PictureParamount's disc comes anamorphically enhanced from a 1.85:1 image and is, I'm very happy to report, a tremendous visual treat. This is a movie that thrives on impeccable detail and the transfer does not disappoint at all. Right from the get-go, with sharp relief and colour for the bogus Littlest Elf intro we are granted a deliciously rendered colour palette, although, appropriately enough, the film wallows more in the sombre tones of greys and blacks and shadows. Yet when colour does intrude it is handled superbly and warmly - check out the scenes set at Uncle Monty's, especially the initial arrival at his house through all the lush green foliage. An overhead view of Mr. Poe's car travelling through marshland is also beautifully presented. A nice touch is the glorious glow of the evening sun through the shutters in Olaf's musty attic. The Count's acting troupe are audacious dabs of garish colour whenever they are about, such as the early scenes of them rehearsing or the fake show at the end. Skin tones are intentionally pale and quite striking against the dense shadow and murk that dominate most of the proceedings and eyes really manage to gleam in the gloom especially Count Olaf's.
The most accomplished aspect of the transfer is the sheer wealth of detail on offer. From the impeccable attention paid to Olaf's costume - every button and stitch picked out - to the clarity shown up in the fishing village with fruit and vegetables all colourful and shiny, glistening sea spray in the air and every stone in the background walls and cottages picked out cleanly and intricately, even down to the profuse whiskers on Captain Sham's grizzled face. Chez Olaf is a majestic mess and every element of this chaos is sharply recreated here, etched with pristine clarity. Honestly, you could spend hours just poring over the oddments and nick-knacks in the background. Each and every frame of Silberling's movie has been lovingly crafted and the disc does his eye justice, with tremendous sense of depth, tone and hue.
There are many moments of sharp contrast - the children wandering through the burned-out husk of their old house with their pale faces lit like tiny anaemic fireflies in the shadow - and all are handled superbly. Light and dark are the two main themes and are visually played off each other almost constantly, with black figures looming out of the mist, silhouettes skulking about and the great shot of Olaf and the recaptured children in his boat drifting back towards a gloriously setting sun. The disc copes admirably with all this.
However, there are one or two slight niggles. Although, there was blissfully no pixilation or blocking at all, I did notice a slight veil of grain, though this may only be apparent on larger screens. Edge-enhancement was prevalent throughout, though not enough to spoil the show and there was also a strange element of trailing on Billy Connolly whenever he moved front and centre. This did not seem to affect anybody else and I can't quite work that one out, folks. Nothing serious though. All in all a deservedly fantastic transfer.
SoundFurnished with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish, Lemony Snicket hits all the right notes with a suitably bombastic audio presentation. There is a totally immersive soundscape that wraps very pleasingly around the room with many discretely-steered ambient effects such as creaking floorboards and groaning doors, off-screen dialogue and action. Uncle Monty's place provides some great directional hissing from the snakes and lots of insect noises and birdsong. This aids great atmospheric scene-setting immeasurably. The birdsong in particular had me freezing the disc just check that it wasn't actually for real. Top notch. There's even a great moment of a camera flash-gun going off that pings really loudly from the rear right. The train thunders along hard enough to snatch your breath away and, of course, the wind and the rain that roars in with Hurricane Herman is a real tour de force for any speaker set up. Bumping this up with a bit of tweaking of your amp will result in some spectacular sonics bouncing around you - the howling wind is marvellously well steered. Your sofa is sure to get a thorough buffeting.
But the best thing about the sound presentation is the fantastic delivery of Thomas Newman's awesome score, which is punchy, vibrant and aggressive throughout. Brilliantly fizzing up from every speaker in a really well co-ordinated aural attack, the score is majestically pumped out. From the cheeky little piano tinkling to the all-out verve of the full orchestra, from deep menacing chords to quirky and frenetic fiddling, the disc gives the score a solid and reliable foundation. Yet for all this bombast, dialogue never suffers. The rare quiet moments have a lingering beauty all their own. A terrifically evocative soundscape is produced throughout, lending charm and character to the DVD. Very impressed.
ExtrasWell folks, this is the single-disc edition I'm reviewing here, so don't expect a great deal when compared to the 2-disc Collector's edition. Firstly, I should mention the fabulous animated menus which are mini-adventures in their own right. We get the Baudelaire children on the run from a demonic caricature of Count Olaf who pursues and traps them further with each menu screen you go onto. This is wonderful stuff, sort of East European in style - definitely back in the land of the JudderMan. In fact if you highlight the worrying-looking eye on each screen it will take you through a new pitfall for the kids, all accompanied by Thomas Newman's great score. By the way, I know that there's an Easter Egg on this disc and since I didn't find anything else I'm assuming that this animation-trail is it. If so, it's not exactly well-hidden.
We get two Commentary Tracks. The first is from Brad Silberling. Occasionally scene-specific this is a very interesting track that tends more towards overview and Silberling covers a lot of ground from the genesis of the project through to the building of the very elaborate sets, the casting and the magnificent use of old-style camera effects. A good track that really would have benefited from having one of the actors in there too - Carrey would have been a godsend. The second Commentary Track is by Silberling again and this time he is accompanied by someone else - and it is none other than Lemony Snicket, himself. Well, actually, it's Daniel Handler but he is playing the character of his own creation and alter-ego to most annoying effect throughout. Now I love chat-tracks and this one, despite being quite a cool idea to have the sarcastic and dismal gloom-merchant that Snicket claims to be featured on it, should have been great fun and totally in keeping with the style of the movie. It's not, however. It's Silberling and Handler being nothing but tedious and totally unfunny. It's not even remotely informative. It's a commendable gimmick in theory but relentlessly irritating in reality. Don't bother with this track.
Under the banner of Bad Beginnings we have three featurettes. In Building A Bad Actor (12.46) Brad Silberling takes us through the various incarnations of Count Olaf, interspersed with snippets of character text from the books, makeup and film tests. These typically reveal how Carrey, himself, brought the character to life via his own unique sense of humour and propensity for improvisation. Apparently 80% of his performance was improvised and I can well believe it. There are some great ad-libs on the behind-the-scenes snippets. Making The Baudelaire Children Miserable (3.00) again shows us film-tests. What amounts to a glorified trailer is how Silberling first showed his casting choices for the kids to the studio. The best little featurette, though, is a multi-window selection of ad-libbed screen tests for the different characters of Count Olaf. Some of this has been seen earlier in the first featurette but here you select which one you want to see in a cool 9 mins segment, or switch between them very like the multi-angle toggling on some fx-breakdowns on other discs. There is some cool stuff here. I just love that Stefano character.
Next up is 14 mins of Deleted Scenes. Some of these are actually quite good though none would have enhanced the finished movie. Then we get 14.30 mins of Outtakes. These revolve mainly around Olaf and his acting troupe. A very mixed bag, really. There are some laughs to be had but I doubt you would ever watch these more than once.
Finally, we have some Previews for Madagascar, Spongebob Squarepants and a fitting plug for Thomas Newman's soundtrack for Lemony Snicket. Now that I do recommend.
VerdictSo how does the unholy alliance of Tim Burton and Roald Dahl shape up then? Well, this is an immensely enjoyable carnival of macabre deeds and black-hearted schemes, served up with eye-popping visual style and a thunderously great score. The character of Count Olaf is instantly iconic and performed by a guy who is at the top of his game. The story is marvellously affecting and the film is buoyed by terrific performances all round. Except for Jude Law, that is. It's great, take my word for it. The disc is also fabulously well presented with superb sound and a scintillating picture. However, if you are a fan of the film then simply cast your eyes over the plentiful and drool-worthy extras on offer on the 2-Disc set - instantly putting this edition in the shade. Even if you haven't already seen the film and are unsure which version to get, I would still plump for the 2-Discer. It looks amazing - literally jam-packed with features from the awesome set-design to the score, itself. The AV on this disc is great but why settle for less in the features when for only a few dollars more you can have the real deal? I know that I'll be getting it.
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