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Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) ends up being one of those heartbreaking movies that never quite creaks to life, despite everyone's obvious best efforts. It looks great, but director Brad Silberling never quite figures out a single approach — deadpan or wacky — that honors Daniel Handler's popular series of hilariously macabre children's novellas. Each book, which Handler pseudonymously credits to "Lemony Snicket," follows the travails of the three "reasonably attractive orphans" of the Baudelaire family — inventor Violet (played in the film by Emily Browning), bookworm Klaus (Liam Aiken) and baby Sunny — as they're pursued by Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), a distant cousin and failed actor who tries to kill the children for their inheritance. The movie adapts the first three books in the series — The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window — and therein lies another problem: Adapting three mini-adventures instead of one gives the film a deeply unsatisfying episodic structure; it feels like we're watching very expensive episodes of "Scooby-Doo" back-to-back. Worse, the film betrays the cackling, grim spirit of Handler's books with some ill-placed moments of (gasp!) heart-warmth and happiness. And Carrey gives a busy, unfocused performance as Olaf — his clowning piles on contemporary references and too much "Ace Ventura" schtick, and the movie loses the sense of character and timelessness that could have made it truly great. Paramount has packaged A Series of Unfortunate Events in a two-disc edition that's so dense, only the hardest-core fan could possibly forage through all its featurettes and galleries and commentaries and Easter eggs. There are two commentary tracks — a serious one with Silberling and another with Silberling and "the real Lemony Snicket" that tries (and fails) to sustain the conceit that the movie we're watching is a docudrama. There's also plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of Carrey screen-testing his character in a variety disguises, a dozen lengthy featurettes on the film's production design, sets, effects, costumes, sound, score, and lizard wrangling; three still galleries; at least two Easter eggs; and multi-track interactive workshops devoted to Carrey's shtick and sound-effects creation. The disc features a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English, French, and Spanish, with English subtitles). Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
M.E. Russell

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