. The anamorphic picture is stunning and clear throughout, with absorbing colors to spare. An accomplishment, not just for Paramount, but for DVDs in general.

Audio ****

Equal praise for the sound performance. The 5.1 mix does a knockout job of practically immersing you into the world presented to you in the movie. This is an incredibly lively audio mix, packed with sound jolts left and right. The score by Thomas Newman is delivered in glorious form, as is dialogue and frequent sequences involving top notch technical work. Surround sound quality is at a pure high.

Features ****

Paramount has issued two editions of this movie; this 2-disc Collector's Edition as well as the traditional one disc offering. Though it will cost you a few more bucks, this fully loaded 2-disc set is worth it, especially if you're a dear fan of the books.

Disc One features two commentary tracks; one with director Brad Silberling, the second with Silberling and author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket). Also included is a three part featurette titled "Bad Beginnings", featuring a funny segment titled "Building a Bad Actor", which shows Carrey effortlessly getting into character...multiple ones that is. This disc also features deleted scenes and outtakes.

Disc Two has even more, starting with a five-part featurette titled "A Terrible Tragedy", three featurettes on the sound design, four special effects featurettes, and three photo galleries.

This package also includes a copy of the original book by Lemony Snicket, "The Bad Beginning".

Summary:

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a strange, but enthralling and visually fascinating experience. Fans of the books are bound for a wonderful treat, and fans of Jim Carrey comic persona will be more than satisfied with his darkly funny turn here. The 2-disc Collector's Edition from Paramount is the one to go for, as well as one of the year's best releases!

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