Everything will be okay. No… really… good and family
values trump evil every time. Don’t be scared. This movie
is only kidding. Just please go see the movie. They spent a lot
of money on it, a whole lot of money, reportedly 142 million dollars.
Plus, it has Jim Carrey! You love him, right? Baudelaire
was just some poet and Edgar Allen Poe is harmless
enough. All that stuff is for you people who read. This film will
play in red states just as well as blue.
You will hear it described as being “great for the family,
though the ‘darkness’ may not be appropriate for younger
children.” Balderdash! which in this case means that you better
not let those kids watch anything worse than the animated version
of A Christmas Carol, either. On second thought, that might
be a bit much, too. Really! There isn’t anything in this film
that would disturb even the most timid young child. On third thought,
there are those graphic and realistic man-eating leeches. I must
admit that they could be the source of a nightmare or two. Maybe
I shouldn’t go overboard just to make a point.
I should be glad that Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate
Events, the movie, is not an abomination, and it isn’t.
Now, I may not have slept in a coffin like some people I know, but
I love the macabre as much almost anyone. I am especially fond of
the commentary implicit in the morbid, dark arts that there are
different ways of looking at reality than the single, most popular
consensus. That would seem to be an especially valuable message
for today’s youth, but may not be much of a message that they
will get from this film. Seemingly dark and morbid, and a bit frightening
to small children, it is no Edward Scissorhands. Okay,
so now you know where I stand.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events
is a film based on the exceptionally popular series of morbid books
by Daniel Handler, specifically the first three.
As you might surmise, the books are short and succinct, and the
producers and screenwriter Robert Gordon intelligently
tried to preserve that quality rather than trying to excessively
embellish a single book into a single movie. The books are quite
cleverly written, with charming literary devices that the filmmakers
have taken every care to preserve or translate to film. Books are
books and films are films. I don’t believe in comparing a
film to the book that inspired it because it so rarely leads to
any illuminating insight. However, you don’t spend 142 million
dollars on a bold experiments in filmmaking; you invest it in proven
commodities. If I found commodities entertaining, I’d be a
At first, I was inclined to take my daughter’s diagnosis and
blame Jim Carrey for everything wrong with this film. She is my
local expert on the books, and the only thing that she found horrifying
is how they cast the villain, Count Olaf, as a comic character.
She hated the film before she entered the theater and saw nothing
to alter her opinion. To be honest, she admired everything else
about the film, but just could not stand Carrey. I suspect that
a significant number of the hard-core fans of the literary series
will have the same reaction. After some considerable deliberation,
I don’t feel that this judgment is fair. Carrey provided exactly
what was expected of him.
Admittedly no actor of the dramatic quality of someone like Meryl
Streep, who also happens to appear in this film, Carrey
succeeds in bringing some small realistic and rewarding presence
to his extremely melodramatic character, much more than she does
for hers. In fact, the only truly “good” acting in this
film comes from the children (Browning and Aiken),
who portray their characters with a skill beyond their scant experience.
Of course, the best, most convincing acting comes from the Hoffman
twins who portray the youngest child. Since they largely don’t
even speak yet, I can safely say that they don’t even know
the meaning of the word “melodrama.” Perhaps that is
why their subtitled comments, a common and embarrassing gimmick
in some other movies, here are some of the most sincerely funny
and meaningful moments of the film. I’m undoubtedly an idiot
for taking so long to figure it out, but all this is not a coincidence.
The world of adults has no more validity to a child than what their
imagination can give it. Suddenly, even the most ardent fan of Tim
Burton has to smile about the insight of this aspect of
Sadly, a child’s imagination also just has to be able to
envision a more terrifying and threatening and ultimately interesting
world than what is depicted here. I know that mine would. By obsessing
over the stylistic and melodramatic details of the book, this film
generally forgets to be really morbid. Here you can insert your
own arguments as to whether people care about such substance anymore.
I may be clueless about a great many things, but I’m not going
to expect a studio to spend 142 million dollars and then make a
film that alienates people by serving my arcane notion of morbidity.
They are going to go out of their way not to alienate anybody, not
even a little bit. Paramount didn’t ruin Michael O’Donoghue’s
Scrooged without reason.
Even so, the studios are scared to death that people are going
to skip this film because of its dark nature. At the press screening,
we received a copy of a New York Times article recounting
a discussion between the director, Brad Silberling,
and a child psychologist, Alvin Rosenfeld, as they
celebrate the virtues of presenting children with some of the more
challenging and scary aspects of life, as opposed to an exclusively
sugar-coated and overly protective vision. Not only is this morbid
terror all in good fun, it is actually healthy! I’d agree,
if only here it didn’t taste so much like some pop health