Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

What a great looking movie… amazing production design, Tim Burton-esque without the curlicues… characters designed and shots framed as though they were fine illustrations. The universe of the film has a strange, surreal quality that feels as though you’re inside an illustration, as though the universe ends at the horizon. In other films that’s a quality that takes me out… particularly films that are working hard to create an alternate reality, like sci-fi. In my sci-fi I want to have a sense that the universe extends well beyond the frame (Blade Runner, Alien) and doesn’t just exist where the camera is pointing (Total Recall [which I understand is being remade]). Here, though, that’s a quality that makes perfect sense. Some of the backgrounds put me in a mind of The Wizard Of Oz (the original, not that unwatchable sci-fi channel remake with Zooey Deschanel).

The only thing that didn’t work for me is a few lines of dialogue… maybe five or so… Carrey improvised much of his dialogue as Count Olaf, usually during camera tests while creating his character. Much of it was funny and appropriate, and made it into the shooting script verbatim. Some, however, has a “contemporary” or “topical” quality to it that instantly stripped my gears. I wish I had made notes while watching, and now the disc’s gone back to Netflix. I checked IMDB but the lines that most bothered me don’t happen to be there. Damn! But here are two examples.

– “Take them Mr. Poe, before I lose it big time.”

– “He’s just a boy barely out of his Osh Kosh B’Gosh.”

Not the best examples. One of the most egregious, I think, came as Olaf was approaching the children and their Aunt on the lake o’ leeches. Should have written it down. But I’ll find it, oh all find it, and when I do, it’s edit time!

The point is that when you’re working overtime to create a fantastic, fictional universe you’re really asking me to suspend disbelief. Which of course I’m happy to do. But then you gotta stand by it, and don’t drop little references to the world I live in, particularly topical references that are likely to be long out of fashion in the coming years (I’m thinking of Brent Spiner‘s Data giving us that “Yesssssss!” in one of the Next Generation films — Trekkies, little help here?).

Those little moments, though, are no reason to avoid the film. They’re nits I’ve picked because there’s little else to complain about. The film is nigh unto brilliant, and Carrey once again proves (as he did in The Mask) that he’s one of those rare actors who can truly excel through a significant facial appliance (joining the ranks of Ron Perlman in Hellboy, Beauty and the Beast, or even The Name Of The Rose, or Tim Currey in Legend).

Oh, and the title animations are fucking brilliant too.

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