Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Brad Silberling|
|Produced by||Laurie MacDonald
Walter F. Parkes
Jim Van Wyck
|Screenplay by||Robert Gordon|
|Based on||The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window
by Lemony Snicket
|Narrated by||Jude Law|
Cedric the Entertainer
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Editing by||Michael Kahn|
Scott Rudin Productions
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures (US)
DreamWorks Pictures (International)
|Running time||107 minutes|
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a 2004 American black comedy fantasy film directed by Brad Silberling. It is an adaptation of the The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, being the first three books in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The film stars Jim Carrey, with narration by Jude Law and cameos by Catherine O'Hara and Billy Connolly. The film tells the story of three orphans who are adopted by their distant cousin, a mysterious theater troupe actor named Count Olaf, as he attempts to steal their late parents' fortune.
Nickelodeon Movies purchased the film rights to Daniel Handler's book series in May 2000 and soon began development of a film. Barry Sonnenfeld signed on to direct in June 2002. He hired Handler to adapt the screenplay and courted Jim Carrey for Count Olaf. Sonnenfeld eventually left over budget concerns in January 2003 and Brad Silberling took over. Robert Gordon rewrote Handler's script, and principal photography started in November 2003. A Series of Unfortunate Events was entirely shot using sound stages and backlots at Paramount Pictures and Downey Studios. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics, grossed approximately $209 million worldwide, and won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.
Inventive Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning), her intelligent younger brother Klaus (Liam Aiken), and their sharp-toothed, precocious baby sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) are orphaned when a mysterious fire destroys their mansion. Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), in charge of the Baudelaire estate and fortune, entrusts them to their closest relative, a first cousin, the obnoxious Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who is a playwright/actor only interested in the money Violet will inherit when she turns 18. When he learns that he will not be getting the fortune he stops all friendliness to the children: he makes them do terrible chores, slaps Klaus when he protests, grabs Sunny and abuses them when they do not make roast beef for dinner, despite not requesting it. One morning the kids' luck seems to turn when Olaf loses custody of the children after unsuccessfully attempting to kill them in a train collision at a railroad crossing. Although Count Olaf loses the kids for the near tragedy, Mr. Poe refuses to believe that Olaf tried to kill them despite it being obviously true.
Poe then sends the Baudelaires to live with their uncle, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (Billy Connolly), a cheerfully eccentric herpetologist, who plans a trip with the children to Peru. But their stay with Uncle Monty is cut short when Olaf appears in disguise as a man named Stephano, murders Monty, and frames a large and venomous viper for the killing. As the disguised Olaf prepares to spirit the children away, Sunny reveals the snake's true gentle nature, and Olaf's plot is exposed. Poe accepts Olaf's guilt, though not his true identity. Olaf abandons his disguise and escapes in his getaway car.
The orphans are then sent to live with their Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), in her house perched precariously on the edge of a cliff overlooking the waters of the vast Lake Lachrymose. She has numerous irrational fears, and yet lives in a house populated with many of the things she is terrified of; but her fear of realtors prevents her from moving. A room of photographs and documents apparently contains clues to the cause of the fire that killed the orphans' parents. However, Olaf arrives once again, disguised as a sailor named Captain Sham, and quickly gains Josephine's trust. A hurricane comes to Lake Lachrymose, and Olaf regains control of the children after rescuing them and leaving Josephine to be eaten alive by deadly leeches off-screen.
Count Olaf learns that he can only have a family fortune if he marries someone or is a blood relative. He concocts his final plan, involving a play starring himself and Violet, in which their characters get married. But Olaf casts a real judge, Justice Straus (Catherine O'Hara) as the fictional judge in the play and gets a real court-approved marriage certificate; in this way the staged marriage will technically be a legal one, gaining him unlimited and unconditional access to Violet's inheritance and fortune. To ensure Violet's co-operation, he holds Sunny hostage in a cage held from a tower window, ready to be dropped if Violet refuses or finds a loophole out of the marriage. However, Klaus succeeds in stopping him when he triumphantly climbs to the room in the top of the tower, finds a light-focusing apparatus that Olaf used to set fire to the Baudelaire mansion, and incinerates the marriage certificate with it just as he reveals his scheme to the entire crowd watching the play. Olaf is arrested and suffers every hardship that he forced upon the orphans before spending life in prison. The kids learn that Olaf is acquitted by a jury and leaves; it is later discovered by the court that the jury consisted of Olaf's theater troupe allies and that the decision was a mistake; but Olaf has since disappeared.
At the ruins of the Baudelaire mansion, the three orphans find a letter left to them by their parents before they became orphans, which contains words of hope and encouragement. The envelope also contains a spyglass, one of several that signify the presence of a secret society his parents and relatives belonged to. The orphans are then sent to new "fortunate" guardians.
- Jim Carrey as Count Olaf / Mr. Stephano / Captain Sham
- Emily Browning as Violet Baudelaire
- Liam Aiken as Klaus Baudelaire
- Timothy Spall as Mr. Poe
- Jude Law as Lemony Snicket (voice)
- Billy Connolly as Dr. Montgomery Montgomery
- Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine
- Catherine O'Hara as Justice Strauss
- Cedric the Entertainer as Constable
- Luis Guzmán as Bald Man
- Jamie Harris as Fernald the Hook-handed man
- Craig Ferguson as the Person of Indeterminate Gender
- Jane Adams and Jennifer Coolidge as White-Faced Women
- Wayne Fleming as Captain Sam
- Dustin Hoffman as Critic
- Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) as Photographer
- Deborah Theaker as Mrs. Poe
- Kara and Shelby Hoffman as Sunny Baudelaire
Author Daniel Handler initially viewed Count Olaf as being a James Mason-type. Carrey was not familiar with the book series when he was cast, but he became a fan of the series. "Handler's books are just a bold and original way to tell a children's story," the actor explained. Carrey was also attracted to the role despite self-parody concerns. Director Brad Silberling was open to Carrey's idea of improvisation for various scenes, especially the Stephano and Captain Sham alter egos. To make his prosthetic makeup more comfortable and easier to apply, Carrey shaved his head bald for the part. The actor's inspiration for Olaf's voice was a combining the voices of Orson Welles and Béla Lugosi.
Emily Browning was cast as Violet Baudelaire when she auditioned at a casting call in Australia. She was sent Handler's original script when Barry Sonnenfeld was planning to direct, and she screen tested for the part using an English accent. The actor was not cast until Silberling took over; her character's accent was then changed to American. Browning became a fan of the books after reading Handler's original script.
Nickelodeon Movies purchased the film rights of the A Series of Unfortunate Events book series in May 2000. Paramount Pictures, owner of Nickelodeon Movies, agreed to co-finance, along with Scott Rudin. Various directors, including Terry Gilliam and Roman Polanski, were interested in making the film. One of author Daniel Handler's favorite candidates was Guy Maddin. In June 2002, Barry Sonnenfeld was hired to direct. He was chosen because he previously collaborated with Rudin and because of his black comedy directing style from The Addams Family, Addams Family Values and Get Shorty. Sonnenfeld referred to the Lemony Snicket books as his favorite children's stories. The director hired Handler to write the script with the intention of making Lemony Snicket as a musical, and cast Jim Carrey as Count Olaf in September 2002.
The film suffered setbacks in development in December 2002. Rudin left Unfortunate Events over budget concerns. While Sonnenfeld and Carrey remained, Sonnenfeld admitted he was skeptical of Paramount's $100 million budget. The studio decided that changing the shoot from Hollywood to Wilmington, North Carolina would be less expensive. The April 2003 start date was also pushed back. Paramount eventually settled the situation in January 2003 by enlisting help from DreamWorks to co-finance the film, but Sonnenfeld vacated the director's position. Rudin and Sonnenfeld had no involvement with the film afterward, but were credited as executive producers. Carrey remained with approval over the hiring of the next director.
|"Very little of what I wrote is in the film, which I actually think is appropriate being as that I was writing it for Barry Sonnenfeld. It's a director's medium and Brad Siberling makes entirely different films from Barry Sonnenfeld. I wasn't filled with resentment because they didn't use it [my script], I was just disappointed because I'd worked a long time [on it] and Scott Rudin, Barry Sonnenfeld and I were all sort of ready to go, along with Jim Carrey, with the film that we had. So it was sort of a long, rocky, journey. But that's all [in the past]."|
|— Series author Daniel Handler|
Brad Silberling signed on to direct in February 2003. He was not familiar with the book series when he was first approached. He quickly read the first three books and was excited that "Hollywood was taking a chance to put over $100 million to adapt these inventive children's books onto screen". Handler, who wrote eight drafts of the script for Sonnenfeld, was replaced by Robert Gordon in May 2003. Handler approved of the changes that were made to his original screenplay. "I was offered credit on the film for screenwriting by the Writers Guild of America," Handler continued, "but I didn't take it because I didn't write it. I felt like it would be an insult to the guy who did."
Filming was set to begin in October 2003, but it was pushed back. Principal photography for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events began on November 10, 2003, using the sound stages and backlot at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Director Brad Silberling avoided using too many digital or chroma key effects because he wanted the younger actors to feel as if they were working in a realistic environment. Olaf's mansion occupied two sound stages, while the graveyard and the ruins of the Baudelaire mansion were constructed on the Paramount back lot. After 21 weeks of shooting at Paramount, production then moved to Downey Studios, a former NASA facility, for eight more weeks. Downey housed the circular railroad crossing set complete with forced perspective scenery, as well as a newly constructed water tank complete with over one million gallons of water. The water tank was instrumental in filming scenes set at Briny Beach, Lake Lachrymose, Damocles Dock and Curdled Cave. Filming for A Series of Unfortunate Events ended on May 29, 2004.
Silberling, production designer Rick Heinrichs and costume designer Colleen Atwood all aimed for the film's setting to be ambiguous, giving it a "timeless" feel. Heinrichs also added steampunk designs to the period. To contribute to the setting, Silberling hired Emmanuel Lubezki as the cinematographer because he was impressed with the trio's work on Sleepy Hollow.
Lubezki compared the cinematic similarities to Sleepy Hollow, notably the monochromatic look of both films. He also chose a specific color palette backdrop for A Series of Unfortunate Events. "The story is very episodic, so we picked a different color scheme for each section. For example", Lubezki continued, "Count Olaf's house has a lot of greens, blacks and grays; the house of Uncle Monty has a lot of greens and browns and a bit of yellow; and the house of Aunt Josephine has blues and blacks." The railroad crossing set was constructed on a cyclorama, which was the most ambitious setpiece for the art department on using elements of "in house" special effects and matte paintings.
Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), supervised by Stefen Fangmeier, created the film's 505 visual effects-shots. The filmmakers used as few digital effects as possible, though the train and smoke for the railroad crossing scene was entirely created using computer animation. ILM also used color grading techniques for the Lake Lachrymose scene, which required complete animation for the leeches. The digital animators studied footage of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season to accurately depict Hurricane Herman, which was ILM's most ambitious use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) for the film.
Nexus Productions designed the opening "Littlest Elf" animated sequence by modeling it after stop motion animation and completing it with computer animation. The snakes at Uncle Monty's house were a combination of real snakes and animatronics. The animatronics, primarily the Incredibly Deadly Viper, were used as reference models that ILM later enhanced using CGI.
Because working with infants was sometimes risky in producing a film, four scenes involving Sunny Baudelaire required CGI with motion capture technology. Among these are the shot of Sunny hanging on to a table by her teeth, catching a spindle with her mouth and the scene where she is entangled with the Incredibly Deadly Viper. Animation supervisor Colin Brady used his baby daughter for motion capture recording. A remote controlled animatronic of Sunny was also designed by Kevin Yagher.
In October 2002, Nickelodeon Movies hired Activision (who actually had a partnership with DreamWorks) to create the film's tie-in video game. The agreement also included options for sequels. Director Brad Silberling delivered his first cut of the film to the studio in August 2004. Fearing his original version was "too dark", Paramount and DreamWorks conducted test screenings. The film was then re-edited over family-friendliness concerns. Given its December release, the film's marketing campaign was criticized for being a deliberately anti-holiday comedy with taglines like, "Taking the cheer out of Christmas" and "Mishaps. Misadventures. Mayhem. Oh Joy." The premiere for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was held at the Cinerama Dome on December 13, 2004. A 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) tent display on Vine Street was decorated with pieces from the film's sets.
The film was released in the United States and Canada on December 17, 2004 in 3,620 theaters, earning $30,061,756 in its opening weekend. In its run, A Series of Unfortunate Events managed to stay in the number one position for its first week, before facing competition from Meet the Fockers, The Aviator and Coach Carter. The film eventually grossed $118,634,549 in US totals and $90,439,096 elsewhere, coming to a worldwide total of $209,073,645. It was the highest grossing film under the Nickelodeon Movies banner until being surpassed by The Last Airbender, Rango and The Adventures of Tintin.
The film has garnered mostly positive reviews. Based on reviews from 159 critics collected by the rating website Rotten Tomatoes, the film was given a score of 72%, with an average score of 6.6 out of 10. Metacritic calculated that the film received generally favorable reviews from critics with an average score of 62 out of 100, based on 37 reviews.
Robert K. Elder of the Chicago Tribune praised Rick Heinrichs's production design and Jim Carrey for having a balanced performance as a scene stealer. Elder called the film "exceptionally clever, hilariously gloomy and bitingly subversive." Desson Thomson from The Washington Post reasoned over a fellow film-goer's characterization of Count Olaf, "Olaf is a humorless villain in the book. He's not amusing like Carrey at all. To which I would counter: If you can't let Carrey be Carrey, put someone boring and less expensive in the role. In his various disguises he's rubbery, inventive and improvisationally inspired. I particularly liked his passing imitation of a dinosaur."
Ty Burr, writing in The Boston Globe, observed, "Director Brad Silberling has essentially made a Tim Burton movie without the weird shafts of adolescent pain. At the same time, Silberling's not a hack like Chris Columbus, and Snicket has more zip and inspired filmcraft than the first two Harry Potter films. The film's no masterpiece, but at least you're in the hands of people who know what they're doing. The movie, like the books, flatters children's innate sense that the world is not a perfect place and that anyone who insists otherwise is trying to sell you something. How you deal with the cognitive dissonance of a $125 million Hollywood picture telling you this is up to you. At least there are no Lemony Snicket Happy Meals. Yet."
Internet reviewer James Berardinelli felt that "the film is first and foremost a fantasy, but there are dark currents running just beneath the surface. I give Silberling credit for not allowing them to swallow the film. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events manages to remain witty throughout." Roger Ebert gave a mixed review: "Jim Carrey is over the top as Count Olaf, but I suppose a character named Count Olaf is over the top by definition. I liked the film, but I'll tell you what. I think this one is a tune-up for the series, a trial run in which they figure out what works and what needs to be tweaked. The original Spider-Man was a disappointment, but the same team came back and made Spider-Man 2, the best superhero movie ever made." Scott Foundas of Variety gave a negative review, criticizing the filmmakers for sacrificing the storyline in favor of visual elements such as set design and cinematography. He wrote, "A Series of Unfortunate Events suggests what Mary Poppins might have looked like had Tim Burton directed it. Not surprisingly, Burton's longtime production designer Rick Heinrichs was responsible for the sets, while ace Emmanuel Lubezki (Burton's Sleepy Hollow) contributed the expressionistic lighting schemes."
Makeup designer Valli O'Reilly and Bill Corso won the Academy Award for Best Makeup. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and set decorator Cheryl Carasik (Art Direction), Colleen Atwood (Costume Design) and composer Thomas Newman (Original Music Score) were also nominated for their work at 77th Academy Awards. The film lost the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film to Spider-Man 2, but was honored for its DVD special edition release. O'Reilly and Corso were also nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Make-up, but lost to Hellboy.
Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies hoped the film would become a franchise like the Harry Potter film series. Jim Carrey thought his character would be good as the basis for a film franchise since it would allow him to dive into a new role. "I don't have a deal [for a sequel], but it's one that I wouldn't mind doing again because there are so many characters," the actor explained in December 2004. "I mean, it's just so much fun. It's so much fun being a bad actor playing a character..." In May 2005, producer Laurie MacDonald said "Lemony Snicket is still something Paramount is interested in pursuing and we're going to be talking with them more."
In October 2008, Daniel Handler said that "a sequel does seem to be in the works. Paramount has had quite a few corporate shakeups, ...which has led to many a delay. Of course, many, many plans in Hollywood come to naught, but I'm assured that another film will be made. Someday. Perhaps." In June 2009, Silberling confirmed he still talked about the project with Handler, and suggested the sequel be a stop motion film because the lead actors have grown too old. "In an odd way, the best thing you could do is actually have Lemony Snicket say to the audience, 'Okay, we pawned the first film off as a mere dramatization with actors. Now I'm afraid I’m going to have to show you the real thing.'" As of 2014, there is no status on the proposed sequel.
A video game based on the books and film (more so the film, as the name and many plot elements seen in the movie but not the book are seen) was released in 2004 by Adrenium Games and Activision for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, and the PC as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The player plays as all three orphans at points in the game, and encounters characters such as Mr. Poe, Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine, along with villains such as Count Olaf, the hook-handed man, the white-faced women, and the bald-headed man. The game, like the movie, follows only the first three books in the series. Although never mentioned in the game there are some references to V.F.D. such as while in the first level a package is delivered from the "Very Fast Delivery Service." The note attached to the package also reads at the end "P.S. The world is quiet here," which is the motto of V.F.D.
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