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Review by Brad Green:
The film opens with a diminutive elf. Heís frolicking in fairyland to the sounds of a song so syrupy it might have been recorded by a group of Mary Poppins clones who have each imbibed one too many spoonfuls of sugar. Everything is twee as could be. But not for long. A jagged zipping noise abruptly terminates the chirpy tune, and the elves dissolve from the screen to make way for the real story, as narrated by the titular Lemony Snicket.

Given voice in the film by Jude Law, the curious name is actually the nom de plume of author Daniel Handler, whose gleefully macabre childrenís tales have been a series of fortunate events for his bank balance. Even more so now that the concept has been adapted for the silver screen, and we can safely assume that the first film--which merges the plot of the first three books--isnít the last. The opening tease takes itís cue from the authorís introduction to the whole series, in which he suggests that his readers might care to turn their attention to something more cheerful, like a fairytale he knows called the Littlest Elf. Handler obviously knows his child psychology. They will always opt for the creepy over the cloying.†

But if cutting off the Littlest Elf in his prime establishes a sinister tone, it also suggests another mystery. Just what fate has befallen Danny Elfman? The composer who--invariably teamed with director Tim Burton--seemed to have a monopoly on each and every cinematic venture into the realm of dark whimsy.

No itís not a trick of spectral light, the credits reveal the director to be Brad Silberling, and the composer is Thomas Newman. A new man in lieu of Elfman, if you will, who for this project has been brushed aside like his namesake in the woods.

In any event, a Newman score for this kind of film is a tantalising prospect. His chance to merge the brooding mood of his music for adult drama like American Beauty and Road To Perdition, with the delicious fun he had with the Finding Nemo soundtrack. Steer well clear if youíre not a fan of eclecticism. Quirky pizzicato, sentimental piano, ethereal music boxes, folkloric fripperies and Gothic strings all jostle for centre stage. We even get a full reprise of the impossibly cheery song hinted at in the faux start.†

Minor key motifs and portentous harmonies coat proceedings with essence of eeriness, while Newmanís penchant for choppy rhythms and staccato instrumentation buoy the atmosphere well above morbidity. Roald Dahl never gave menace a bigger smirk, and the pure wit of the score outweighs its fright factor. Except perhaps for Danny Elfman. Heís finally got some competition.

Published March 10, 2005

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TITLE: Lemony Snicketís A Series Of Unfortunate Events
SCORE: Thomas Newman

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