Release Date:  December 17, 2004
Rating:  PG (for thematic elements, scary situations and brief language)
Genre:   Adventure/Fantasy/Comedy
Run Time: 1 hr. 53 min.
Director:   Brad Silberling
Actors:   Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall, Kara and Shelby Hoffman

Before I put pen to paper – or, as the case may be, fingertips to keyboard – I feel compelled to warn you that this is not the most usual of reviews.  In fact, it is a review that may well leave you feeling alarmed, concerned or possibly even laughing hysterically (a word which means, like a baboon being tickled under its arm or, in this case, simply smiling).

The reason for this, as it shall soon be obvious, is that the tale under scrutiny is not one for the faint of heart.  For, unlike other stories which insist upon happy endings, this tale is about the Baudelaire children, who experienced a series of most unfortunate events, beginning with the tragic death of their parents.  And, while the three Baudelaire children do overcome their difficulties, it is not until the very end, and it is only in spite of the machinations (a word meaning illegal, immoral and possibly even French behavior) of a notorious villain, that they do prevail.  So if it is happy endings you desire – or reviews that do not sound like this writer has been swallowed by a Victorian novelist – then I must advise you to seek elsewhere.

Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning) is 14 and has a great talent for inventing things.  Her brother, Klaus (Liam Aiken), reads every sort of book that comes his way – no small number, considering the vast library that has been at his disposal in the Baudelaire family mansion.  A bright young man, just like his older sister, Klaus remembers everything that he reads, which comes in very handy during the children’s travails.  Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), their sister, is just an infant, but she has an uncanny (meaning, sometimes at a good time, sometimes at a bad one) ability to bite things.  And while she speaks only in grunts and squeals, her brother and sister are able to interpret her perfectly (and so are we, thanks to subtitles).  Sunny is also very insightful and droll (that is, insulting at times), when it comes to human behavior.

After Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), the family banker, announces the terrible news of their parents’ demise in a fire that consumed the family estate, the Baudelaires are escorted to live with the horrible Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who lives in a home that might well, under normal circumstances, be mistaken for a rubbish heap.  There, the children are forced to sleep in one very tiny bed, in a dark and musty room.  Olaf also forces them to do chores that no adult under the age of 30 or over the age of 29 should ever have to do.  Once, he even hits poor Klaus.  You see, I did warn you that this was not a cheery story. 

The reason for Olaf’s despicable behavior is that he wants the Baudelaire family fortune, and is willing to do anything, including eating stale Pasta Putanesca and placing the children on train tracks in the face of an oncoming train, to get it.  When that fails, the children are taken to live with their eccentric (a word meaning, someone completely obsessed with snakes) Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly).  But Olaf disguises himself and finishes off the herpetological relative, much to the children’s horror.  Fortunately, their quick wit – and Sunny’s willingness to play with a python – saves them from being returned to Olaf’s care.