“… Jim Carrey’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.”
When I was a kid, I completely missed the ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ train. A lot of my friends around me were reading the books, and watching the movie, but I couldn’t be bothered for some reason. To tell you the truth, I was more of a Spiderwick Chronicles kid but that’s beside the point. My point is that I finally got around to experiencing the world of A Series of Unfortunate Events by watching the new Netflix series starring Neil Patrick Harris. Because I loved it so much, I decided to go back and watch the first adaptation of the beloved book series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey. This proved to be an absolutely terrible choice because it is hard for me to not compare the two different adaptations to one another. This review will be about the 2004 movie, but I can’t help it if the new television program gets mentioned once or twice. Anyway, A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the Baudelaire children (or orphans) after their parents suddenly die in a very mysterious house fire. Needing a home, the children are taken to their closest relative Count Olaf. When I say closest, I mean in proximity; the children have no idea who this Count Olaf is and they soon find out that he is just after their enormous inheritance. The film then follows the Baudelaires as they are tossed around like a hot potato to different relatives, while also trying to thwart Count Olaf’s evil plans to get their parent’s money.
For those who don’t know, the Netflix series is split up in a way that every two episodes covers one book from the A Series of Unfortunate Events series. This is a great way to make sure that nothing is left out, but I also found the pacing to be rather slow at times. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (from now on referred to as “the film”), decides to adapt the first three books into one two-hour film. This causes the exact opposite problem that I found in the television show; the way the story is paced is way too fast. At the beginning of the film the way the story is paced makes the movie feel really long. We are introduced to the characters, we are introduced to the problem, and the problem is essentially solved. This usually marks the end of the story, but in the film that is only the first thirty minutes. That is because the first thirty minutes (give or take) consists of the stories from the first two books. Luckily after I got used to this haphazard way of telling a story the pacing didn’t seem to drag too much. The problem that occurred throughout the film was the painfully obvious ‘cuts’ in the story. Like I mentioned before, it was very clear where one story ended and another began and that made the entire film feel rather disjointed and rushed. Sitting down and watching the film didn’t provide me with one really good story, it provided me with three (rather mediocre and rushed) of them. Of course it is a children’s movie, and it is adapting three books into one movie, but I just can’t help but feel the story could have been altered more to make the narrative more consistent (for lack of a better word). One thing I will applaud the film on was the immense number of recognizable faces that made appearances, and the quality of their performances. Just off the top of my head (well, not really I do have the internet’s help) you have Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Billy Connolly, and even Dustin Hoffman. Now their performance time varies, but all of them did a very good job of fitting into the universe and being pretty entertaining. The film is led by three (well, two) children and they also do very good jobs. Again, I haven’t read the books so I’m not sure if their performances were true to character but I will say that they were able to carry the film with ease. Of course the main reason to watch this film is for Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Count Olaf (and his many different personas). Jim Carrey delivers an absolutely brilliant performance as Olaf, and he truly makes it seem like we are watching a cartoon character come to life. The way that he steals every scene that he is in is amazing to watch, and as Count Olaf he is as entertaining as ever.
A Series of Unfortunate Events has a very distinct style, and the film captures it very well. When I first watched the television show I was amazed at how stylized and yet unique the look of the show was. I was even more surprised to watch the film and discover that most of those looks were directly ripped (not in a malicious way, I’m sure) from the film itself. The look that I fell in love with was essentially pioneered by the film, and for that I have to give it credit. The look of this world is reminiscent of the works of Time Burton, but at the same time it is very unique. The style is almost gothic, but at the same time it is very quirky. It is honestly hard to describe, but once you see it you’ll know exactly what I mean. This look transports you into this world in a lightning fast manner. As soon as the film starts you know what you are getting into and I appreciate that. I also really liked how most of the sets were practical. It’s easy (well maybe not in 2004) for filmmakers to say “just add it in later”, but I appreciate when a production goes to the extra effort of building these elaborate sets which help immerse the audience into the film. Of course there is a fair bit of CGI in the film, and boy does it ever look terrible. Of course the film was made in 2004 so I get it, but it does not hold up at all. Probably the worst offender is the youngest Baudelaire Sunny. Sunny is an infant, and therefore she can’t do anything risky. So how do we get around that? Well, a CGI baby of course! Now the CGI baby wasn’t terrible, but as soon as you compare it to a real environment (which this movie has quite a few of) it instantly falls apart. It honestly looked like they just took one of the kids from The Polar Express and put them into their film. It was bad. Another thing that bothered me a bit was the fact that, when the movie started we are introduced to two characters who are british. You then accept that this film will have characters who have accents, which is perfectly fine don’t get me wrong. But then literally nobody else in the movie has an accent. It’s just weird to me that they would have the film start off with two characters who have accents, but then nobody else in the film did. It was like a weird bait and switch. I don’t know, maybe I’m just strange for caring so much.
Overall Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a pretty entertaining movie. It has a few problems pertaining to its story structure, but other than that I would say that it is a solid kid’s movie that adults can also enjoy; and Jim Carrey’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
I give Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events a B