Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Lemony Snicket's
A Series of Unfortunate Events
A balding man (being played by Jim Carrey) with a light, white beard and dressed in an overcoat looks like he is stepping in from left of the image, his arms stretched downward. He faces the viewer with a smirk on his face. In the background, three children are seen dashing to the right away from the arms: A girl toddler in a green dress with pink stripes on the skirt, holding the hand of her older sister, dressed in a blue dress. Leading the siblings is a boy, wearing slacks and a blue sweater over a white dress shirt, running with a suitcase swung back behind him. In between the balding man's arms in the foreground and the children in the background, the title "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" is shown in gold lettering. Below title reads the tagline "We're very concerned".
Theatrical poster
Directed by Brad Silberling
Produced by Laurie MacDonald
Walter F. Parkes
Jim Van Wyck
Written by Robert Gordon
Daniel Handler (books)
Based on The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window by
Lemony Snicket
Narrated by Jude Law
Starring Emily Browning
Liam Aiken
Kara and Shelby Hoffman
Jim Carrey
Timothy Spall
Billy Connolly
Meryl Streep
Craig Ferguson
Gilbert Gottfried
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Editing by Michael Kahn
Studio Nickelodeon Movies
Scott Rudin Productions
Distributed by Nickelodeon (through Paramount Pictures) (US)
DreamWorks (Intl)
Release date(s) December 17, 2004 (2004-12-17)
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $142 million[1]
Box office $209,073,645

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a 2004 black comedy film directed by Brad Silberling. It is an adaptation of the The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, being the first three books in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The film stars Jim Carrey, Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, and Meryl Streep, with narration by Jude Law and cameos by Catherine O'Hara and Dustin Hoffman. The film tells the story of three orphans who are adopted by a mysterious theater troupe actor named Count Olaf as he attempts to steal their late parents' fortune.

Nickelodeon Movies purchased the film rights to Daniel Handler's book series in May 2000 and soon began development of a film. Barry Sonnenfeld signed on to direct in June 2002. He hired Handler to adapt 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 approximately $209 million worldwide, and won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.



Lemony Snicket (Jude Law) hides in a clocktower while writing his documentation about the three wealthy Baudelaire children: Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman). One morning, Mr. Poe, the family banker, informs the children that their parents have just been killed in a fire that also destroyed their mansion. Mr. Poe then sends the children to live with Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), an actor who is their closest relative in terms local distance. After arriving at a nice house, Justics Strauss, Olaf's neighbor, informs them that Olaf is across the road, in a horrible and ugly house. Olaf treats the children awfully, giving them a long list of chores to do everyday. On the day Olaf is granted full custody of the children, he brings them out for a drive, pretending to drive them to the countryside. He makes a stop at the Last Chance General Store to pick up some sodas. The orphans realize that Count Olaf has parked the car on a grade crossing and intends to have them killed by a passing train. Through an improvised device, they are able to pull the switch protecting a track merge a few feet short of the crossing in the nick of time, diverting the train to the other track. Mr. Poe sees that Sunny is sitting in the front seat and takes the Baudelaires from Olaf, who promises that he will see the children again.

Mr. Poe sends the Baudelaires to live with their uncle, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, a cheerfully eccentric herpetologist. The Baudelaires live happily with Uncle Monty, who plans a trip with them to Peru. Uncle Monty, as he is known, had recently discovered a new snake and called it the Incredibly Deadly Viper. The viper escapes, and Monty tells the children that the snake's name is a misnomer, and it is perfectly harmless. The children are enjoying their stay with Uncle Montey, however, their stay with him is cut short when Olaf appears in disguise as an Italian man named Stephano, who murders Monty and frames a large and friendly non-venomous viper (ironically called the Incredibly Deadly Viper) for the killing. As the disguised Olaf prepares to spirit the children away, Sunny reveals the snake's true gentle nature, and Olaf's plot is exposed. Poe accepts Olaf's guilt, though not his true identity. Olaf abandons his disguise and escapes.

The orphans are then sent to live by Lake Lachrymose, where their Aunt Josephine resides in a house perched precariously on the edge of a cliff overlooking the waters of the vast Lake Lachrimose, infested with evil Lachrimose leeches that will devour a person if he or she has not waited an hour after eating to enter the water. Josephine has numerous irrational fears such as: a telephone, a sofa and a stove, and yet lives in a house populated with many of those things of which she is terrified -yet her fear of realtors prevents her from moving. A room of photographs and documents apparently contains clues to the cause of the fire that killed the orphans' parents. However, Olaf arrives once again, disguised as a sailor named Captain Sham. The Baudelaire children try to persuade Aunt Josephine that Sham is Count Olaf, but she doesn't, mainly because Captain Sham doesn't have a leg with a tattoo of an eye on the ankle, Olaf's distinguishing feature, and sends them home to make dinner. The children return home, and find a suicidal note from Aunt Josephine saying that she is putting them under the care of Captain Sham. Klaus quickly realizes that it is a code because Josephine was punctual about her and the children's grammar, but many mistakes were made, and eventually the orphans end up with Curdled Cave from the clues. Traveling via boat, they find Aunt Josephine, who reveals that their parents were the leaders of a secret organization that studied fires, and all of the care takers of the Baudelaire children had been a member of the organization(except for Olaf). They then go back with her, only to encounter the deadly leeches. Count Olaf arrives and rescues the children, regaining custody of the children and leaving Josephine to be eaten alive by the leeches. Mr. Poe arrives, and Count Olaf tells Mr. Poe that the children must be placed under his care, but later, he decides not to, and changes the subject and invites Mr. Poe to his latest play.

The play is titled The Marvolous Marriage and stars himself and Violet as the leads. In the play, his character is supposed to marry Violet's character. Klaus quickly realizes that the wedding in the play is real, and it will allow him to gain access to her inheritance. This move is accomplished by Olaf's casting of Justice Strauss, as the supposed judge in the play; with her in this role, the marriage is technically legal. To ensure Violet's co-operation, Olaf holds Sunny hostage in a birdcage high above his tower. Klaus goes to save Sunny using a grappling hook and climbs the tower. Klaus discovers the Hook Handed Man in the tower whenever he arrives. Sunny points out a gigantic eye to Klaus, telling him the eye is the key to free her. A short fight with Klaus and the Hook Handed Man distracts Olaf and he decides to end the play quickly, and tells Strauss to speed up. Violet tries to sign the wedding certificate using her left hand, which would have nullified the marriage. However, Olaf is able to prevent this by telling Violet to use her right hand. Klaus, using the same light-focusing apparatus that Olaf used to set fire to the Baudelaire mansion, burns Olaf and Violet's marriage certificate. Olaf is arrested and is sentenced to endure every unfortunate event he put the children in. After that, he subsequently escapes and disappears. At the ruins of the Baudelaires mansion, the three orphans find a letter left to them by their parents before they became orphans, which contains words of hope and encouragement. The envelope also contains a spyglass, one of several that Klaus interprets as implying the presence of a secret society, called V.F.D., to which his parents and relatives belonged.


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 a 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 book 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 books 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 book series when he was first approached. He quickly read the first three books 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 backlot. After 21 weeks of shooting at Paramount,[19] production then moved to Downey Studios, a former NASA facility,[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]


The character Count Olaf, played by Jim Carrey, sports an idyllic top hat and black-striped overcoat, seen from his thighs and up. Behind him shows a bleak cornfield on the left and a gas station on the right. The station has a red-and-white striped awning and looks worn. Olaf faces to the driver's side window of the car, and he positions his right hand as if he's pointing at something above him, while concentrating his eyes on the window and holding car keys in his left hand.
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]

Robert D. Yeoman replaced Lubezki as cinematographer when Lubezki had to leave the production to commit to The New World. Yeoman mostly worked on the expansive harbor set at Downey.[22] The art direction was inspired by The Night of the Hunter, which also influenced Handler for the writing of his books.[15] Atwood commented that the Mr. Poe character was based on Edward Gorey paintings.[23]

Visual effects

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), supervised by Stefen Fangmeier,[22] created the film's 505 visual effects-shots.[24] 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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[25] A remote controlled animatronic of Sunny was also designed by Kevin Yagher.[26]



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.[27] 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."[28] 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]


The film was released in the United States and Canada on December 17, 2004 in 3,620 theaters, earning $30,061,756 in its opening weekend.[29] In its run, A Series of Unfortunate Events managed to stay in the number one position for its first week, before facing competition from Meet the Fockers, The Aviator and Coach Carter.[30] The film eventually grossed $118,634,549 in US totals and $90,439,096 elsewhere, coming to a worldwide total of $209,073,645.[29] It is the highest grossing film under the Nickelodeon Movies banner until being surpassed by The Last Airbender.[31] Paramount Home Video released the film on DVD on April 26, 2005 in both single-disc and two-disc special edition format.[32][33]

Critical reception

Based on 151 reviews collected by the rating website Rotten Tomatoes, 71% of the critics enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events with an average score of 6.6 out of 10 .[34] The film was more balanced with 31 critics in Rotten Tomatoes' "Top Critics" poll, receiving a 58% approval rating on a 6.5 score.[35] By comparison, Metacritic calculated that the film received generally favorable reviews from critics with an average score of 62 out of 100, based on 37 reviews.[36]

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."[37] Desson Thomson from The Washington Post reasoned over the 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."[38]

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."[39]

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."[40] 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."[41] 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."[42]


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.[43] 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.[44]

Planned franchise

Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies hoped the film would become a franchise like the Harry Potter film series.[9] Jim Carrey was attracted to the film because he found it to be a good recurring franchise character that would still allow him each time 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."[45] In an October 2008 interview, Daniel Handler said that "a sequel does seem to be in the works. Paramount has had quite a few corporate shakeups, widely documented in articles I find too stupefying to finish, 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."[46] 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.'"[47]

The franchise hopes were raised a little further when Paramount purchased DreamWorks in 2006, gaining the non-US rights in the process.


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  45. ^ Otto, Jeff (May 25, 2005). "Producers Talk Ring 3 and Snicket Sequel". IGN. http://movies.ign.com/articles/618/618877p1.html. Retrieved April 7, 2009. 
  46. ^ Scott, Ronnie (October 2008). "An Interview With Daniel Handler". BookSlut.com. http://bookslut.com/features/2008_10_013548.php. Retrieved April 7, 2009. 
  47. ^ Ditzian, Eric (June 3, 2009). "Lemony Snicket Director Brad Silberling Plans To Do Each Film In Different Medium". MTV News. http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2009/06/03/lemony-snicket-director-brad-silberling-plans-to-do-each-film-in-different-medium/. Retrieved June 4, 2009. 

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