A Series of Unfortunate Events
Starring: Liam Aitken, Emily Browning, Kara Hoffman, Selby Hoffman, Jim Carrey, Timothy Spall
Director: Brad Silberling
The film: For those not familiar with the books of Lemony Snicket, they're written for children, but have adult appeal (and something of a cult status) thanks to their dark, humorous and eccentric qualities, which set them far apart from the mainstream likes of the Harry Potter series.
This two-hour adaptation of three of the series of 13, written by young American novelist Daniel Handler, who assumes the Snicket guise, brilliantly captures a gothic storybook mood throughout. Some fans have criticised screen writer Robert Gordon and director Brad Silberling's sometimes departure from the original plot - but as each book ends with the unmasking of the villain, the storyline had to be changed accordingly to maintain suspense throughout the film.
The plot concerns the orphaned Baudelaire children, who are thrown into the hands of a stream of bizarre guardians - the most obnoxious and scheming being Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). But the Baudelaires - Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aitken) and Sunny (played alternately by twins Kara and Selby Hoffman) - have talents that help them survive. Violet is a resourceful inventor, Klaus is a walking encyclopedia and Sunny has adult intuition.
A highly visual universe that's Gothic-cum-Jules Vernesque-cum-Edwardian England-cum-1950s America was masterfully created by production designer Rick Hendrichs and his team. All, amazingly, is shot in the studio, with old-fashioned hand-painted diminishing perspective sets that are theatrically lit. Computer graphics make a few minor appearances - notably for the dramatic sheer drop of a temporary cliff-top residence of the kids, and of the playful interaction between Sunny and an enormous python.
Billy Connolly plays one short-lived guardian, Uncle Monty, charismatically. Plenty of real snakes slither around this eccentric scientist's home.
The filmmaking maxim of never working with kids or animals was totally ignored in Lemony Snicket. The Hoffman twins, apparently, regularly brought this US$100 million production to a standstill for naps, feeding or tantrums.
Speaking of Hoffmans, watch out for a brief cameo from Dustin, in an uncredited role as a theatre critic.
Taking a larger role is Meryl Streep as batty Aunt Josephine, in a performance that at times outshines Carrey.
The extras: As well as giving an informative director's audio commentary, Silberling also joins Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) for another commentary, which tires fast. More entertaining are: humorous outtakes; deleted scenes; a documentary on the casting of the children; and another on getting Carrey into Olaf mode. There's also an excellent interactive Olaf, which splits the screen into four simultaneously running pre-film monologues by Carrey as Count Olaf and Olaf's cunning disguised personas. You can click an audio symbol on whichever one you want to hear.
The verdict: The film alone is impressive and this package provides hours of fun.