Based on the first three books of the popular children’s series, LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS follows the Baudelaire orphans–Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and Sunny–as they are shunted from one odd relative (Billy Connelly) to the next (Meryl Streep), while the cunning Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) nips at their heels, in the hopes of inheriting their enormous fortune.
The story is dark and twisted and thoroughly entertaining. The humor is most decidedly black with Sunny, the baby who has a tendency to bite things and speaks in a language only her siblings can understand, getting the best bits (so to speak). The art direction and Oscar-winning makeup are particularly impressive.
Critics were not particularly kind to the film but it stands heads and tails above those awful Harry Potter films, to which it was unfairly compared. Matching the dark tone of the stories is Thomas Newman‘s sneaky score.
“This was probably a supreme exercise in tone,” said Newman in The Hollywood Reporter, “how to bring across empathy and fun in the context of some pretty awful events.” In another interview in Variety, Newman said the challenge of the score was one of “comic tonality. What kind of movie are you watching and how are you supposed to perceive it? And if these are a series of unfortunate events, how do you still make them compelling and delightful?”
Newman accomplishes this by relying on his distinctive musical voice. Dulcimers, acolian wind harp, slate and glass marimbas, djun-djun, shawm, and quarter violin are just a few of the offbeat instruments that Newman uses to great effect, weaving in and out of contemporary tonalities, especially during the “unfortunate events”.
Those looking for more traditional orchestrations need not fear. A tender piano theme voices the orphans memories of their parents. And the strings swell while the children stand in what was their burnt-out house one last time as the walls disintegrate into the ashy mist before their very eyes.
Don’t forget to stick around for the end titles. The Edward Gorey-like animations are fun to watch, especially accompanied by Newman’s groovy music, a cue found nowhere else in the score.
Director Brad Siberling praised Newman’s collaboration, saying “[he’s] really helping to create a tone for the movie. He’s doing so with an energy, gothicism and a sense of humor.” Though we’ve heard this type of music from Newman before and since, the composer’s sly sense of humor led him to yet another well-deserved Oscar nomination.