When I watched "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," the only time I really noticed Thomas Newman's music was at the beginning and the end of the film. That is because the 2004 film starts off with the happy music of the happy world of a happy little elf of "Lovely Spring" (we only get a taste of that up top) before the harsh reality of the narrative descends upon the rest of the film ("A Bad Beginning"), and then ends with the captivating credit crawl designed by Benjamin Goldman and Todd Hemker where Newman's score accents the gorgeously stylized animation that makes for one of the best reasons to stick around and watch until the very end of a movie I have ever seen. If you want to know what music has been stuck in my head ever since when I am doing chores around the house then play the clip from "Drive Away," because that would be it.
The fact that I did not really notice the music in between the start and finish of the film, which is where most of it takes place, does not dismiss Newman's compositions. Instead, it speaks to how well integrated they are in the film. This is not a film where we get a "Count Olaf's March" or where there are individual themes for each of the Baudelaire orphans. Instead of having the music carry the moment, Newman is content to have such things suggested: the plight of the children is captured by the sound of a music box in both "Baudelaire Orphans" and "VFD" (and this is not Harry Potter's music box either, so do not go there either for your musical reference from the history of cinema directed at the wallets and pocketbooks of young children).
There are some lovely themes here, as in the piano pieces "Resilience" and "Letter That Never Came," each as subtle as the rest of the score and yet perfectly suited to the mood at those points in the narrative. If you are familiar with Newman's score for "American Beauty" or the theme song for "Six Feet Under," then you can see this work as a continuation along those same musical lines (e.g., "Hurricane Herman"). Ultimately, it is the rhythm of the music helping to move the tragic tale along that stands out most. Besides the optimistic voice at the beginning, there are no vocals, but rather a few sound effects added to spice things up (and fit into the developing rhythmic pattern of the music as well). Newman employs a variety of instruments throughout the score, such as the violin in "Verismilitude," the xylophone (?) in "Concerning Aunt Josephine," and the distorted horns of the "Woeful Wedding" and the manic accordion of "Marvelous Marriage," the latter being one of the few times that the music jumps to the forefront in the film. No wonder I was so surprised that it was not until listening to the soundtrack that I really noticed that Newman's score was so wonderful. Even more surprising given how often I play the final track that I give the rest of the album a listen.
I expect that this original motion picture score is going to be nominated for an Oscar. I thought Newman deserved to win for "Road to Perdition," a film that was basically Conrad Hall's cinematography set to Newman's music, but only the late Hall won. It would be rather ironic if Newman did win for a score that was less central but equally important in this film. But for the time being, at least, I think this is his best score. Now, I have to go back and play "Drive Away" again while I clean up the latest in an unfortunate series of messes.