Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Film Cemetery

Case Study #17

Where we explore the more 
obscure movies that bombed

Lemony Snicket was 
supposed to spawn a series

I think I may know why it didn't....

First things first. 2004 was an extremely crappy year for films, with three notable exceptions.

Both Hidalgo and Hellboy were released in 2004, and finally - on my birthday - the weird and wonderful Lemony Snicket's - A Series of Unfortunate Events came out in theaters. 

This film is based on Daniel Handler's first three books of his Lemony series, the rights of which were bought by Nickelodeon Studios in 2000.

I am going to tell you right up front that my movie-loving daughter was six at the time...but I went to see the film alone. 

Even just going by the previews, I knew the film was too dark for little Ivy.

The numbers bear this out. Lemony Snicket cost 142 million to make, earning back 118 million in the U.S. - and another 90 mil overseas. 

Like I've said before, studio execs look at the earnings posted here in the states very carefully. This movie was a critical success. As for financially, though, it teeters right on the edge. 

Lemony Snicket is a very engaging, but rather sad, story of three wealthy siblings that lose their parents, and are then pawned off on a string of irresponsible relatives...including a diabolical Jim Carrey.

Lemony Snicket is literally a treasure trove of forced perspective camera angles, ILM special effects, wonderful cameos, beautiful matte paintings and strange cars. I have no idea what Count Olaf drove, but Mr. Poe's Tatra 603 is detailed here

I like the thought the production designers put into this movie. 

And you can always tell when a movie studio is friggin' serious about making a quality film when they hire on Colleen Atwood. She is, quite simply, the best costume designer in the business.

On to the movie....

Lemony Snicket is narrated by Jude Law, and opens with a clever introduction on the kids. Klaus Baudelaire, played by Liam Aiken, is a super-genius and avid book lover. 

His sister Violet (Emily Browning) is a problem solver and inventor, while the youngest is Sunny the Biter. 

Kara and Shelby Hoffman - the twin toddlers that play Sunny, steal this film. Sunny's best lines are in subtitles at the bottom of the screen - and they are laugh-out-loud funny.

The Baudelaire kids are informed by their banker, Mr. Poe, that their parents have just died in a fire that also took their home. 

Poe (Timothy Spall) takes them to live with a distant relative, Count Olaf. (Jim Carrey)

Olaf treats the kids horribly, and because he wants their fortune, he tries to kill them. Attempted murder is not very serious in this realm, apparently, and Poe takes the kids to live with Billy Connolly - as Uncle Monty, which doesn't work out. 

Then Poe takes the Baudelaire kids to live high up in a rickety house owned by Meryl Streep (as Aunt Josephine).

There are scary sea eels, collapsing buildings, huge slithering snakes, close encounters with a train and other stuff. Sadly, none of it is appropriate for a young audience. 

I should note that Carrey's character is a wannabe actor, and he appears in various disguises to steal the Baudelaire fortune....and even more inappropriately - as well as icky - is Count Olaf's decision to marry to Violet. Bleck.

I am not going to tell you how everything turns out, you need to watch Lemony Snicket and find out for yourself.

Why it failed....

I think that three factors were at play concerning Lemony Snicket and why it never became the 'next' Harry Potter. 

***For one thing, a great story needs a little bit of happiness, especially when it's geared toward children. 

There is no happy ending in Lemony Snicket, overall it's a very dark film. And quite scary, to boot. Orphans in movies are nothing new. Harry Potter is one, after all. But this film takes that subject to a very personal level.

***Secondly, Jim Carrey.

Carrey is absolutely terrific in the role of Count Olaf, let's be clear about that. Olaf is so over-the-top it beggars belief, and I really can't imagine anyone else handling the character as well as Carrey does. 

You handsome man, you

But Carrey - to me and a lot of other people, is a bit like radiation - best taken in very small doses. And Carrey - in 2004, had worn people out. Period. 

Yes, Carrey owned the 90s, and Bruce Almighty was great, but Lemony Snicket was his last decent role. Sure, there have been a couple of other films since 2004, they are practically straight-to-DVD offerings, though. 

And if you thought Carrey's strange fascination with Emma Stone was odd, I can tell you that his thoughts on 14-year-old co-star Emily Browning are downright creepy.

***Thirdly, nobody had ever heard of the Lemony Snicket book series until the movie posters were plastered everywhere announcing what the film was based on. Unlike Harry Potter, there wasn't a built-in following.

Lemony Snicket's - A Series of Unfortunate Events is terrific entertainment and well worth watching. The director, Brad Silberling, put a lot of effort into making this film enjoyable - and this is extremely ironic. 

You see, Silberling had been turned down to direct the first Harry Potter movie. He was devasted by the rejection, mainly because he'd already planned the entire film in his head. That Lemony Snicket never spawned a sequel must really be a thorn in his side.

It doesn't matter now. Go out and buy this movie, or order it on Amazon...I highly recommend that you do.

But if you have young children, wait until they go to bed before watching Lemony Snicket, or they'll be having nightmares for weeks.

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