Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events Two Disc Special Collector's Edition Studio: Paramount Year: 2004 Rated: PG Length: 107 Minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Anamorphically enhanced Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1: English, French, Spanish English Subtitles Closed Captioned Special Features: Two Commentaries, 11 deleted scenes, outtakes, many featurettes, demos, galleries, etc S.R.P..: $30, USD Release Date: April 26, 2005 I’ve never read a Lemony Snicket book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began viewing Lemony Snicket’s - A Series of Unfortunate Events. I had heard it described as a dark comedy... but that’s all I had to go on. Reading the dust jacket didn’t help, either: Dear Viewer, If you enjoy movies filled with singing rabbits, exploding spaceships, or cheerleaders, you are holding the wrong DVD entirely. This movie is extremely alarming, an expression which here means “a thrilling misadventure involving three ingenious orphans and a villainous actor named Count Olaf (Carrey) who wants their enormous fortune.” It includes a suspicious fire, delicious pasta, Jim Carrey, poorly behaved leeches, an incredibly deadly viper, Meryl Streep, and the voice of an impostor named Jude Law... Having heard only that this was a dark comedy, and having read the dust jacket, I settled into my recliner, remote in hand, and fired up the ol’ DVD player. So, essentially, we start off watching as the Baudelaire children learn of the death of their parents in a house fire. While they certainly seem saddened by the news, they don’t react as I would imagine them to, having just been told they are orphans. But, I suppose, a flood of tears as part of a realistic reaction would put a damper on the comedy. The Baudelaire’s banker, Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) is tasked with delivering the children - inventor Violet (an adorable Emily Browning), bookworm Klaus (Liam Aiken) and the infant, toothy Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) to their closest living relative - their fourth cousin three times removed (or perhaps it is third cousin four times removed). This distant cousin is Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). I should take a moment and note that I’m not a big fan of Jim Carrey. His characterization as Count Olaf here is over the top... but I guess that comes as no surprise. “Over-the-top” is a registered trademark of the irascible characterizations of Mr. Carrey. For all I know, his characterization may be 100% accurately ripped from the pages of the books. Olaf, of course, wants nothing more than to kill the children and take their fortune, which was left to them by their parents. Olaf is the impetus of all of the unfortunate events which will befall the Baudelaires. After it becomes apparent what Olaf’s intentions are, the unfortunate children are placed in the care of a succession of eccentric distant relatives, including herpetologist Uncle Monty - the owner of the aforementioned “incredibly deadly viper,” which, it turns out, is a rather playful beast. Monty is delightfully portrayed by Billy Connolly. Another relative we meet is Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep) who is pantophobic, and lives in a house which is precariously balanced upon stilts, poised to drop over a cliff and into the ocean at any moment. Now, why would a pantophobe live there? For that matter, why would anyone? Bad things happen to good people in this film, however - and the children must move on to one relative after another. All the while, Olaf is in pursuit. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. For a comedy (even a dark comedy), this film has a high body count. The children, who seem to have lived a rather sheltered life up 'til now, seem to take all this death and mayhem in stride. A dark comedy is an oxymoronic affair. Too dark, and the comedy falls flat. To funny, and you just aren’t afraid of the bad guy. This is the one problem with A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s got a few chuckles, but no guffaws. The bad guy certainly is evil, but he instills no fear. I found the film to be an odd curiosity of the dark fantasy realm. I was entranced by the wonderfully eccentric production design, and most of the characters were wonderfully rendered. These were the saving graces. The story, however, was only galloping on three hooves. Lux and Decibels The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is anamorphically enhanced. The picture is gorgeous. It features excellent detail with no obvious ringing. Contrast is outstanding, with excellent black levels and strong, restrained whites. Detail is preserved in both shadow and highlight. Colors and textures are beautifully rendered, showing off the lavish production design. The transfer really lets the sets and lighting design shine. The audio is presented with options for three different languages in Dolby Digital 5.1 - English, French and Spanish. There are also two English commentary tracks. The English 5.1 track sounds quite nice. The sound design of this film is almost as lavish as the visual design. Wonderful ambient sounds actively emanate from proper locations around the soundfield, while the fitting but eccentric score is well rendered throughout. Frequency response is very good, with solid bass and good low frequency effects, when called for - though I’d have liked a touch more punch in the LFE in a couple of key scenes. Both video and audio are very well presented. The Main Menu, Disc One Special Features A general note on the featurettes... These featurettes are put together differently from most I’ve seen. There is a lot of raw behind-the-scenes footage, some set to music, some with text commentary, and all interspersed with occasional on-set or produced interviews with various crewmembers, including director Brad Silberling. I very much like the “you-are-there” feel to these featurettes. Some of them, however, could use some judicious trimming. The featurettes are anamorphically enhanced. Disc One Bad Beginnings Building a Bad Actor (12:46) We watch Jim Carrey practicing his characterizations while sitting in the makeup chair. Brad Silberling talks about doing the screen tests with Carrey, and we see clips from the tests. There was lots of improvisation that helped to build the character. Making the Baudelaire Children Miserable (3:05) Silberling talks about casting the children who are the anchors of the film, and we see some screen tests as well. Interactive Olaf (9:18) A four-way split screen presents four different screen tests of four different Jim Carrey characterizations. You can switch audio tracks on the fly by selecting a quadrant. While it’s an interesting presentation with some good improvisation by Carrey, I wonder why they don’t offer these segments in a traditional, screen-filled format. Alarming Audio Commentaries Two commentaries are available - one with Brad Silberling, and one with Silberling and The Real Lemony Snicket. Brad Silberling: Mr. Silberling talks about his unfamiliarity with the Lemony Snicket stories when he got the call to direct the film. He read the first three books and wanted to do all he could to create the world on film. He talks at length about “world building.” The entire film, interiors and exteriors, was shot on soundstages for over a year, monopolizing the Paramount lot. He talks about improvisation and collaboration. I didn’t have the time to listen to the entire commentary, but there wasn’t even the slightest pause in the 20 minutes that I listened to. Silberling goes a little too fast, changes topics frequently, and only occasionally talks about what is on the screen. There’s a lot of information here, but you’ll have to work to keep up. Brad Silberling and The Real Lemony Snicket This is very much a tongue in cheek commentary, with Silberling and Snicket trading comments on the books versus the film. While not much detailed information is presented, it is an interesting commentary for the comedy value - for awhile. Orphaned Scenes Dismal Deletions (14:21) 11 deleted scenes with a “play all” feature. There is no commentary available, which would help to place these scenes in context. Violet’s Rock Retriever The Count Kills Shakespeare Alone in the World Casting the Marvelous Carriage (extended) Extended Puttanesca Monty’s Montage Sham Goes A-Courtin’ Aunt Jo’s Demise Life in the Theater The Marvelous Marriage Olaf’s Escape Obnoxious Outtakes (14:35) An odd collection of outtakes with a “play all” feature... no commentary available. Most aren’t especially funny. Working with Sunny Olaf’s Workshop Odious Count Olaf Moments in the Marvelous Marriage The Critic and the Cop Previews Madagascar The Spongebob Squarepants Movie Disc Two A Terrible Tragedy: Alarming Evidence From The Making Of The Film A Woeful World (54:30) This piece explores the production and art design, as well as prop building, for the film. We get to see how extensive the work was to achieve the look of the film - there isn’t a stock object in sight. All the furniture, vehicles and props were either designed from scratch, or were completely remodeled for the film. We also see practical effects, behind the scenes, as the scenes are being shot. Director Silberling, at times, presents us with some original visions for the film, which had to be altered due to the difficulty of producing the practical effects on the set. There’s some funny stuff with Billy Connolly and the snakes, and some footage of young Liam Aiken working with the snakes as well. While there is much of interest here, and it is interesting to see the exploration and problem solving processes on the set, this segment could have easily been trimmed in half and still have gotten its message across. Costumes And Other Suspicious Disguises (16:42) Costume designers and actors discuss the process of creating costumes and disguises for the film. Included is test footage of costumes, clips from the film and bits of raw set footage. Violet’s Functional Designs (10:40) This featurette covers many of Violet’s inventions, from the perspective of the people trying to get these practical effects caught on film. We even see a couple of things that didn’t make the final cut. CAUTION! Incredibly Deadly Vipers (8:48) This is a closeup look at the snakes, lizards, tortoises and other reptiles seen in the film. We see the precautions taken with the venomous animals, and with the children and other people on the set. The Sad Score (13:35) Composer Thomas Newman and director Brad Silberling talk about the music for the film. Volume. Frequency. Decibels. The Unsound Sound Designer (30:01) How better to create the sounds of destruction than to put a whole bunch of microphones inside a house and demolish it? For nearly half of this featurette, we watch as the sound designers record their deeds of destruction. Other topics include animal sounds (snakes, leeches), etc. We also sit in on a mixing session. Interesting stuff... but, again, twenty minutes would have sufficed. You Probably Shouldn’t Listen To These Those interested in sound design will find these demonstrations of interest. Tree, Meet House Here, you have the ability to listen to the tree crashing sound effect from seven different microphone placements, as well as the final mix. The Terrible Train Here, you can select to hear eight different layers of sound effects of the train scene, independently - as well as the final mix. Sinister Special Effects An Alarming Conspiracy Involving Sunny (6:20) How do you build a robot baby? Interesting stuff about creating the animatronic character. An Even More Alarming Conspiracy Involving Sunny (20:20) How do you build a digital baby? More interesting stuff. This featurette hits many of the finer artistic points in recreating a human figure in 3D - and making it real. The Terrible Fire (5:51) This short piece shows the creation of a complicated composite shot - before and after the fire. Trains, Leeches & Hurricanes (9:20) This piece wraps up the series of featurettes on visual effects by discussing... trains, leeches and hurricanes... all 100% CGI. Gruesome Galleries Three page-through galleries containing sketches, model shots, production shots, etc., appear in these categories: Shadowy Stills A Woeful World Costumes and Other Suspicious Disguises Final Thoughts I have mixed feelings about the film. It wasn’t what I expected, and the screenplay was a bit weak. However, the eccentric characterizations and the wonderful production design had me riveted. Nearly 4 hours of bonus features, plus commentaries add to the value of this two disc set. I like the style of these featurettes - they deliver truly interesting content. Though, many could have been trimmed without losing any impact. Right off the bat, my enthusiasm was dampened by a forced anti-piracy trailer. Do they really think this trailer will make those who make illegal copies feel guilty? Realistically, all it does it tick off the honest Joe. The forced anti-piracy trailer is followed by two forced theatrical previews and ads for movie soundtracks. Once again, Paramount has seen fit to include forced previews for other films, yet the trailer for this film is nowhere to be found. To sum up... an interesting, if imperfect film with a very good transfer and a good set of extras makes this release a valuable asset to the DVD collections of fans of the film. Recommended.