You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.
Exodus 22:22 Behold, the wicked man conceives evil, and is pregnant with mischief, and brings forth lies.
Psalm 7:14 (RSV)
Although very watchable, Brad Silberling (director) and Robert Gordon’s (writer) adaptation of the first three or four of Lemony Snicket’s books will disappoint fans of the books. (The author of the books actually signs his checks as Daniel Handler.) There is too much Hollywood touch (special effects and such) to the film, although not nearly as terrible as the case with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Part of the problem also lies with Jim Carrey’s way over the top performance as Count Olaf, the first of a series of guardians for the Baudelaire orphans. Yes, the film begins, as the first book does, with family banker Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), interrupting a pleasant outing of the three children with the sad news that their parents have perished in a fire that destroyed their home and all of their possessions. He then scarcely gives them time to catch their breath before conveying them into the hands of a very distant cousin, Count Olaf, who soon regards the children as obstacles to his laying his greedy hands on their inheritance.
One would think that such a calamity was a fit way to begin a children’s story, but the author taps into a number of themes that both scare and thrill children of middle school age. The loss of parents and the dependability of life that parents guarantee, juxtaposed with a child’s desire for adventure unfettered by the those same adults. Add in a child’s delight at seeing children smarter than adults, a large measure of droll humor, plus a fascination with the sound and meaning of big words (child readers are bound to increase their vocabulary.), and you can readily see why the 11 books in the series have been so popular with children.
The child actors are excellent, 14 year-old Violet Baudelaire played by Emily Browning; 12 year-old Klaus portrayed by (Liam Aiken); and the baby Baudelaire, Sunny requiring twins, Kara and Shelby Hoffman. Each character has a particular strength that makes for a team able to cope with the numerous disasters that come their way—Violet is always thinking up inventions; Klaus is a voracious reader and thinker; and Sunny has a bite greater even than that of a snapping turtle. Rounding out the cast are Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine, whose fears rival those of Charlie brown; and Jude Law providing the voice of the supposed narrator, Lemony Snicket (thus assuring that some of the delightful humor of the original text is transferred to the movie.)
The film is rated PG to warn parents that some scenes will be too scary for young children—and much of the humor sails above their heads. This is another children’s film that adults can enjoy, despite Jim Carey’s hammy scenes—and best of all, maybe it will entice adults who have missed the treat of reading the original books to give them a try, with or without children present.