A parallel universe for `Lemony Snicket'

Set designers took their inspiration from old movies

December 28, 2004|By Susan King | Susan King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

It's not set in a particular period or place, nor is it quite contemporary, yet it looks oddly if fantastically familiar, like the more vividly stylized fragments of a vaguely remembered dream. A parallel universe. That's what the production designer and set decorator of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events were going for, a parallel universe, one that that subverts time, location and place. A universe they describe as "Victorian expressionism."

It's also a universe that recalls the magic and inventiveness of The Wizard of Oz or the '40s Technicolor extravaganzas such as The Pirate and Yolanda and the Thief of director Vincente Minnelli.

"We tried to create a movie that was more faithful to the spirit" of the books, says Oscar-winning production designer Rick Heinrichs. "[Book author] Daniel Handler writes in a lot of anachronistic elements. If you look at contemporary culture, it is a cacophony of things that have gone before."

Among the indelible images created for the film: the decrepit, Dickensian and highly theatrical abode of the villainous ham actor Count Olaf; the warm, open, reptile-filled home of scientist Uncle Monty; the creaky, rickety wooden house of Aunt Josephine that was designed to resemble a camera on a tripod; an isolated general store jammed with knickknacks and food items; and the mysterious clock tower where journalist Lemony Snicket works.

Set decorator Cheryl A. Carasik began working as soon as she'd had her first discussion with Heinrichs and director Brad Silberling. For Olaf's house, she transformed a Louis XV chair into something akin to a throne.

Heinrichs got his inspiration for Olaf's overstuffed, sinister home from David Lean's classic atmospheric 1940s film versions of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, with a bit of New England Puritanism thrown in for good measure. The spiraling staircase that dominates the house is a tip of the hat to the staircase Norma Desmond descends in Sunset Boulevard.

Heinrichs reinforced the idea of Monty's love for snakes by spotlighting arches in the rooms. "The snake anatomy was an inspiration for a lot of it," he says.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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