It was a pleasant surprise.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events has a rather boring and somewhat laborious plot. It features a very uneven performance by Jim Carrey, some not-great CG, and a fair share of lame dialogue. What it does have, however, are some good performances, a wonderfully dark worldview (that is unfortunately compromised on several occasions) and, most importantly, a tremendous visual flair. The film cost $140 million to make, but oh can you see it up on the screen. The buildings are all perfectly Burtonian, with eaves upon eaves and gorgeous textures of crumbling brick and warped wood. The characters are all spectacularly costumed and designed, beautiful gothic drawing brought to life with facial prosthetics and great makeup. And best of all the cinematography allows the viewer to actually SEE all of this. The film has actual long-shots and in times of peril pulls back the camera to allow us to watch the characters, rather than zooming in tightly and cutting frantically in an attempt to disorient and confuse.
It was a pleasure to watch a movie with a real aesthetic sense and consistency to it, but $140 million? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? This is a film with dark subject matter aimed at children. That SEVERELY limits the marketability. Crazy ass bible belt parents aren't going to go, because they're scared of anything that's not sunshine and lollipops for their fucked up kids. Overprotective liberals aren't going to go, for basically the same reason. Teenagers won't go because it's not "Cool." Adults won't go on their own because even with a film like this, which has depth and value, you feel creepy saying "2 for a film about pre-teens, please!" The audience is limited to smart with it parents and cineastes who don't care about how their tastes are perceived. Not great.
Of course it WAS based on a fabulously successful series of books, and people did go...but not enough to make money. I'm all for making good exciting outside the box films. But when you're spending $140 million you NEED mainstream success, and a kids film with dark subject matter just isn't going to be a runaway hit like Finding Nemo. So while I'm glad they made it, because I really liked it, I don't know what they were thinking.
It's funny. I'm an independent film fan type of person and you'd think I'd be thrilled to see a big budget blockbuster stay true to a real artistic vision...and I am aesthetically...but the truth is that it doesn't make business sense. If you need a mainstream megahit just to break even, I'd go with the safer bet, Dave.