Directed by Brad Silberling, starring Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Kara and Shelby Hoffman, Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Billy Connolly, Jude Law and Timothy Spall.
The Harry Potter phenomenon has inspired a fascination among children for darker stories, more relevant to the real world and Lemony Snicket follows that trend with his 'Series of Unfortunate Events', claiming to show life as it is, in all its grimness. Siberling's first instalment of the series combines Snicket's (aka Daniel Handler) first three books.
The series of unfortunate events begins for the Baudelaire children, Violet (Browning), Klaus (Aiken) and Sunny (Hoffman, times two), when they are informed by their banker Mr Poe (Spall) that their parents have died in a fire. An uncertain future lies ahead and, when the children meet their new guardian, they discover he's not a very pleasant one.
Count Olaf (Carrey) is a distant relative whose sole interest is in getting his hands on the children's fortune and playing the lead in his acting troupe's productions. His treatment of the children is shocking, even to the point of violence, but help is at hand when Mr Poe turns up at just the right time.
Their next guardian, Uncle Monty (Connolly), seems more promising, but his fondness for snakes proves to be his undoing when a disguised Count Olaf follows the children to their new home. A third move to Lachrymose Lake and Aunt Josephine's (Streep) house finds the children in their gloomiest abode yet. Fearing everything from real estate agents to doorknobs, Josephine's irrationality makes her prey to another of Olaf's disguises. It becomes clear to the Baudelaires that they must stop Olaf themselves, if it's to be done at all.
Shot in greys and oranges, the overall look of the movie is threatening and it's very Dickensian in theme with the orphaned children being sent to a nasty relative. It also doesn't shy away from the darker side of life, presenting violence and gruesome death to its young audience.
The young leads, Browning and Aiken, are good, but it's Carrey who steals the show as the despicable Count Olaf. His trademark zany behaviour lightens what is really a very evil character, a facet Carrey portrays with spine tingling malevolence. Connolly and Streep too enjoy their turns as quirky guardians, bringing out the fun of the piece.
While it goes some way towards showing children that life isn't all good, 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' never goes far enough. Carrey's Olaf is too comedic to be truly evil and there is never a doubt that the series will ultimately end happily. It's an intelligent children's film, but it's no Harry Potter.