Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning), her intelligent brother Klaus (Liam Aiken), and their baby sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) are orphaned when a mysterious fire destroys their house. Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), in charge of the Baudelaire fortune, entrusts them to their closest relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who only wants their money and makes them do harsh chores.
On the day Olaf receives full custody, he drives to a gas station and claims that he is buying soda, but it turns out Olaf parked the car directly on railroad tracks in hopes of it getting hit by a train. Thankfully, Violet and Klaus are able to turn the direction of the train so it doesnt hit them. Mr. Poe then arrives and thinks Sunny was driving the car. Klaus insists Olaf tried to kill them. He takes the children away from Olaf for this "irresponsibility" but does not believe the children when they tell him the truth.
The orphans are then taken to stay with Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (Billy Connolly), a herpetologist planning to take the children to Peru. However, Olaf arrives in disguise as "Stephano". Violet tries to tell Monty the truth, but he thinks Stephano is after a snake called The Incredible Deadly Viper. Monty is found dead the next day and authorities have been tricked into thinking the viper was responsible, but Sunny is able to prove it is actually a gentle creature. Mr. Poe again takes the children and insists the police will catch "Stephano", and ignores the childrens claims that it was actually Olaf in disguise.
The children then live with their Aunt Josephine, an irrationally afraid woman. While shopping at a market, Violet and Klaus encounter Olaf, disguised as a sailor. When the Baudelaires get home after shopping, Josephine is gone and a hurricane is approaching. Klaus decodes a note Josephine had left and discovers she is in Curdled Cave. During the hurricane it is discovered in a secret room there were people investigating fires. The children escape the house before it falls to the sea.
After Sailing Lake Lachrymose the children find Josephine, but before they reach civilization their boat is attacked by leeches, and Olaf appears, and kills Josephine by pushing her into the waters after she corrects his grammar.
The Baudelaires are then placed back in Olafs custody. Olaf and Violet are then immediately involved in a play called The Marvelous Marriage, which involves their characters being married. However Olaf has set up the performance to be an actual legal marriage because the law states if relatives are married they are entitled to their spouses money. Olaf enlists the help his neighbor Justice Strauss (Catherine OHara) to perform in the "play" and unwittingly officiate the marriage. Olaf explains to Violet that Sunny is being held hostage in a cage and if Violet does not say her "lines" or finds a loophole, Sunny will fall to her death. The ceremony goes as Olaf planned and he reveals that the marriage is legal, to the horror of the judge and audience.
Klaus escapes and finds a secret part of Olafs estate. After adjusting an eye-shaped window Klaus realizes that it was Olaf that caused their family mansion to catch fire. Klaus uses the window to burn the marriage certificate, foiling the Counts plans. Olaf is tried for his action and sentenced to be put through the hardships he had caused the children. He serves most of this punishment but eventually escapes. Violet, Klaus and Sunny are allowed to visit their old home one last time. A letter lost in the mail finally arrives, and inside is a spyglass announcing their familys secret society. The film ends with the children being "Very Fortunate Indeed".
The film featured uncredited appearances by Jane Lynch as a realtor, Helena Bonham Carter as Beatrice Baudelaire, and Dustin Hoffman as a critic.
Author Daniel Handler initially viewed Count Olaf as being a James Mason-type. Carrey was not familiar with the book series when he was cast, but he became a fan of the series. "Handlers books are just a bold and original way to tell a childrens story," the actor explained. Carrey was also attracted to the role despite self-parody concerns. Director Brad Silberling was open to Carreys idea of improvisation for various scenes, especially the Stephano and Captain Sham alter egos. To make his prosthetic makeup more comfortable and easier to apply, Carrey shaved his head bald for the part. The actors inspiration for Olafs voice was combining the voices of Orson Welles and Bela Lugosi.
Emily Browning was cast as Violet Baudelaire when she auditioned at a casting call in Australia. She was sent Handlers original script when Barry Sonnenfeld was planning to direct, and she screen tested for the part using an English accent. The actor was not cast until Silberling took over; her characters accent was then changed to American. Browning became a fan of the books after reading Handlers original script.
Nickelodeon Movies purchased the film rights of the A Series of Unfortunate Events book series in May 2000. Paramount Pictures, owner of Nickelodeon Movies, agreed to co-finance, along with Scott Rudin. Various directors, including Terry Gilliam and Roman Polanski, were interested in making the film. One of author Daniel Handlers favorite candidates was Guy Maddin. In June 2002, Barry Sonnenfeld was hired to direct. He was chosen because he previously collaborated with Rudin and because of his black comedy directing style from The Addams Family, Addams Family Values and Get Shorty. Sonnenfeld referred to the Lemony Snicket books as his favorite childrens stories. The director hired Handler to write the script with the intention of making Lemony Snicket as a musical, and cast Jim Carrey as Count Olaf in September 2002.
The film suffered setbacks in development in December 2002. Rudin left Unfortunate Events over budget concerns. While Sonnenfeld and Carrey remained, Sonnenfeld admitted he was skeptical of Paramounts $100 million budget. The studio decided that changing the shoot from Hollywood to Wilmington, North Carolina would be less expensive. The April 2003 start date was also pushed back. Paramount eventually settled the situation in January 2003 by enlisting help from DreamWorks to co-finance the film, but Sonnenfeld vacated the directors position. Rudin and Sonnenfeld had no involvement with the film afterward, but were credited as executive producers. Carrey remained with approval over the hiring of the next director.
Brad Silberling signed on to direct in February 2003. He was not familiar with the book series when he was first approached. He quickly read the first three books and was excited that "Hollywood was taking a chance to put over $100 million to adapt these inventive childrens books onto screen". Handler, who wrote eight drafts of the script for Sonnenfeld, was replaced by Robert Gordon in May 2003. Handler approved of the changes that were made to his original screenplay. "I was offered credit on the film for screenwriting by the Writers Guild of America," Handler continued, "but I didnt take it because I didnt write it. I felt like it would be an insult to the guy who did."
Filming was set to begin in October 2003, but it was pushed back. Principal photography for Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events began on November 10, 2003, using the sound stages and backlot at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Director Brad Silberling avoided using too many digital or chroma key effects because he wanted the younger actors to feel as if they were working in a realistic environment. Olafs mansion occupied two sound stages, while the graveyard and the ruins of the Baudelaire mansion were constructed on the Paramount back lot. After 21 weeks of shooting at Paramount, production then moved to Downey Studios, a former NASA facility in Downey, California, for eight more weeks. Downey housed the circular railroad crossing set complete with forced perspective scenery, as well as a newly constructed water tank complete with over one million gallons of water. The water tank was instrumental in filming scenes set at Briny Beach, Lake Lachrymose, Damocles Dock and Curdled Cave. Filming for A Series of Unfortunate Events ended on May 29, 2004.
Silberling, production designer Rick Heinrichs and costume designer Colleen Atwood all aimed for the films setting to be ambiguous, giving it a "timeless" feel. Heinrichs also added steampunk designs to the period. To contribute to the setting, Silberling hired Emmanuel Lubezki as the cinematographer because he was impressed with the trios work on Sleepy Hollow.
Lubezki compared the cinematic similarities to Sleepy Hollow, notably the monochromatic look of both films. He also chose a specific color palette backdrop for A Series of Unfortunate Events. "The story is very episodic, so we picked a different color scheme for each section. For example", Lubezki continued, "Count Olafs house has a lot of greens, blacks and grays; the house of Uncle Monty has a lot of greens and browns and a bit of yellow; and the house of Aunt Josephine has blues and blacks." The railroad crossing set was constructed on a cyclorama, which was the most ambitious setpiece for the art department on using elements of "in house" special effects and matte paintings.
Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), supervised by Stefen Fangmeier, created the films 505 visual effects-shots. The filmmakers used as few digital effects as possible, though the train and smoke for the railroad crossing scene was entirely created using computer animation. ILM also used color grading techniques for the Lake Lachrymose scene, which required complete animation for the leeches. The digital animators studied footage of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season to accurately depict Hurricane Herman, which was ILMs most ambitious use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) for the film.
Nexus Productions designed the opening "Littlest Elf" animated sequence by modeling it after stop motion animation and completing it with computer animation. The snakes at Uncle Montys house were a combination of real snakes and animatronics. The animatronics, primarily the Incredibly Deadly Viper, were used as reference models that ILM later enhanced using CGI.
Because working with infants was sometimes risky in producing a film, four scenes involving Sunny Baudelaire required CGI with motion capture technology. Among these are the shot of Sunny hanging on to a table by her teeth, catching a spindle with her mouth and the scene where she is entangled with the Incredibly Deadly Viper. Animation supervisor Colin Brady used his baby daughter for motion capture recording. A remote controlled animatronic of Sunny was also designed by Kevin Yagher.
In October 2002, Nickelodeon Movies hired Activision (who actually had a partnership with DreamWorks) to create the films tie-in video game. The agreement also included options for sequels. Director Brad Silberling delivered his first cut of the film to the studio in August 2004. Fearing his original version was "too dark", Paramount and DreamWorks conducted test screenings. The film was then re-edited over family-friendliness concerns. Given its December release, the films marketing campaign was criticized for being a deliberately anti-holiday comedy with taglines like, "Taking the cheer out of Christmas" and "Mishaps. Misadventures. Mayhem. Oh Joy." The premiere for Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events was held at the Cinerama Dome on December 13, 2004. A 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) tent display on Vine Street was decorated with pieces from the films sets.
The film was released in the United States and Canada on December 17, 2004 in 3,620 theaters, earning $30,061,756 in its opening weekend. In its run, A Series of Unfortunate Events managed to stay in the number one position for its first week, before facing competition from Meet the Fockers, The Aviator and Coach Carter. The film eventually grossed $118,634,549 in US totals and $90,439,096 elsewhere, coming to a worldwide total of $209,073,645. It was the highest grossing film under the Nickelodeon Movies banner until being surpassed by The Last Airbender, Rango, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Lemony Snickets a Series of Unfortunate Events was released on DVD and VHS on April 26, 2005. A Portuguese-labeled All-Region Blu-ray was released in 2012 and then an American Region A Blu-ray was released on September 9, 2014.
The film has garnered mostly favorable reviews. Based on reviews from 159 critics collected by the rating website Rotten Tomatoes, the film was given a score of 72%, with an average score of 6.6 out of 10. Metacritic calculated that the film received generally favorable reviews from critics with an average score of 62 out of 100, based on 37 reviews.
Robert K. Elder of the Chicago Tribune praised Rick Heinrichss production design and Jim Carrey for having a balanced performance as a scene stealer. Elder called the film "exceptionally clever, hilariously gloomy and bitingly subversive." Desson Thomson from The Washington Post reasoned over a fellow film-goers characterization of Count Olaf, "Olaf is a humorless villain in the book. Hes not amusing like Carrey at all. To which I would counter: If you cant let Carrey be Carrey, put someone boring and less expensive in the role. In his various disguises hes rubbery, inventive and improvisationally inspired. I particularly liked his passing imitation of a dinosaur."
Ty Burr, writing in The Boston Globe, observed, "Director Brad Silberling has essentially made a Tim Burton movie without the weird shafts of adolescent pain. At the same time, Silberlings not a hack like Chris Columbus, and Snicket has more zip and inspired filmcraft than the first two Harry Potter films. The films no masterpiece, but at least youre in the hands of people who know what theyre doing. The movie, like the books, flatters childrens innate sense that the world is not a perfect place and that anyone who insists otherwise is trying to sell you something. How you deal with the cognitive dissonance of a $125 million Hollywood picture telling you this is up to you. At least there are no Lemony Snicket Happy Meals. Yet."
Internet reviewer James Berardinelli felt that "the film is first and foremost a fantasy, but there are dark currents running just beneath the surface. I give Silberling credit for not allowing them to swallow the film. Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events manages to remain witty throughout." Roger Ebert gave a mixed review: "Jim Carrey is over the top as Count Olaf, but I suppose a character named Count Olaf is over the top by definition. I liked the film, but Ill tell you what. I think this one is a tune-up for the series, a trial run in which they figure out what works and what needs to be tweaked. The original Spider-Man was a disappointment, but the same team came back and made Spider-Man 2, the best superhero movie ever made." Scott Foundas of Variety gave a negative review, criticizing the filmmakers for sacrificing the storyline in favor of visual elements such as set design and cinematography. He wrote, "A Series of Unfortunate Events suggests what Mary Poppins might have looked like had Tim Burton directed it. Not surprisingly, Burtons longtime production designer Rick Heinrichs was responsible for the sets, while ace Emmanuel Lubezki (Burtons Sleepy Hollow) contributed the expressionistic lighting schemes."
Makeup designer Valli OReilly and Bill Corso won the Academy Award for Best Makeup. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and set decorator Cheryl Carasik (Art Direction), Colleen Atwood (Costume Design) and composer Thomas Newman (Original Music Score) were also nominated for their work at 77th Academy Awards. The film lost the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film to Spider-Man 2, but was honored for its DVD special edition release. OReilly and Corso were also nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Make-up, but lost to Hellboy.
Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies hoped the film would become a franchise like the Harry Potter film series. Jim Carrey thought his character would be good as the basis for a film franchise since it would allow him to dive into a new role. "I dont have a deal [for a sequel], but its one that I wouldnt mind doing again because there are so many characters," the actor explained in December 2004. "I mean, its just so much fun. Its so much fun being a bad actor playing a character..." In May 2005, producer Laurie MacDonald said "Lemony Snicket is still something Paramount is interested in pursuing and were going to be talking with them more."
In October 2008, Daniel Handler said that "a sequel does seem to be in the works. Paramount has had quite a few corporate shakeups, which has led to many a delay. Of course, many, many plans in Hollywood come to naught, but Im assured that another film will be made. Someday. Perhaps." In June 2009, Silberling confirmed he still talked about the project with Handler, and suggested the sequel be a stop motion film because the lead actors have grown too old. "In an odd way, the best thing you could do is actually have Lemony Snicket say to the audience, Okay, we pawned the first film off as a mere dramatization with actors. Now Im afraid I’m going to have to show you the real thing." As of 2014, sequel ideas have not been mentioned for 5 years and have most likely been shelved.
In November 2014, Netflix was in talks of creating an online television series for all of the books. The series will be released online in 2016.
Hotel for Dogs (2009). Timothy Spall appears in Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events and Alice in Wonderland. Jim Carrey appears in Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events and Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Cat in the Hat (2003). Julia Pistor was an executive producer for Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Spiderwick Chronicles.
A video game based on the books and film (more so the film, as the name and many plot elements seen in the movie but not the book are seen) was released in 2004 by Adrenium Games and Activision for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, and the PC as Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events. The player plays as all three orphans at points in the game, and encounters characters such as Mr. Poe, Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine, along with villains such as Count Olaf, the hook-handed man, the white-faced women, and the bald-headed man. The game, like the movie, follows only the first three books in the series. Although never mentioned in the game there are some references to V.F.D. such as while in the first level a package is delivered from the "Very Fast Delivery Service." The note attached to the package also reads at the end "P.S. The world is quiet here," which is the motto of V.F.D.