Sunday, December 19, 2004


This is not going to be a bad review of "Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events," the new Hollywood cover of the great book series. Smartmom hasn't yet "processed" her impressions of this rather misleading adaptation, which she saw yesterday with Hepcat and OSFO.

They saw it in one of the tiny theaters at the Park Slope multiplex, the Pavillion. Strangely, a little boy in the row in front of them got his elbow stuck in the drink holder attached to his seat. He spent much of the second half of the movie crying in pain trying to get the attention of his mother who was sitting in another section. Smartmom and Hepcat didn't realize the kie had his arm stuck: they figured he was just scared of scenes in the movie. After the show, a theater maintenance man was able to disengage the child from the drink holder while his mother sneered nearby saying "Why'd you put your arm in there. Why'd you do it?"

That might be a good question for the producers of this rather tepid version of Daniel Handler's Dickens meet Roald Dahl masterwork. For that matter, what must Handler think of this movie?

Smartmom is concerned that the film will be detrimental to book sales so unfaithful is the adaptation. Admittedly, it's a tough book to adapt. Like so many great books, it's all about the narrative voice, the literary atmosphere, the strange and wonderful point of view. And that stuff just doesn't translate onto the screen (one of the reasons that "Catcher in the Rye" has never been made, as well as scores of other books though Hollywood is never shy to try).

Visually the film is extra special. A live action "Nightmare Before Christmas," this movie has a wonderful Tim Burton goth aesthetic. It takes place, like the book, in an indistinct time and place much like Terry Gilliam's 1930's future in the film "Brazil."

The art director, set decorator, and costume designers all deserve praise. And plentiful amounts. There was not one location, not one set that disappointed Smartmom's internal pictures. The Baudelaire mansion, Count Olaf's house, the reptile room at Uncle Monty's, and Aunt Josephine house on the edge of Lake Lachrymose were all pitch-perfect evocations of what Handler's words suggested.

The cool quotent of this film was also pretty high. Hepcat notes that Count Olaf's car was a Tatra, Hans Ledwinka's visionary Czech luxury car of the 1940's. According to Hepcat, Porsche stole the idea for the Volkswagon and Porsche from him. Hepcat also loved that the car, as shown in the movie, had a reel to reel tape deck instead of a radio. Cool.

The same cannot be said for the actors and their parts as written. With the exception of Jude Law as the writer Lemony Snicket, the characters just didn't ring true. The actress who plays Violet has the perfect goth-girl face, but she doesn't even remotely look or act like the brilliant inventor that Smartmom imagined. Klaus, the book worm boy with the photograhic memory, was also not well represented by his movie doppelganger. And let's not even discuss the idiotic subtitles provided for Sunny, the genuis toddler who often saves the day. The screenwriter(s) simply ruined her. The twins, however, who play the role, are pretty darn cute.

Yes, Jim Carey is an amazing actor. His abilities as a zany, demented, inventive mimic are endless. And he's rarely boring. However, his manic energy just doesn't do justice to the strange, Dickensian tone of the original. And despite his creepiness, he's not nearly as terrifying as Olaf in the book. It's Olaf lite, as far as Smartmom was concerned.

One good thing. Meryl Streep brings such depth, humor and tragedy to her portrayl of Aunt Josephine, she could be a character in a Tennessee William's play.

And a happy ending? That goes against everything the book is about.

Not to be missed, the credit sequence at the end of the film is an absolutely incredible Edward Gorey-esque animation that is simply stunning. Worth the price of admission, it is probably one of the best things about the movie.

After the film OSFO, who has heard all 11 of the books at bedtime kept asking Smartmom, "Why did that boy put his arm in the drink holder?" She liked the film but thought it was strange the way they changed the story so much and moved so many things around.

This wasn't going to be a review.


At 8:56 AM, Blogger Nobody special said...

Well written review. Fun to read. Makes me want to see the movie and read the books.


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