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Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

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This article is about the film. For the novel series, see A Series of Unfortunate Events. For the video game, see Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (video game). For the TV series, see A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV series).
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
A Series Of Unfortunate Events poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brad Silberling
Produced by
Screenplay by Robert Gordon
Based on A Series of Unfortunate Events
by Lemony Snicket
Narrated by Jude Law
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Edited by Michael Kahn
Distributed by
Release date
December 17, 2004
Running time
107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $140 million[1]
Box office $209.1 million[1]

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a 2004 American dark comedy film directed by Brad Silberling. It is a film adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, covering the first three novels The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window. The film stars Jim Carrey as the villainous Count Olaf who adopts three wealthy orphan siblings in an attempt to steal their late parents' fortune.

Nickelodeon Movies purchased the film rights to Daniel Handler's book series in 2000 and soon began development of a film with Barry Sonnenfeld attached to direct. Handler adapted 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 $209 million worldwide, and won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.


Lemony Snicket (Jude Law) is documenting the whereabouts of the Baudelaire children from inside a clock tower. Mechanical genius Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning), her expert researcher younger brother Klaus (Liam Aiken), and their mordacious baby sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) are orphaned when a mysterious fire destroys their house and kills their wealthy parents. Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), the family's banker and the executor of the Baudelaire orphans' affairs – including the enormous fortune left behind by the Baudelaire parents, to be inherited by the children when Violet comes of age – entrusts them to their closest relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), a grimy actor and playwright who plots to take custody over the fortune by adopting the children. After an initial appearance of cordiality, the eccentric Count stops all friendliness to the kids, making them do harsh chores; grabs Sunny, slaps Klaus when he protests, and abuses them when they do not make roast beef for dinner, despite not requesting it.

On the day that Olaf receives full custody from the court, he drives to a gas station claiming that he is buying sodas. However, it turns out that he parked the car with the children inside directly on a railroad crossing, planning for it to be hit by a passing train. Thankfully, Violet is able to throw a nearby switch in the tracks, causing the train to miss them. Mr. Poe then arrives at the scene, mistakenly thinking that Sunny was driving the car, and takes the children away. Olaf promises that he will find them.

The orphans are then taken to stay with their uncle, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (Billy Connolly), a kind, caring, and rather lonely (until the children came along) herpetologist, who is planning to take the children with him on a study in Peru. However, Olaf arrives in disguise as an Italian scientist named Stephano. Violet tries to tell Monty the truth, but he thinks that Stephano is after a snake called The Incredibly Deadly Viper. Monty is found dead the following morning and the authorities have been tricked into thinking that the viper was responsible, but Sunny is able to prove it is actually a friendly, harmless creature. Poe accepts Olaf's guilt, though not his true identity. Olaf abandons his disguise and escapes in his getaway car.

Mr. Poe then takes the children to live with their Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), an irrationally afraid woman who is obsessed with proper grammar. While shopping at a market, Violet and Klaus encounter Olaf, disguised as a sailor named Captain Sham who pretends to be romantically interested in Josephine. When the Baudelaires get home after shopping, Josephine is gone and a hurricane is approaching. Klaus decodes a note left by Josephine and discovers that she is in Curdled Cave. During the hurricane, the children discover in a secret room that there were people investigating fires. The children escape the house before it falls into the lake.

The children sail on Lake Lachrymose, finding Josephine. Before they reach civilization, their boat is attacked by leeches; Olaf appears, takes the children away and abandons Josephine in the boat to be eaten alive by the leeches.

The Baudelaires are then placed back in Olaf's custody after he "rescued" them. Olaf and Violet are then immediately involved in a play called The Marvelous Marriage, which involves their characters being married. However, Olaf has set up the performance to be an actual legal marriage because the law states that if relatives are married they are entitled to their spouses' money. Olaf enlists the help of his neighbor Justice Strauss (Catherine O'Hara), a real judge, to perform in the "play" and unwittingly officiate the marriage. Olaf explains to Violet that Sunny is being held hostage in a cage and if Violet does not say her "lines" or finds a loophole, Sunny will fall to her death. The ceremony goes as Olaf planned and he reveals that the marriage is legal, to the horror of the judge and audience.

Klaus escapes and finds a secret part of Olaf's estate. After adjusting an eye-shaped window, Klaus realizes that it was Olaf that caused their family mansion to catch fire. Klaus uses the window to burn the marriage certificate, foiling the Count's plans. Olaf is tried for his action and sentenced to be put through the hardships he had caused the children, and a life sentence in prison. However, when a jury of his peers overturn his sentence, Olaf escapes. Violet, Klaus and Sunny are allowed to visit their old home one last time. A letter lost in the mail finally arrives, and inside is a spyglass announcing their family's secret society. Snicket recounts that despite the children's misfortune, they still had each other thus making them "Very Fortunate Indeed".


  • Jim Carrey as Count Olaf , a villainous stage actor who lusts after the Baudelaire family fortune. Some of his disguises include Dr. Stephano, an Italian reptile scientist and Captain Sham, a swashbuckling seaman.
  • Liam Aiken as Klaus Baudelaire, an intelligent bookworm who uses his knowledge of books to get himself and his siblings out of trouble. He's the middle child of the Baudelaire orphans.
  • Emily Browning as Violet Baudelaire, an intelligent inventor who makes inventions out of everyday items. She is the eldest of the Baudelaire orphans.
  • Kara and Shelby Hoffman as Sunny Baudelaire, a sassy infant with very sharp teeth whose dialogue is entirely subtitled.
  • Timothy Spall as Mr. Poe, a stuffy banker whose job is to take the Baudelaire children to their guardians, but is quite incompetent at keeping them safe.
  • Jude Law as Lemony Snicket, an introverted writer and the narrator of the story.
  • Billy Connolly as Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (a.k.a. Uncle Monty), an eccentric herpetologist and the Baudelaire's uncle who temporarily becomes their guardian.
  • Meryl Streep as Josephine Anwhistle, a paranoid, grammar-obsessed recluse and the Baudelaire's aunt who temporarily becomes their guardian.
  • Catherine O'Hara as Justice Strauss, Count Olaf's kind neighbor and a judge.
  • Cedric the Entertainer as Constable, a skeptical detective.
  • Luis Guzmán as the Bald Man, one of Count Olaf's minions.
  • Jamie Harris as the Hook-Handed Man, one of Count Olaf's minions.
  • Craig Ferguson as the Person of Indeterminate Gender, one of Count Olaf's minions.
  • Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Adams as the White-Faced Women, two of Count Olaf's minions.
  • Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) as the Photographer
  • Deborah Theaker as Mrs. Poe

The film featured uncredited appearances by Jane Lynch as a realtor, Helena Bonham Carter as Beatrice Baudelaire, and Dustin Hoffman as a critic.

Author Daniel Handler initially viewed Count Olaf as being a James Mason-type.[2] 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.[3] Director Brad Silberling was open to Carrey's idea of improvisation for various scenes, especially the Stephano and Captain Sham alter egos.[4] To make his prosthetic makeup more comfortable and easier to apply, Carrey shaved his head bald for the part.[3] The actor's inspiration for Olaf's voice was combining the voices of Orson Welles and Béla Lugosi.[5]

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.[6]



Nickelodeon Movies purchased the film rights of the A Series of Unfortunate Events novel series in May 2000.[7] Paramount Pictures, owner of Nickelodeon Movies, agreed to co-finance, along with Scott Rudin.[8] 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.[2] 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.[9] Sonnenfeld referred to the Lemony Snicket novels as his favorite children's stories.[10] The director hired Handler to write the script[11] with the intention of making Lemony Snicket as a musical,[6] and cast Jim Carrey as Count Olaf in September 2002.[11]

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.[10] The April 2003 start date was also pushed back.[12] 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.[13]

"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[2]

Brad Silberling signed on to direct in February 2003.[14] He was not familiar with the series when he was first approached. He quickly read the first three novels and was excited that "Hollywood was taking a chance to put over $100 million to adapt these inventive children's books onto screen".[15] Handler, who wrote eight drafts of the script for Sonnenfeld,[2] was replaced by Robert Gordon in May 2003.[16] Handler approved of the changes that were made to his original screenplay.[17] "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."[2]


Filming was set to begin in October 2003, but it was pushed back.[14] Principal photography for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events began on November 10, 2003,[18] 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,[19] production then moved to Downey Studios, a former NASA facility in Downey, California,[20] 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.[19] Filming for A Series of Unfortunate Events ended on May 29, 2004.[21]


Some scenery was designed using forced perspective techniques, combined with matte paintings.

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.[19] To contribute to the setting, Silberling hired Emmanuel Lubezki as the cinematographer because he was impressed with the trio's work on Sleepy Hollow.[22]

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."[22] 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.[19]

Visual effects[edit]

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), supervised by Stefen Fangmeier,[22] created the film's 505 visual effects-shots.[23] The filmmakers used as few digital effects as possible,[22] 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.[23] Nexus Productions designed the opening "Littlest Elf" animated sequence by modeling it after stop motion animation and completing it with computer animation.[18] 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.[19] Because working with infants was sometimes risky in producing a film, four scenes involving Sunny Baudelaire required CGI with motion capture technology.[24] 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.[24] A remote controlled animatronic of Sunny was also designed by Kevin Yagher.[25]



Further information: the video game and soundtrack

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.[26] 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."[27] 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.[17]

Home media[edit]

Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events was released on DVD and VHS on April 26, 2005.[28][29] A Portuguese-labeled All-Region Blu-ray was released in 2012 and then an American Region A Blu-ray was released on September 9, 2014.[30]


Box office[edit]

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events grossed $118.6 million in the United States and Canada and $90.4 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $209.1 million, against a budget of $140 million.[1]

The film was released in the United States and Canada on December 17, 2004 on 4,400 screens at 3,620 theaters, earning $30.1 million in its opening weekend and finishing first at the box office.[1] In its second weekend the film fell to second behind Meet the Fockers, grossing $12.6 million.[31] It was the highest-grossing film under the Nickelodeon Movies banner until being surpassed by The Last Airbender.[32]

Critical response[edit]

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 72% based on 160 reviews, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Although it softens the nasty edges of its source material, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a gothic visual treat, and it features a hilariously manic turn from Jim Carrey as the evil Count Olaf."[33] On Metacritic, gave the film a score of 62 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[34]

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."[35] 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."[36] 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."[37] 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."[38] 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."[39] 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."[40]


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.[41] 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.[42]

Cancelled franchise and future[edit]


Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks and Nickelodeon Movies hoped the film would become a franchise like the Harry Potter film series.[9] 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.[15] "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..."[5] 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."[43]

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."[44] 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.'"[45]

Television series[edit]

In November 2014, Netflix announced its plans of creating a television series to adapt the entire novel series.[46] The series stars Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith, with Patrick Warburton as narrator.[47][48] The series, also titled A Series of Unfortunate Events, premiered on January 13, 2017.[49] The first season consisted of eight episodes, and adapts the first four books of the series. A Series of Unfortunate Events was renewed for a second season, which is planned to consist of 10 episodes, adapting books five through nine of the novel series, with a third season also planned, to adapt the four remaining books.[50]

Video game[edit]

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.[51] 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 in the first level where 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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External links[edit]