The Ultimate Dad
Children’s stories are traditionally dark and scary; the tales of the Brother’s Grimm for example. The tales are interwoven with death, danger and deception. Stories are our first exposure the hard facts of life within a fictional and fantastical setting. With film currently dominating all forms of storytelling, we look to it to provide the same exposure to more grown-up issues.
The problem with this responsibility is the watering down of material between conception and release. Between all of the voices that make themselves heard about how a film will turn out to be few films actually manage to tell a story that resonates. Like it or not, humanity thrives from stories that take us to places we don’t wish to experience for ourselves. We learn from others: even fictional others.
Cinema has released a new film that is worthy of the description of dark and a little scary. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Event’s (LSASOUE) is the sum of the first three books in the series of the same title. The first line sets out the tone for the whole series. The film, on the other hand, begins with a fantastic deception, then pulls the rug out from underneath you.
We meet the Beaudelaire children on a beach where they are informed that their parents have both perished in a fire which destroyed their home. The three orphans are sent to live with their ‘closest’ relative Count Olaf, an actor of some ‘repute’. Throughout the film, Jude Law’s smooth voice warns the audience that this movie isn’t going to be at all pleasant, and there is a much nicer film in Cinema 2 (which only works, if you’re not IN cinema 2).
Count Olaf is a particularly nasty fellow who reveals immediately that he’s going to dispose of the children as soon as possible so he can inherit their family fortune. Jim Carrey is excellent as the dastardly Olaf. I’ve not liked Carrey in anything since The Mask, so I was reluctant to look forward to his performance. The combination of his slender physique and prosthetics gives Carrey the perfect Olaf look which he flamboyantly brings to life with his usual physical acting/comedy. Olaf is a very bad actor, and Carrey does a very good job of playing him. There are moments when some of his signature word-drivel goes a step to far, but there aren’t an abundance of these and the film moves on from them quickly.
The Beaudelaire children are what makes LSASOUE so very good. They are always trying to escape Olaf’s schemes and constantly under threat of being upstaged by Carrey. Not an easy gig, but these young actors keep the focus where it is needed. In a departure from the book, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are given more emotional growth after the death of their parents and learning how to rely on each other for support.
Emily Browning and Liam Aiken, Violet and Klaus, show they have the acting chops to portray this heightened emotional rollercoaster of a life. These characters are going to have serious therapy bills if they survive Olaf’s terrorism, and Browning and Aiken embody them well.
All of the film’s best lines went to the character who couldn’t speak. Well, she can speak, but nothing comprehendible. Twins, Kara and Shelby Hoffman, double as habitual biter Sunny who is the comedy relief and innocent heart of the film. What is captured of these girls is little short of amazing. Who knew anyone could get toddlers to perform such a range of emotions. They are not just happy and sad, but as much as one would expect from a child actor twice their age. Sure, we don’t know how much time and effort was put into capturing these moments, but it’s an additional quality that lifts the film.
As I was saying earlier, this is a dark film. The Baudelaire’s are hardly the first book characters who have lost their parents, but there aren’t many films where the villain is constantly attempting to murder them and killing off anyone who tries to protect them. Even Voldemort isn’t that menacing yet.
If you suffer from a fear of snakes (Ophiciophobia), then you’re going to love the Reptile Room. A woman sitting nearby had her eyes covered for most of this part of the film, and jumped out of her skin when the Incredibly Deadly Viper makes it’s sudden entrance.
The production design and look of the film is fantastic. Very Tim Burton. No surprise when you learn that the Director of Photography and Production Designer both worked on Sleepy Hollow, and the Costume Designers have worked with Burton since Edward Scissorhands.
It is a totally manufactured world, which gives the film a consistency that enhances the mixture of modern and late nineteenth century periods. Dark and Gothic heightens the gloom and emphasises the difference of each of the children’s new foster homes.
I go on and on about being faithful to the original text, and usually complain about the lack of attention to detail, but deviating from the original texts works in this films favour; providing more tension and emotional resonance for the final showdown between the Beaudelaires and Olaf.
Possibly a bit too scary at times for younger ones, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Event’s will be enjoyed by older kids and adults alike. Make sure you stay for all of the end credits. They are, perhaps, one of the best end credits that I know of. Excellent 2D animation, and if you make it through you’ll have a certain headworm that will bug you for days.