I was ten when this movie came out. I’d read the books out at the time, and quite enjoyed them. I also liked Jim Carrey plenty (I was, and still am, a particular fan of “The Mask”). I expected the movie to be good and indeed, I enjoyed it a lot, and rewatched it many times on DVD.
Thirteen years later, I return to the movie after watching the first six episodes of Netflix’s new adaptation of the books. Those six episodes covered the same books the movie does. I’ve overall enjoyed the show so far, but my memories of the film were that it was a better experience, if for nothing other than Jim Carrey’s performances alone.
Returning to the film, I’m surprised to see that it is legitimately fantastic. So much either went over my head as a kid, or I just subconsciously absorbed, but watching it with keener eyes now, there’s so much to love.
Jim Carrey’s performance is the star of the show, undoubtedly. He delivers three unique performances, all hilarious, all excellent. The special features reveal extended improvisational work he did further crafting the unique comic personas of the characters, and he makes the crew and fellow cast members laugh as much I do watching him from the screen. His timing, phrasing, delivery, body language…everything about his performances is just so damn funny.
His co-stars are also very good, particularly in light of my watching the Netflix adaptation. The kids here are infinitely better actors. Emily Browning is sharp and stands her own against Carrey, Liam Aiken delivers the strongest performance of the three kids, and the babies playing Sunny are never distracting (meanwhile, on the Netflix show, the baby is constantly having reactions from different takes awkwardly composited in with painfully obvious VFX). Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket may be the one improved performance of the show over the film, but that might just be because Jude Law gets so little material to work with. Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep all great, Craig Ferguson is unrecognisable, and Dustin Hoffman has some of the best comic lines of the film is some unfortunately deleted scenes.
Emmanuel Lubezki does excellent work here, as can be expected of him. The visuals of the film totally enforce the comic melancholy that’s so vital to the tone. Everything about the film is so stylised, the entire aesthetic. The indeterminate time period (many parts are ostensibly present-day, but Violet is rocking very gothic fishnet dresses, steampunk tools abound, and so on) is conveyed so well through some of the creative visualwork. I love the use of matte paintings; the film totally embraces being completely stylised, not in anyway attempting to feel just “real”. The colour styles of each of the segments of the film (in the city, in the country, by the sea) shift in interesting ways. The overt uses of CGI tend towards the fantastical, like the creative reptiles.
The score is at times twee, but other times appropriately sinister. The art direction is gorgeous, fantastical and timeless. The cinematography is creative, and communicates the mindsets of the children during the different episodes of their lives very well. The writing makes a lot of smart adaptations from the books to form a cohesive single film out of three very episodic books (I particularly like Klaus’ actions in the ending and how they form a proper emotional climax for the three kids, that helps the fact there were never any film sequels feel less of a short straw). The acting is tremendous. Truly, this is a film a lot greater than I remembered, and I already remembered it fondly. I give it four little elves, and a banana.