HomeMovie ReviewsLemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Movie: Lotsa Mugging, No Magic

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Movie: Lotsa Mugging, No Magic

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie: As the ruthless Count Olaf, Jim Carrey – apparently inspired by silent era star Lon Chaney – disguises himself as a couple of other characters in Brad Silberling’s lush but tedious tale. (Pictured: Jim Carrey in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.)
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie (2004) review: Brad Silberling’s lavish but witless, artificial, and ponderous big-screen version of a trio of Gothic tales by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. “Lemony Snicket”) makes the mistake of featuring too much mugging – courtesy of Jim Carrey as Count Olaf – and too little enchantment.
  • In addition to Jim Carrey’s overbearing presence, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events also features Jude Law (as narrator Lemony Snicket), Meryl Streep, Timothy Spall, and Catherine O’Hara, plus cameos by Dustin Hoffman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jane Lynch. Yet the film’s actual stars are two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (A Little Princess, 1995; Sleepy Hollow, 1999), Oscar-winning production designer Rick Heinrichs (Sleepy Hollow, 1999), and Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (Chicago, 2002).

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie: Gothic tale is perverted as a showcase for Jim Carrey’s mugging

Three of Daniel Handler’s Gothic stories about three siblings on the run from a ruthless and 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 movie adaptation.

As to be expected, the $140 million film boasts first-rate production values, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s lenses perfectly capturing the eerie Gothic-ness 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 Gothic-y fantasy Sleepy Hollow.)

On the other hand, as befits most Hollywood fare – e.g., the recent Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Silberling and Gordon (and the film’s producers) have taken a mechanical approach to the narrative, thus obliterating whatever enchantment there may have been in the original work. (Handler’s own adaptation was discarded once Silberling – replacing Barry Sonnenfeld – came onboard.[1])

Man of a handful of faces

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events begins after a house fire kills the wealthy Baudelaire couple (production designer Rick Heinrichs, Amy Brenneman), parents of Klaus (Liam Aiken), Violet (Emily Browning), and the toddler Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman).

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 – as far as he is concerned. 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.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie with Meryl Streep. The film won an Oscar for Best Make-Up (Valli O’Reilly & Bill Corso), and was nominated for Best Art Direction (Rick Heinrichs & set decorator Cheryl Carasik), Costume Design (Colleen Atwood), and Music (Thomas Newman).

The Jim Carrey Show

Jim Carrey, hardly the subtlest 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 miscalculation – but that seems to have been of little concern to the filmmakers.

Perhaps 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 movie adaptation 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)

Director: Brad Silberling.

Screenplay: Robert Gordon.
From Daniel Handler’s books The Bad Beginning (1999), The Reptile Room (1999), and The Wide Window (2000).

Cast: Jim Carrey. Meryl Streep. Liam Aiken. Emily Browning. Jude Law. Timothy Spall. Catherine O’Hara. Billy Connolly. Craig Ferguson. Luis Guzmán. Kara Hoffman. Shelby Hoffman. Jennifer Coolidge. Jaimie Harris. Jane Adams. Rick Heinrichs. Amy Brenneman.
Cameos: Dustin Hoffman. Helena Bonham Carter. Jane Lynch.

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki. Film Editing: Michael Kahn. Music: Thomas Newman. Production Design: Rick Heinrichs. Producers: Laurie MacDonald, Jim Van Wyck, and Walter F. Parkes.


Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Movie” notes

Glorious wreck

[1] Regarding Daniel Handler’s dismissal from the making 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.”


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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie cast and crew information via the AFI Catalog website and other sources.

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 Movie: Lotsa Mugging, No Magic” last updated in March 2021.

6 comments

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6 comments

Katherine Soliman -

This isn’t as good as the book.

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Gigi15 -

It turns out my other comment did work never mind but I’m still curious about this whole train scene thing.

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Gigi15 -

Hey for some reason my other comment like didn’t work but what I wanted to say was like I didn’t like the film and I was asking why there was a scene like wiith a train in it when there Is no train like in the books. I just think that it’s like a bad adaption.

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Gigi15 -

Hey. I totally agree with the review of this film and I think that it could have been so much better. I read the books a while ago and they were Acctually good. I thought they were going to be like totally depressing but they weren’t. Anyway this film sucks in my opinion anyway I don’t mean any offence to the director and stuff. Seriously what is up with that train scene I don’t remember anything about a train scene in the books

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Unknown -

This film completely wrecks the books and the books are a whole lot better by far. I was really disappointed when I saw this film it is so different and I loved the first three books I think the film could have been much much better. But Jim Carey was really good in it even though he wasn’t like Count Olaf at all. I just think that it’s a shame to spend so much money on a film and it just doesn’t work the way it should.

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Anonymous -

Hi I hav read all of the books and I loved them so much but I think that the film is a really bad adaption of the first three books and the scene with the train doesn’t even happen in them. It’s like a completely different story!!!!!

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