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

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Released 23-May-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Director Brad Silberling
Audio Commentary-Director Brad Silberling & Writer Daniel Handler
Featurette-Building A Better Actor
Featurette-Making The Baudelaire Children Miserable
Featurette-Interactive Olaf
Deleted Scenes-x15
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 103:32
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Brad Silberling
Studio
Distributor
Dreamworks
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Jim Carrey
Emily Browning
Liam Aiken
Kara Hoffman
Shelby Hoffman
Timothy Spall
Billy Connolly
Meryl Streep
Catherine O'Hara
Jude Law
Cedric The Entertainer
Jamie Harris
Luis Guzmán
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Thomas Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Hungarian
English Audio Commentary
Hungarian Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
Hungarian Audio Commentary
English Alternate Subtitles
Hungarian Alternate Subtitles
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Based on the bestselling books of the same name, this film is the story of the three Baudelaire children and some extremely unfortunate events. When a mysterious fire destroys their home and takes the lives of their parents, the three children are orphaned and sent off to live with Count Olaf – an actor by trade and a so-called relative which they never knew they had. After their arrival at Olaf’s dilapidated mansion, his evil intentions soon become apparent to the children – he wants the fortune which they inherited and he’ll do almost anything to get it. To triumph against adversity in this troubling new world the children must use their brains and their wits to outsmart the evil and persistent Count Olaf.

     The film’s distinctive visual style, which is somewhat reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (both films had the same production designer in Rick Heinrichs incidentally), is a major strong point. The art direction, the set design, the costume design, the special effects and the cinematography all contribute to what is an outlandish visual extravaganza. Further aiding an already unique visual signature is a unique time period for the film’s setting. In spite of the familiarity of many elements, the time period as it appears in the film has never in fact existed in real life. Rather, the film is a unique blend of ingredients dating from the late 19th century, like the costumes, to the late 20th century, like car phones. That said, I can’t ever recall seeing a bakelite car phone – certainly not since the cellular era began anyway.

     Lemony Snicket's features an ensemble cast of Hollywood greats, fresh young talent and one Scottish comedian. Among the new talent is Australia’s very own Emily Browning who delivers a truly exceptional performance as Violet Baudelaire – the eldest of the three children. While Emily has graced the silver screen a number of times now, most notably in The Man Who Sued God, Ned Kelly and Ghost Ship, this is really her first starring role and one that I’m certain will land her considerably more leading roles in times to come. May there be plenty more of this talented young actor from Melbourne I say!

     Next in the cast of young talent is Liam Aiken who plays Klaus Baudelaire – the second eldest of the children. Liam is another relatively new actor who some may recognise from various films including Road To Perdition. Liam gives an equally impressive performance and again there is little doubt we’ll be seeing plenty more of him in the future. The youngest of the cast members are Kara and Shelby Hoffman who both play the role of Sunny – the youngest of the three children. Should they ever be entered into a cute baby competition they’d undoubtedly be a shoe-in for first prize. Their performances here are quite remarkable given their age although it’s probably reasonable to assume the magic of editing may have played a big part in this.

     Last, but by no means least, is Jim Carey as the irrepressible Count Olaf. Jim takes to this role like a duck does to water – there’s simply no other way to put it. There are many hilarious moments of improvised dialogue from Jim which I’m sure were actually improvised on the day at the expense of many, many feet of film – some of which can be found in the Orphaned Scenes section of the extras. I should make it clear, however, that while Jim Carey is one of the stars of the film, he is not the film, something which the trailers most unfortunately seemed to suggest. More on this shortly.

     There is also a large supporting cast which includes the ever delightful Billy Connolly (who actually worked opposite Emily Browning previously in The Man Who Sued God), Meryl Streep, Timothy Spall (The Last Samurai), Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice), Luis Guzman (Traffic), Cedric The Entertainer (Intolerable Cruelty) and Jude Law (Sky Captain and The World Of Tomorrow) as the voice of Lemony Snicket. Dustin Hoffman also puts in an uncredited cameo appearance at the end of the film as the critic – he and director Brad Silberling worked together on a previous film in case you’re wondering. Furthermore to answer a question I found myself asking – there appears to be no relation between the young Hoffman twins and Dustin – the common surname seems nothing more than coincidence.

     I have but one negative comment with regards to the film and it relates to its promotion, not the film itself. For whatever reason, perhaps studio pressure, the trailers really missed the mark – at least the ones shown here in Australia anyway. The impression they gave was that this was a “Jim Carrey movie, for kids”. Many people I have spoken to since the release of the film agree. Indeed, because of this it took me a great deal of time to convince certain family members and friends to see it. In fact, to get my younger siblings to see it, who were adamantly against seeing another Jim Carey movie, particularly one ‘for kids’, I had to make them a deal – if the movie failed to impress I’d buy their ticket and lunch. What happened? Well, I kept my money! There was simply no hiding the smiles on their faces when the credits began to roll.

     I know there are a lot of people out there who have tired of Jim Carey due to his overexposure in recent years, but let me say categorically here that Jim Carrey is not the core focus of the story – the kids are. This is not another Ace Ventura or The Mask where Jim is the film. Having said that, during his moments onscreen he does command most of the attention, but there is still so much more to the film than Jim Carrey.

     As for being a kid’s movie, nothing could be further from the truth. While I don’t doubt kids will enjoy it I certainly wouldn’t be encouraging kids under about 8 to see it unless you have the desire to frighten the living hell out them. While the older demographic is capable of seeing the humour through the sheer evilness of Count Olaf, the younger demographic may not be able to make the same distinction. I’m sure Olaf would appear quite frightening to young kids.

     If you missed Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events during its theatrical release, I highly recommend you check it out now on DVD. While I’m not going to extend to you readers the same deal I extended to my siblings, I am confident that all of you who haven’t yet seen the film will find it far more enjoyable than you think you might.

     For me, Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events has now taken second, but no less prestigious, position behind Lost In Translation in my list of all-time favourite films. Yes I know, there are many other classic films like The Godfather (which is 3rd incidentally) that many would place at the top of such a list but for me Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events manages to do something quite rare, something only Lost In Translation has done before it, and that is – I can watch it in any mood and I keep enjoying it no matter how many times I see it. It is perhaps one of the most perfect pieces of escapist cinema in my view.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The transfer is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The visual transfer afforded to Lemony Snicket is of a very high calibre indeed – it is very difficult, if not impossible to fault.

     Detail is very high throughout the feature, with even the most delicate skin textures shining through with amazing clarity. A good example is that of Mr. Poe’s face at the beginning of the film when he delivers the children the most unfortunate news. Shadow detail is very good, but not great – there were one or two occasions where I felt some detail had disappeared into the blacks like that on Klaus’ jumper during the reptile room scene – but I could have just imagined it. This would be the only fault to be found in the transfer, if indeed it is a fault. For reference I also checked out the transfer on the 1024x600 LCD screen of my Fujitsu P1120 LifeBook and the progressive scan image is truly something to behold, even at minimum focal distance from my eye (about 25cm).

     The colour palate used in the film is very warm although a little subdued, often favouring darker colours – this is intentional and indeed very distinctive. I have little doubt that this DVD transfer represents the closest you can get to what was seen immediately upon completion of post production. Chances are this is a direct digital transfer from the digital intermediate – nothing but 1s and 0s between the film being digitized and DVD. One thing I am certain of is that a great deal of time, money and effort went into the grading of the film and I have to say that it was well worth it – it looks stunning.

     There are no artefacts of any kind – this is as perfect a transfer as you could ever hope for. There are no film artefacts, there's no aliasing, there's no edge enhancement, there's no telecine wobble, there's nothing to complain about whatsoever – boring I know but hey, that’s just the way it is. The bit-rate is reasonably high, hovering around the 6-7Mbs mark – interestingly this is higher than the Region 1 disc which is around the 5-6Mbs mark.

     There are 8 subtitle streams present including a default-on stream for Sunny’s translation. Interestingly, Sunny’s translation is burnt in rather than electronic on the Region 1 DVD – this does happen from time to time – it also occurred with The Mummy. I kind of prefer the burnt-in text actually, at least in this situation anyway.

     This is an RSDL disc but once again given the buffer in my DV-676A I couldn’t spot the layer change. If anybody else finds it please let me know. The main file size is 5278MB.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbs) and while I kind of wish that we had been given a DTS option, the Dolby Digital track is too shabby at all.

     Dialogue is crystal clear throughout the entire feature - indeed there isn’t a moment where it is anything but. The dialogue has been extremely well mixed so that even during the noisiest of scenes like the hurricane at Aunt Jo’s house it is very easy to understand whilst maintaining a natural balance with the sound effects. There are no audio sync issues.

     The music of Lemony Snicket's is by my all-time favourite composer, Thomas Newman. Some of his previous works include American Beauty, The Horse Whisperer and Road To Perdition. Here he has excelled once again and composed a uniquely wonderful score which is simply a pleasure to listen to. The score works so well with the atmosphere of the film that at times there is a seamless blend between the sound effects and the music. One highlight of the score for me is a gentle cue called Resilience which can be heard after Olaf has locked the children in their room and they build themselves a little sanctuary to escape the troubling world around them. The biggest highlight, however, is without a doubt the end credits sequence - a cue called Drive Away. There is little point in me describing it but when you hear it for yourself I’m sure you’ll agree. For me this alone was worth the price of the CD soundtrack and further convinces me that Thomas Newman is the most talented composer working in the US today. Brilliant work from a brilliant composer.

     The surround channels are not used as thoroughly as I would have liked - this is indeed a front focused mix, but they are put to great use during some of the more elaborate set pieces. The surrounds, including the centre rear, become quite alive during the hurricane that hits Aunt Jo’s house. Thunder, wind and some very unnerving creaks in the wood can be heard emanating from the rear soundstage all throughout this sequence. There is also some subtle but very effective use of the rears during the reptile room sequence, where you can hear all manner of reptiles, insects and other wildlife in the background. The entire soundtrack provides a very good ambient mix but not so much an aggressive mix.

     The subwoofer is used sparingly to support the lower register of Thomas Newman’s score and for various effects, most notably the train and the hurricane. Even when it is used it is not particularly heavy, but perhaps gives a little more than your speakers alone could provide. Probably the most noticeable use of the sub is to support the score during the end credits sequence.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There is a very reasonable selection of extras to be found on this DVD – unfortunately they only amount to a fraction of what the Region 1 2-Disc set is graced with. All the applicable extras are presented in 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement. The audio is either presented in surround encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 or just plain stereo Dolby Digital 2.0 – there’s little if no discernable difference between the two.

Menu

     The disc features a nicely themed animated menu featuring the animation and music from the end credits sequence of the film. Interestingly on the Region 1 disc the eye icon in the middle of the list is selectable and changes the menu animation – not a big loss for us, particularly when you consider all the other extras we’ve been denied, but I thought it was a nice touch.

Commentary – Director Brad Silberling

     The first commentary is from director Brad Silberling and is definitely the better one of the two. He covers plenty of ground about shooting the film including why certain creative decisions were made – the answer more often than not being for necessity. He also comments as to why certain deviations from the books were required in order to make the film – the film after all is actually based on three books, each with their own beginning and end. Brad manages to keep the ball rolling pretty much all the way through and thus makes this quite an informative and entertaining commentary.

Commentary – Brad Silberling and Writer Daniel Handler

     The second commentary is by Brad Silberling and author Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) who wrote the books on which the film is based. Both have been recorded together. It doesn’t take long to realise that Daniel is not one who takes life too seriously - in fact, the entire commentary is really little more than a running joke filled with more sarcasm than you can poke a stick at. It’s funny at first but the humour wears off very quickly. Do yourself a favour – skip this one and listen to the first.

Featurettes – Bad Beginnings

1)          Building A Better Actor (12:47)

This featurette looks at the make-up, hair and costume tests of the various incantations of Jim Carrey’s character. Rather unusually, sound was recorded during these tests so the birth of some of Jim’s on-screen insanity can be seen here.

2)          Making The Baudelaire Children Miserable (3:05)

This featurette looks at the make-up, hair and costume tests of the children during which a trailer (almost a short film actually) was produced and later used for the film's promotion. This is definitely worthwhile checking out as in a way it acts as an extension to the film itself, in particular giving you a little more insight into Emily Browning’s character Violet.

3)          Interactive Olaf (9:16)

This is a variation on the multi-angle feature. It is a 4-way split screen of different screen tests by Jim Carrey. It has 4 audio streams so you simply switch to the stream belonging to the window you want to watch. I kind of like this idea – it’s much more space efficient – but with regards to the content it gets a little tedious after a few minutes.

Deleted Scenes – Orphaned Scenes

1)        Dismal Deletions (13:52)

This is a collection of 11 deleted scenes plus extended and alternate versions of existing scenes. He we discover that Olaf could have actually been far more evil than he appeared in the final film but I guess somebody decided it was too much – it was the right decision. For example, after the children have cooked him and his acting team dinner much to his dissatisfaction, he jumps up on the table and stomps in the food and kicks the plates off the table. There’s also some footage of Dustin Hoffman smuggling a typewriter into Olaf’s theatre under his coat – very funny.

2)        Obnoxious Outtakes (12:19)

These are 4 outtakes, of which I’m sure there were many, including some more alternate takes and extended footage from the trailers not used in the film. First up there’s a baby outtake involving one of the twins falling asleep of all things in the middle of a take – the take goes for around a minute throughout which you can see her fading – very cute. There’s also a longer version of Jim Carrey’s dinosaur impression which is just so silly it’s hilarious. Finally there’s some improv from Dustin and Cedric The Entertainer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     I’m afraid I must inform you of an extremely unfortunate event. I’m very very sorry to tell you this but we have been well and truly stiffed in the extras department here in Region 4. Perhaps this is why Dreamworks/Universal never sent out a review disc! The Region 1 DVD is available in two versions – a 1-Disc version which appears almost identical to ours and a 2-Disc Special Collector’s Edition. The 2-Disc set contains a substantial number of additional features not found in Region 4. Compared to the Region 1 2-Disc version we miss out on the following:

     Well I think it should be obvious from the above list which is the version of choice. Dreamworks have some serious explaining to do because it would appear that despite the trailer the film did extremely well in Australia yet Dreamworks are being greedy and not springing the cash for the extra features. I dearly hope they’re not planning to do what they did with Shrek – that is, releasing a truncated 1-Disc version, then once everybody has bought it releasing a 2-Disc version (containing all the extras the first one should have had) with a view to having fans to buy it again. It is truly insulting that Dreamworks think we’re so stupid that we can’t see the game they’re playing. And just in case any of them may be reading this – I rented this disc for $1.95 to do this review – I bought the Region 1 disc!

Summary

     Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events is a brilliant piece of escapist cinema and one of the most enjoyable films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. I live in hope that a sequel will be made!

     The visual transfer is virtually perfect.

     The audio transfer is a little sedate in the surround channels but is still very impressive.

     The extras, well, are nice but are sadly lacking compared to the Region 1 2-Disc alternative.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ben Hooft (My biography. Go on have a read...)
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-676A, SACD & DVD-A, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe CT-1170 (66cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX
SpeakersFront & Centre: Monitor Audio Bronze 2, Surrounds: Sony SS-SRX7S, Surround Back: Paramount Pictures Bookshelf Speakers

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Offensive - REPLY POSTED
Region 1 Special Edition - REPLY POSTED
R2 2-Disc Special Edition - REPLY POSTED
this movie is quite average - J Sebastian
Keep 'em Coming - REPLY POSTED
Disappointing - Bran (my bio, or something very like it) REPLY POSTED
Greatest Living Composer? - REPLY POSTED
Re: Greatest Living Composer? -
UK Special Edition also R4 encoded -
Video Quality Between R1 & R4 -