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When the Baudelaire children become the Baudelaire orphans after a terrible fire that burns down their family home, the trustee, Mr Poe (Timothy Spall) leaves them with Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), not realising he is a wily villain with clever disguises and outrageous schemes, who is bent on swindling the orphans out of their family fortune. So 14 year old inventor Violet (Emily Browning), her young brother, the eager reader, Klaus (Liam Aiken) and their toddler sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) the keen biter, are thrust into Count Olaf's unloving care, from whence they urgently try to escape. But Count Olaf is a determined fortune hunter (and bad actor)...When Mr Poe sees an example of his unsuitability as a guardian, he takes the orphans first to Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) and after an unfortunate event there, to Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), where another unfortunate event leaves them back where they started. With dreadful Count Olaf.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inventive ideas catapult off the screen and characters larger than life reach out to embrace the audience in a story telling hug that lasts throughout the film's running time. I doubt that there is a child between, say, 6 and 16, or between 25 and 85, who will be satisfied with a single visit to Lemony Snicket's world, as imagined by a production team that has a rightful claim to a handful of awards for their work.

From the fantastic creation of Count Olaf's chaotic, dusty, tacky house - a mirror of Count Olaf's dark and dusty soul - to the impossible cottage gripping the lakeside cliff face with spindly timber tentacles where Aunt Jospehine lives her trepidatious life, with an irrational fear of everything, even real estate agents (ok, so that's not so irrational), the film is a myriad visual delights. The retro cars (there are only two) are fitted with black cradle phones and music comes via tapes spooling in the dashboard.

Hair and make up, wardrobe and props all combine to form a unified, recognisable and invented world that is as real as the inside of our imagination - only more so. This makes it easy to slip into this world of danger and adventure, where greed and selfishness are the baddies - and they both reside within Count Olaf. Jim Carrey is barely recognisable inside the character, or under the disguises that Olaf adopts. It's a work of masterly technique and brilliant talent; he makes it look easy and natural, but making it was an eight month routine from hell, in which a daily make up session took three hours, his fingernails weren't cut and his head was constantly shaved to accommodate the elaborately wispy wigs.

Excellent support comes from the three (actually four) child actors, who provide the focus for the children in the audience, characters with whom many will associate. Australian actress Emily Browning plays the heroine, the responsible eldest child who has to provide leadership and find the courage to keep going. It's a character whose example should help young girls to identify and value their better natures.

Meryl Streep and Timothy Spall sparkle in their small but important roles, both taking things seriously enough for all the unfortunate events to matter.

The film combines nail biting tension with various kinds of humour, from the simple to the sophisticated, from the obvious to the subtle.

All of the film's building blocks are on display in the features on the DVD; the most revealing perhaps is the feature on building the Olaf characters, as we watch Jim Carrey in the dressing room, work through his vocal characterisation while he's getting made up, all in the company of director Brad Silberling. The latter appears in several of the special features, helping to document the creation of this world in a visual form, with constant reference to the source - the written word.

The DVD design is suitably in graphic keeping with the film's approach, but the odd thing is that while the material is aimed at children, it never ever condescends. Silberling treats his audience as seriously as adults, and that make the extras a bit more special.

One of the more novel extras is interactive Olaf, in which there is a choice of four screens - all of them on display at the same time - but with an audio symbol. As you move the audio symbol from one to the other, you hear the different audio tracks. These are the four Olaf character screen tests, but it's not the monologues that fascinate, but Carrey's voice variety.

As for the commentaries, Silberling's solo act is straightforward stuff, putting the film in context and revealing the making of process, with some anecdotes and insights. But the whimsy continues with the double act of Silberling and the 'real' writer Snicket gets into the surreal and absurd and entertainingly silly.

Published May 26, 2005

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CAST: Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Kara Hoffman, Shelby Hoffman, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly

VOICES: Jude Law

PRODUCER: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes

DIRECTOR: Brad Silberling

SCRIPT: Robert Gordon, Daniel Handler


EDITOR: Dylan Tichenor

MUSIC: Thomas Newman


RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 16, 2004

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Brad Silberling; commentary by Silberling and writer Lemony Snicket; creating Olaf characters; casting the children; interactive Olaf; deleted scenes and outtakes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: DreamWorks Home Ent

DVD RELEASE: May 25, 2005

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