- Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) review: The de facto stars of Brad Silberling’s lavish big-screen version of a trio of Daniel Handler stories are cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, production designer Rick Heinrichs, and costume designer Colleen Atwood. Apparently left to his own devices, Jim Carrey ravages the scenery.
- Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events synopsis: Orphans Klaus (Liam Aiken), Violet (Emily Browning), and Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman) must keep one step ahead of their greedy uncle, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who will stop at nothing to get his hands in their inheritance.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) review: Based on three Daniel Handler tales, Brad Silberling’s Gothic adventure is perverted into a Jim Carrey mugfest
Three Daniel Handler stories about a trio of young siblings on the run from an unscrupulously greedy relative – The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window – are given the big-budget Hollywood treatment in director Brad Silberling and screenwriter Robert Gordon’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
As to be expected, the $140 million movie boasts first-rate production values, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s lenses ably capturing the Gothic feel of production designer Rick Heinrichs’ creations and the extravagance of Colleen Atwood’s costumes. (It’s surely no coincidence that all three also worked on Tim Burton’s Gothicky fantasy Sleepy Hollow, which earned Heinrichs an Oscar statuette and Lubezki a nomination.)
On the downside, as befits most Hollywood fare – e.g., Alfonso Cuarón’s recent blockbuster Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Silberling and Gordon (and the Series of Unfortunate Events producers) have taken a mechanical approach to their movie’s narrative, thus obliterating whatever enchantment there may have been in the original work. (Handler’s own screenplay adaptation was discarded once Silberling – replacing Barry Sonnenfeld – came onboard.)
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events plot: Man of a couple of faces
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events begins after a house fire kills the wealthy Baudelaire couple (cameos by Rick Heinrichs and Amy Brenneman), parents of Klaus (Liam Aiken), Violet (Emily Browning), and the toddler Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman; no relation to Dustin Hoffman, who also has a cameo in the movie).
After a judge stupidly grants guardianship rights to the creepy Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) – a distant relative sporting a combination of bad hair, bad teeth, and bad manners – a family friend, Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), leaves the children in his care.
Can’t adults ever see the obvious?
At first, Count Olaf treats the kids like slaves, but he eventually realizes that they would be better off dead. After all, with the three brats out of the way, the Baudelaires’ money would be all his.
Following a failed attempt on the children’s lives, the count loses his custody rights. But no matter. In true Lon Chaney fashion (see The Phantom of the Opera, The Unholy Three, etc.), Count Olaf comes up with a couple of disguises that, he hopes, will help him to get rid of his financial obstacles once and for all.
The Jim Carrey Show
Jim Carrey, hardly the most subtle of actors, plays Count Olaf as if Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events were his one-man show. The story suffers as a result – wasting someone of Meryl Streep’s caliber is just another misstep – but that seems to have been of little concern to the filmmakers.
When you are making a film with a nine-figure budget, the focus is on big box office names, visual grandeur, and state-of-the-art special effects. Little else matters.
Thus, the beautifully packaged but brainless, soulless A Series of Unfortunate Events plods along for nearly two hours, as each unfortunate – and interminable – event is followed by another.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) cast & crew
Director: Brad Silberling.
Screenplay: Robert Gordon.
From Daniel Handler’s books The Bad Beginning (1999), The Reptile Room (1999), and The Wide Window (2000).
Jim Carrey … Count Olaf
Liam Aiken … Klaus
Emily Browning … Violet
Kara Hoffman … Sunny
Shelby Hoffman … Sunny
Timothy Spall … Mr. Poe
Catherine O’Hara … Justice Strauss
Billy Connolly … Uncle Monty
Meryl Streep … Aunt Josephine
Luis Guzmán … Bald Man
Jamie Harris … Hook-Handed Man
Craig Ferguson … Person of Indeterminate Gender
Jennifer Coolidge … White Faced Woman
Jane Adams … White Faced Woman
Dustin Hoffman … The Critic (uncredited)
Helena Bonham Carter … Beatrice Baudelaire (uncredited)
Jane Lynch … Realtor (uncredited)
Amy Brenneman … Mrs. Baudelaire (uncredited)
Rick Heinrichs … Mr. Baudelaire (uncredited)
Jude Law … Lemony Snicket
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki.
Film Editing: Michael Kahn.
Music: Thomas Newman.
Producers: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, and Jim Van Wyck.
Production Design: Rick Heinrichs.
Costume Design: Colleen Atwood.
Production Company: Nickelodeon Movies | Kumar Mobiliengesellschaft mbH & Co. Projekt Nr. 2 KG.
Distributors: Paramount Pictures (domestically) | DreamWorks Pictures (internationally).
Running Time: 109 min.
Country: United States | Germany.
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004): Jim Carrey Mugfest” notes
 Regarding Daniel Handler’s dismissal from the production of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, director Brad Silberling told the Los Angeles Times: “Daniel’s very prolific. He cranked out draft after draft, and he got to that point where up is down and red is blue, and I could see that in the screenplay. It was kind of a wreck, a glorious one.”
In the same piece, Handler lamented that it “made me sad to put a lot of effort into a film that turned out to go in a different direction.”
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events won one Academy Award: Best Makeup (Valli O’Reilly and Bill Corso).
It received three additional nominations: Best Art Direction (production designer: Rick Heinrichs; set decorator: Cheryl Carasik), Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood), and Best Original Score (Thomas Newman).
Among Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ award wins and nominations were:
- Art Directors Guild: Best Art Direction (Period or Fantasy).
- Costumer Designers Guild: Best Costume Design (Fantasy or Period).
- Phoenix Film Critics Society: Best Makeup.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.
Meryl Streep and Jim Carrey Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie images: DreamWorks | Paramount Pictures.
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004): Jim Carrey Mugfest” last updated in November 2023.