Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

lemony snickets series of unfortunate events

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak monkey.”

The Scoop: 2004 PG, directed by Brad Silberling and starring Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, and Emily Browning

Tagline: On December 17, Christmas cheer takes a holiday.

Summary Capsule: Three orphans, three books, one evil count with multiple disguises. Go see it.

Lissa’s rating: For Scarlett. Dalmatian, darling, dead.

Lissa’s review: If you have never read Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, you might be expecting a cheerful tale. After all, it is a book written for young people, and one would expect a certain amount of optimism, bluebirds, and morals candy coated and swallowed. Alas, this story is about the Baudelaire orphans, and therefore is fraught with, well, a series of unfortunate events. And if you are hoping for a happy film review, full of witty quips and Justin’s colorful metaphors, I regret to tell you that you should be looking at Braveheart or perhaps any review written by Kyle. In fact, I urge you to go there, because I am about to unveil a tale of woe and remorse.

There are nine children in our youth group. Of those nine, only four ventured out into the foggy day entrusting their lives to the driving skills of their beloved mentor. How unwise they were. For the purposes of our story, we shall give these four pseudonyms (which here means “Names Lissa can use for them so she doesn’t get sued”) of Frodo, Harry, Mia, and Buffy. They were unwise because the children soon discovered that going to the movies with Lissa entails suffering her driving a strange van, her cohort stealing their pretzel bites, and endless comparisons of the book to the movie.

“You think too much,” Frodo said.

“It’s just a movie,” Buffy insisted.

“There’s a gummy bear on the floor,” Mia pointed out, which might mean, “Lissa, you are very bright and intelligent and you make many good points” but probably meant “I’m bored with this conversation and therefore staring at the theater floor, which is gross.” Sadly, I must agree with Mia. The theater floor is a disgusting surface of sticky goo and refuse, and should never, ever be examined closely.

I regret to say that the movie itself was a dark and sad affair, filled with despair and misery. Then again, if you are at all familiar with Mr. Snicket’s accounts of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, then you were already expecting this to be the case. As far as tales of despair and misery go, it was beautifully shot and the cinematography (here meaning “the look and feel of the film”) was absolutely perfect. I am pleased to report that the people in costuming, art direction, and makeup are geniuses, and the sets are absolutely divine. Naturally, this means that these talented people stand no chance at taking home a golden statue of a naked man, thus indicating that I am a cynic. That means—

“We know what cynic means,” Harry interrupts me.

Oh. Sorry.

I would like very much to say that the casting of the characters in the movie was absolutely perfect. I would like to comment that aside from her Goth-in-training dress (which was appropriate), Violet was played with the perfect amount of seriousness by Emily Browning, that Klaus was a child I would love to adopt and portrayed beautifully by Liam Aiken, and that Sunny was just… well, what DO you say about a baby’s performance? And since I am not Lemony Snicket, I can say all of that, so ha. I can also report that Jim Carrey was effective as Count Olaf, Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine, and Timothy Spall as Mr. Poe. I regret that I must write that John Cleese did not play Uncle Monty, although I was quite convinced he had. But that is neither here nor there (which here means “I am bored of talking about this part and would like to move on with the review”).

Alas, as we trudged out of the theater and hoped to avoid careening to our deaths on black ice that may have frozen on the roads, my cohorts and I were inevitably drawn into a discussion of how good of an adaptation this was. An adaptation is—

“WE KNOW!” the children shout.

Ahem. Well, it is impossible to attend the showing of a movie based on a series of novels and not compare the novel and the movie. And naturally, this discussion occurred among us as we carefully navigated our way back to the church.

“They messed up the books,” Harry insisted. “They left a lot out. And the wedding is supposed to go at the end of book 1, not at the end of book 3.”

“But they did a good job with book 2,” I riposted. “Some things must be cut in the interest of making a shorter and more concise movie.”

“Shorter and more concise mean the same thing,” Harry pointed out.

“Shut up,” I said, which here meant “Don’t contradict your youth group leader, squirt.”

“Did those spyglass things ever come up in the books?” Frodo asked.

“No,” Harry, who had read all of the books (or more than the rest of us) answered. “Why did they put them in there? It made no sense.”

I would dearly love to tell you that Mia or Buffy offered a brilliant insight that answered Harry’s question, which after all is a question all true lovers of a book series that has been adapted must ask. Why did the writers, directors, and other associated moneymakers put in things such as spyglasses, arsonists, and trains, or took out such elements as vocabulary lessons, character development, and coughing? I am afraid, dear reader, that the answer is as indistinguishable and unachievable to me as it is to you. However, we are not in the minds of these Hollywood powers that be, and we must hope that there is a logical and sane explanation for this. (This phenomenon is referred to as “Delusion.”) But although these divergences may dissatisfy purists, they were not remotely impossible to live with; merely baffling.

However, it does please me to say that the consensus was that, despite certain deviations that may or may not have been wise and crafty decisions on the parts of screenwriters and editors, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events was exquisitely done and a movie well worth seeing, unless you desire a cheerful tale of love and happiness and dancing little elves, in which case you should stay home and watch Christmas specials on television. But if you can handle a movie about orphans, vile plots, fires, tragedy, and puttenesca sauce, then hurry to the theater to see this one now, before it’s too late.

Kyle’s rating: I guess we’re all the children of Burton now, aren’t we?

Kyle’s review: Lemony Snicket was yet another one of those movies that I knew next to nothing about but figured I just might dig it based on the visual elements and the inclusion of Jim Carrey. Everybody’s a little goth, after all, so the story of unfortunate orphans and their potentially-deadly adventures sounded like just the thing to see on the dark night I rode out to the theaters. I was in the mood for dark, for comedy, for visual flair and for Victorian clothing with a Tim Burton edge. What I got was a cheap imitation that brought on a frustrating itch, but that’s what I get for not sticking with the real thing. Pity for me.

That’s not to say Lemony Snicket isn’t something you might groove to. I can’t rightfully say. But to me, it was just another disappointing film from the disappointing 2004. The morals were all the same old same old (Family is GREAT! Goodness wins out in the END! Knowledge and resourcefulness can defeat all EVIL! Adults are STUPID!) and I never felt the kids were in danger because the obvious story formula politely indicated who was expendable and who wasn’t.

That leaves our three likeable (I guess) orphans, the strangely (relatively) subdued Count Jim Olaf Carrey, and a plot that seems to revolve around a mysterious conspiracy involving the orphans’ dead parents and spyglasses. Although the conspiracy is only hinted at and wondered about without really coming to fruition at all. I guess they must cover that in the books. How lovely to watch a film and realize you’re getting punished for not doing the required reading ahead of time. In school you can just bluff your way by; in Lemony Snicket I could only think about how full and happy I would have been if I had bought popcorn.

It seems like a lot of my recent reviews have been negative. You could blame me personally, sure, but I have to blame the overall crappiness and stupidity of recent films. I mean, come on, people! I know that the “infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters” thing is just a myth and there are only about 10 monkeys at any given time working on 8 typewriters (a lot of angry poo is flung, angrily, in the Hollywood writing room), but you do need some writing quirks and spiffy dialogue to make Lemony Snicket somehow different from every children’s book adaptation that came before it; crazy costume designs can only go so far.

I think these Lemony Snicket books are supposed to be popular and creative, but you’d never know it from the movie. There are flesh-eating leeches and absurdities piled on absurdities, but they don’t stick like they should and we seem to be left wondering if this is supposed to be a fantasy world (so that’s why the adults are eccentric and overly trusting of devious murderers) or a realistic world (which means the adults are affected by pollution and/or brain damaged). Hard to say. We don’t get many hints. Here’s a good hint for you, though: buy some popcorn. You’ll thank me later!

Look, I can write a Mutant Review too!
Look, I can write a Mutant Review too!


  • Despite rumors to the contrary, Lemony Snicket is NOT J.K. Rowling. Lemony Snicket is a man named Daniel Handler. The movie is based on the first three Series of Unfortunate Events books: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window.
  • The bizarre car seen in the previews is a late model Tatra 603. Built in what was Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) it was designed as a limousine for Communist Party officials and VIPs. Although it was first designed in 1955, this particular model was built between 1968 and 1975.
  • There were probably tons of in-jokes in the book titles, but I missed them. I looked though.
  • Cameos by Cedric the Entertainer, Gilbert Gottfried, Dustin Hoffman, and Catherine O’Hara.
  • Subtitles for Sunny!
  • Happy little elves. A brilliant addition, along with the bananas. Hehe. Bananas.
  • Um, a bit of a growth spurt for Klaus there? Sheesh! (Turns out that, according to IMDb, it was 4 inches.)
  • The original grammatical error (so “Harry” tells me) that tipped Klaus off to the validity of Josephine’s note is the inappropriate use of “it’s” (as opposed to “its”). This error is included, although the children do not mention it.
  • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? It’s not worth sprinting out – there’s an interesting paper collage thingie that keeps showing events from the movie.

Groovy Quotes

Count Olaf: All that I ask is that you do every little thing that pops into my head, while I enjoy the enormous fortune your parents left behind.

Count Olaf: I’m sorry, I don’t speak monkey.

Violet Baudelaire: At times the world may seem like an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe us when we say that there is much more good in it than bad… and what may seem like a series of unfortunate event might, in fact, be the first steps of a journey.

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