A Series of Unfortunate Events

I used to really dig Barry Sonnenfeld… as a cinematographer. “Blood Simple,” “Raising Arizona,” “Throw Momma From The Train,” “Big,” “Miller’s Crossing” and “Misery” all bear the distinctive mark of an artist who knows how work a camera. (He also shot the vastly underrated and sorely missed on DVD “Three O’Clock High,” although he only received a “lighting consultant” credit.) Had Sonnenfeld not moved into the director’s chair, there is little doubt that he would be on the upper plateau of his craft along with Roger Deakins and John Toll. Sadly, his oeuvre as a director bears so little distinct personality that it’s hard to believe any of them was made by the same man.

A movie by Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese has a style unique to that artist, regardless of who is operating the camera or who composed and conducted the score. But a Barry Sonnenfeld movier There is nothing in them that screams out I MADE THIS MOVIE! Even the style of the Addams Family movies owe more to the world Charles Addams created than anything specifically Sonnenfeldian.

Perhaps Barry will have better luck this January, when he begins production on A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the series of children’s novels by Lemony Snicket (whose name was part of the title until recently). The screenplay, adapted for the screen by Daniel Handler, follows the evil Count Olaf, who takes in the recently orphaned Baudelaire children, with hopes of getting their inheritance. Violet Baudelaire, the eldest at 12, is the natural leader of the orphan clan and happens to be one of the finest inventors the world has ever known. She is courageous and quick-witted, with a grown up sensibility that belies her age. Her younger brother Klaus is 10, has a phenomenal intelligence and a photographic memory. His intuitive logic most keeps him one step ahead of the nefarious Count Olaf’s evil schemes. Sunny, a toddler, is an exceptionally bright young girl… for someone who mostly crawls. She talks in a language impossible for all but her siblings to comprehend, and has four razor-sharp teeth, and biting things is one of her great talents.

Casting has just begun on the Paramount feature, which the distributor and producer Scott Rudin plan to make into a series of films should this first one be successful. After all, there are nine books in publication…