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PARAMOUNT

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Brad Silberling
Cast:
Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Kara Hoffman, Shelby Hoffman, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Jude Law, Cedric the Entertainer, Luis Guzmán, Catherine O'Hara
Writing Credits:
Daniel Handler (books), Robert Gordon

Tagline:
Mishaps. Mayhem. Misadventures. Oh joy.

Synopsis:
After Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire's parents perish in a terrible fire, they are placed in the care of Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), an actor, evil genius, and master of disguise. At every turn, Count Olaf hatches another outrageous plot to steal the orphans' vast fortune, and he's not going to let anybody stand in his way - not Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), not Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), and certainly not the children themselves! The resulting series of unfortunate events is likely to leave viewers of all ages in utter hysterics.

Box Office:
Budget
$125 million.
Opening Weekend
$30.061 million on 3620 screens.
Domestic Gross
$118.575 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $38.99
Release Date: 4/26/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Brad Silberling
• Audio Commentary with Director Brad Silberling and the Real Lemony Snicket
• “Building a Bad Actor” Featurette
• “Making the Baudelaire Children Miserable” Featurette
• “Interactive Olaf”
• Previews
Disc Two
• “A Woeful World” Featurette
• “Costumes and Other Suspicious Disguises” Featurette
• “Violet’s Functional Designs” Featurette
• “CAUTION! Incredibly Deadly Vipers” Featurette
• “The Sad Score” Featurette
• “The Unsound Sound Designer” Featurette
• “You Probably Shouldn’t Listen to These” Audio Demonstration
• “An Alarming Conspiracy Involving Sunny” Featurette
• “An Even More Alarming Conspiracy Involving Sunny” Featurette
• “The Terrible Fire” Featurette
• “Trains, Leeches and Hurricanes” Featurette
• “Shadowy Stills” Gallery
• “A Woeful World” Gallery
• “Costumes and Other Suspicious Disguises” Gallery


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events: Collector's Edition (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 20, 2005)

As someone without kids, I’d never heard of the “Lemony Snicket” books until the film Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events hit screens at the end of 2004. While the novels sell very well, they’d not turned into pop culture phenomena like the “Harry Potter” efforts.

Actually, if you don’t know better, you might take the “Snicket” stuff as a rip-off of “Potter”. Both focus on the adventures of kids in a dark world in which they encounter problems related to adults. As I learned when I watched Events, though, that’s pretty much where the similarities end, as the “Snicket” stories feature a darker, much less magical world than “Potter”.

Narrated by author Lemony Snicket (Jude Law), Events introduces us to the Baudelaire children: inventor and oldest child Violet (Emily Browning), book-loving Klaus (Liam Aiken), and biting-obsessed toddler Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman). Their parents die in a fire that destroys their home, so the system sends them to live with a distant relative called Count Olaf (Jim Carrey).

While Olaf pretends to care about the children in front of their legal representative Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), in truth he just desires to snag their inheritance. Inside his decrepit mansion, he forces the children to perform all his chores and leaves them with virtually no care. Eventually they manage to get Poe to take them from the home, though not for reasons related to the actual abuse; Poe misunderstands Olaf’s attempt to kill the kids and pulls them out for a silly and tangential action. Olaf swears he’ll get his revenge on the kids - and obtain their money.

This sets into action the plot seen in the rest of the movie. The children get sent to other placements. First they live with reptile-obsessed Uncle Monty (Billy Connelly), and then they go to the home of perpetually-frightened agoraphobic Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep). Unfortunately, these moves don’t establish any security, as Olaf remains on their case. The film follows his continued threat and how the children react to it. We also follow a mystery connected to the Baudelaire parents and their connections to Olaf, Josephine, and Monty.

One thing’s for sure: Events is decidedly darker than the average kid flick. The movie warns us of this right up front. It starts with a silly Rankin/Bass-style effort called The Littlest Elf and tells us that we might be better off watching something like it. With child abuse, multiple deaths, attempted murder and much general nastiness, I don’t know how this film avoided a “PG-13”.

Granted, very little of the nastiness gets depicted onscreen in a graphic manner, as most of the violence is implied or cartoony. There’s also a total lack of sex and profanity. Nonetheless, this is a fairly bleak film that will probably be tough for many kids below 10 to take.

I expect that those in the 10-teen target audience will eat it up, however. That’s the age group that seeks to gently break away from their parents and establish independence, and Events will definitely serve to satisfy these innate desires. Folks who think kids always need to respect their elders won’t like what they see in Events. We find adults who are deeply flawed, whether due to mental illness (Josephine), general cluelessness (Poe), or pure evil (Olaf). Monty comes across well, but he’s a brief oasis in a desert of dysfunctional people.

Of course, the kids themselves have it all together. They’re the only ones who see the reality of their situation and they use their ingenuity to get out of various scrapes. What more could kids in the target group want?

But how about those us of decades past the target group? We’ll find some entertainment here as well, largely due to the presence of a startlingly stellar cast. I knew Carrey led the crew, but I wasn’t aware of how much other star power appeared here. In addition to Streep, Law and Connolly, we find many other big names on display. I won’t mention them so they can remain a surprise, but you’ll discover quite a few recognizable faces and names.

Make no mistake, though: this is Carrey’s movie to win or lose. I don’t think the filmmakers intended it that way, as they try to balance out all the characters so that the flick doesn’t focus on Olaf to the exclusion of all else. However, with a personality as broad and irrepressible as Carrey on display, it’s almost impossible for anyone else to make as substantial an impact.

It’d be one thing if he simply stayed with Olaf the whole time, but when he delves into other characters played by the Count, Carrey gets an absurd number of opportunities to flourish, and he takes the ball and runs with it. Carrey excels at this sort of cartoony personality, so he delivers the requisite and expected laughs.

The kids who play the Baudelaires do quite well also. They portray the kids honestly and without excessive sentimentality. The flick indulges in a little sappiness toward the end - really, could the director of City of Angels resist such temptations? - but it usually avoids such traps. The blunt attitudes of the kids helps that; they get lost in the shuffle of Carrey’s mania and the long roster of guests, but the young actors bring off their roles well.

I do really like the movie’s darkness. As I mentioned, it’s probably too much for most kids below 10 to take, as the film displays an almost unrelentingly dismal world. I definitely respect the purity of things and appreciate that the filmmakers resisted most urges to brighten matters. It’s a gleefully, wickedly nasty tale that keeps things kid-friendly to a degree - ie, the lack of profanity, sex, or most violence - but doesn’t avoid bleakness.

What doesn’t go right? For one, the film tries to pack in way too much material. It adapts parts of three different novels, and that seems like an excessively ambitious undertaking. While this makes things move briskly, it undercuts many of the characters, as we simply don’t get to know them very well. The movie may have worked better with a more restricted focus.

I also really disliked the choice to have Sunny speak in baby-gibberish with subtitled translations. I don’t know if this came from the books or if it was a cinematic invention, but it doesn’t work. It gives the flick a Look Who’s Talking or Baby Geniuses feel that doesn’t match the rest of the story. Maybe those moments entertain others, but I don’t like them, and I think they do nothing to help tell the story.

Despite some of these misfires, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events mosty prospers. It presents an unusually dark feel and creates its own intriguing little world. Strong performances headlined by a typically wild turn from Jim Carrey help make Events an entertaining effort.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus A

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Very few problems cropped up in this solid transfer.

Sharpness remained excellent. The movie consistently looked detailed and accurate. I noticed virtually no signs of softness during this distinct and well-defined movie. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, no more than a smidge of edge enhancement appeared. The movie looked free from flaws, as I noticed no specks, marks, or other issues.

A dark movie in both tone and depiction, Snicket didn’t exactly feature a sizzling palette. Within the glum surroundings, the DVD displayed these nicely. The different colors came across as accurate and vivid when necessary. Black levels looked solid, as they portrayed deep tones, while shadow detail appeared quite smooth and appropriately visible. Low-light situations seemed very neatly defined and suffered from no excessive opacity. The image of Snicket came across well.

Though a little more subdued than I expected, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events worked pretty well. The soundfield lacked the ambition I thought I’d get from such a dark and insidious tale, but it opened up matters. Elements usually stayed with moderate atmosphere, and some scenes used those aspects better than others. For example, shots at Monty’s place created a nice sense of environment with the various critters. Music also demonstrated solid stereo imaging.

As for surround usage, it tended to be a bit laidback. Again, matters usually stayed focused on the front, and the rear speakers kicked in with general information or quiet ambience. A few scenes added greater dimensionality, such as the one with a train. The creaky setting of Aunt Josephine’s place also used the various channels to good effect, especially when matters became stormy.

Audio quality consistently prospered. Speech showed occasional signs of edginess, usually from Carrey’s lines; I assume they didn’t want to loop his manic material. However, the bits were mostly concise and crisp. Music was bright and distinctive, as the eerie score demonstrated nice delineation. Effects always sounded accurate and dynamic. They were tight and without distortion. Bass response also seemed firm and bold. Overall, the mix lacked the ambition I anticipated, but it was generally positive.

For this two-DVD “Special Collector’s Edition”, we get quite a few extras. On Disc One, we start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Brad Silberling, and he offers a running, screen-specific piece. A thorough discussion of the flick, Silberling touches on pretty much every appropriate topic. The director goes over how he became involved in the project, story adaptation issues, casting and collaboration with the actors, character development, sets and the film’s look, visual effects, costumes and makeup, the tone of the flick and reactions to it from various audience demographics.

Silberling offers a genial and engaging tone, and he makes this an extremely informative and likable track. He provides excellent notes about the subjects and brings out many insightful elements. For instance, we learn about the considered use of a digital actor to play Sunny, and we also hear how Carrey developed the various personalities he played. This is a consistently strong piece that adds a ton to the experience. Heck, Silberling packs in more information during the end credits than some directors relate in the span of a whole movie!

The second commentary features Silberling along with “the real Lemony Snicket”, aka author Daniel Handler. The pair sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. If you expect to learn much about the books or the movie, don’t listen to this commentary. It covers almost no data about either subject.

Instead, this is an attempt at a comedic commentary. As it runs, Snicket denounces his own works and hopes that Silberling made the stories cheerier. When he sees the flick’s darkness, he decries it and severely criticizes the director. Silberling constantly says bad things about various participants, misremembers events, and promises an ending to the “misery” that takes a long time to arrive.

Obviously, this is all tongue in cheek, and it works - to a degree. In truth, it’s a one-joke commentary, but it’s a good joke, and it serves as a biting antidote to all those chipper “I love that scene” happy talk tracks out there. This is the anti-happy talk commentary, as it consists of an unrelenting spate of attacks and criticisms. It’s spotty because of its one-track nature, but it matches the tone of the film and offers moderate enjoyment.

Next we go to the “Bad Beginnings” area and watch some featurettes. Building a Bad Actor runs 12 minutes and 46 seconds and mixes movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and comments from Silberling. He discusses the development of Jim Carrey’s characters – with an emphasis on the oddball take on Stephano and the original view of that role – plus improvisation and related subjects. We see lots of good test footage and learn quite a lot about the ways that the characters grew from what was written in the script and novels.

In Making the Baudelaire Children Miserable, we get a three-minute and five-second glimpses at those performers. Silberling discusses the casting of the young actors and more about the character development. We also see some nice makeup and costume tests along with Silberling’s “mini-trailer” with Violet. It adds up to a short but sweet featurette.

Interactive Olaf gives us “highlights from Jim Carrey’s extensive makeup and wardrobe tests in a four-way split screen. That means this nine-minute and 18-second conglomeration lets us look at four separate looks all at once: “Olaf Looks 1&2”, “Olaf Look 2A”, “Captain Sham” and “Stephano”. Four audio options also appear; we can easily flip through them to hear Carrey’s often hilarious improvs. This is a wonderful extra that offers a great deal of entertainment.

“Orphaned Scenes” presents two sections. Dismal Deletions presents 11 cut sequences, and they last a total of 14 minutes and 21 seconds. Most of these concentrate on Olaf’s villainy as well as some character notes, and they’re consistently enjoyable. Obnoxious Outtakes gives us five segments that fill a total of 14 minutes, 34 seconds. Again, these mainly offer material from Jim Carrey, though we also see more of Olaf’s troupe as well as the film’s cameo actors. These also work nicely and are entertaining to see.

No trailer for Snicket appears, but the DVD opens with some ads. We get clips for Madagascar, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, and the Snicket soundtrack.

As we head to DVD Two, we find a surfeit of featurettes. These open under the banner “A Terrible Tragedy: Alarming Evidence from the Making of the Film” with A Woeful World, a 54-minute and 30-second look at visual elements. It presents comments from Silberling, production designer Rick Heinrichs, producers Laurie MacDonald and Jim Van Wyck, set designer Luke Freeborn, special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, set decorator Cheryl Carasik, actor Billy Connelly, and animal coordinator Jules Sylvester.

”World” covers the myriad of visual elements used for the film. It goes over visual design, sets, props, inspirations for different pieces, construction, furniture, and various complications. As with virtually all of this package’s featurettes, we find scads of great behind the scenes shots, and the program uses carefully-chosen text to augment the comments. We learn about many fascinating details and gain a lot of great information in this terrific piece.

The 16-minute and 41-second Costumes and Other Suspicious Disguises presents notes from Connelly, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and actors Timothy Spall and Meryl Streep. We learn about influences for the costumes, various choices and designs, and tests. This means plenty more terrific behind the scenes footage, especially when we see Carrey vamp during his tests. He even gets in a funny imitation of Governor Schwarzenegger. It’s another delightful and informative program.

Violet’s Functional Designs runs 10 minutes and 40 seconds. It looks at the inventions featured in the flick. We hear a little from specialty props supervisor Tom Holmshire and writer Daniel Handler, but mostly the show consists of behind the scenes footage. We learn about the execution of the rock returner, mailbox device, headlamp, hummingbird stabilizer, and bed-making machine. The program gives us just enough detail about these objects to make it a worthwhile experience.

Next comes the eight-minute and 48-second CAUTION! Incredibly Deadly Vipers featurette. It informs us about the movie’s creepy-crawly costars via comments from Connelly, Jules Sylvester, and animal handler Mark Jackson. We get a closer view of the various animals and learn a little about their working methods. Again, footage from the set is the star of this show, and those elements make it entertaining.

“Tragedy” ends with the 13-minute and 35-second The Sad Score. As one might expect, it focuses on the movie’s music, and we hear from Silberling, and composer Thomas Newman. Mostly the piece goes over Newman’s work, his use of an orchestra and other groups, and his goals for his score. He offers a deep view of his themes and makes this a rich little program.

When we shift to “Volume. Frequency. Decibels.” we begin with a featurette called The Unsound Sound Designer. In this 30-minute and one-second program, we get notes from sound designer/supervising sound editor Richard King and sound effects recordist John Easal. The piece covers the methods used to record the various elements along with the elements used to accentuate various scenes and mixing the final product. These bits include the actual destruction of a house. As with the other programs, behind the scenes footage enlivens “Designer”. We get great “fly on the wall” footage of the recordings, and we learn a lot about all the ways they created the audio for Events.

You Probably Shouldn’t Listen to These breaks down into two pieces. We get “Tree, Meet House” (23 seconds) and “The Terrible Train” (41 seconds). “Tree” lets us hear the take of a tree that falls into a house from the particular perspective of each of seven microphones, while “Train” isolates eight elements that go into the sound of a locomotive. Both offer cool ways to dissect the audio.

“Sinister Special Effects” starts with a featurette called An Alarming Conspiracy Involving Sunny. In this six-minute and 20-second piece, we hear from makeup effects artist Kevin Yagher. He tells us about the creation of an animatronic Kara Hoffman as well as the continued use of animatronics in a CG world. This short discussion gives us a tight look at the relevant issues.

For An Even More Alarming Conspiracy Involving Sunny, we get a 20-minute and 19-second piece that looks at the use of a CG actress. It includes notes from Yagher, producer Jim Van Wyck, visual effects producer Jeff Olson, visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier, computer graphics supervisor Philippe Rebours, ILM animation supervisor Colin Brady, The show covers the prospects of using a pure CG actor as Sunny, tests and challenges, and the technical issues involved. Although this program could turn terribly dry, instead it remains lively and involving. It tosses out the technical details in an accessible way and provides a strong examination of the topic.

The Terrible Fire goes for five minutes and 50 seconds and looks at the execution of that sequence. It features notes from Fangmeier, Olson, and visual effects producer Tom Peitzman. We learn various issues related to the scene in which the children see their destroyed home. Again, it avoids dryness and presents a nice little take on the subject.

The final featurette, Trains, Leeches and Hurricanes acts as a “catch-all” visual effects program. It runs nine minutes, 19 seconds and presents information from Olson, Fangmeier, Peitzman, computer graphics supervisor Gerald Gutschmidt, and digital compositing supervisor Marshall Krasser. As the title implies, we learn about the creation of the train, leech and hurricane sequences. It’s another good program, and as with its siblings, many cool before and after comparison images make it especially rewarding.

The DVD ends with three galleries. Shadowy Stills includes 86 shots as it mixes movie images, snaps from the set, and other behind the scenes bits. A Woeful World offers 45 stills, all of which show concept art created for the flick. Finally, Costumes and Other Suspicious Disguises looks at those elements via 25 frames. These add up to a nice little collection of images.

Paramount DVDs almost always include subtitles for their extras. That remains correct here, as we can watch the materials with English, Spanish or French text.

I don’t think Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events consistently fires on all cylinders, as some awkward episodic plotting and too much focus on guest actors makes it a bit jerky at times. However, a strong lead performance from Jim Carrey and a delightful cynical tone mean that it usually entertains. The DVD presents strong picture and audio along with a simply stellar set of supplements. From the excellent director’s commentary to the many fascinating featurettes, this set packs so much good material that it just barely falls short of “A+” levels. A great DVD for a good movie, I definitely recommend Events.

Note: Paramount have released two DVD versions of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this review, I covered the two-DVD “Special Collector’s Edition” that retails for $38.99. However, there’s also a single-disc release that lists for $29.99. As far as I can tell, it duplicates this set’s DVD One and simply drops the extras on DVD Two. I think there’s enough quality material on the second disc to warrant purchase, but that’ll depend on your interest in supplements.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1627 Stars Number of Votes: 43
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