movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by AJ Robinson who says... "The movie is quite the spectacular visual feast."
Movie opens with happy little elf dancing through the woods, something like Snow White with her woodland friends. Then Lemony Snickett comes on (Jude Law, shown only in shadows) to say this movie will NOT be about a happy little elf, but be a very sad story. If you want a nice story, leave and go to one of the other movies playing in an adjacent theatre. He then starts to tell the story of Violet the inventor, Klaus the reader and Sunny the biter (she loves to bite things). Theyre very happy with their parents and (as their titles indicate) Violet loves to invent things out of just about anything she can find, Klaus loves to read and remembers everything he reads and Sunny well, you get the idea! She speaks in the usual baby gibberish, but has subtitles. Her lines are among the funniest (Mayor of Crazy Town).
One day, while theyre away, their house is burned to the ground by a mysterious fire. Again Lemony suggests leaving to find a better movie, and then continues. At the house Klaus finds a spyglass (unburned) in a hidden drawer of his fathers desk. Mr. Poe tells them all the authorities know is it was caused by a refracting lens (important later!) and hes taking them to live with their nearest living relative nearest in geography, but NOT blood! Count Olaf. The Count is an actor and he lives in a VERY messy falling down house. Once there the children are first locked in their room and then put to work cleaning the place. The Count is after their money, nothing more. He shows his true colors one night when he brings home his acting troupe and demands the children cook them dinner in 30 minutes! Violet rises to the occasion and invents the equipment them need to make a lovely pasta meal. The Count is NOT pleased he wanted roast beef. He yells at them and strikes Klaus, then locks them up.
Once the Count is awarded custody (at a VERY quick court hearing) he drives them home and stops on the railroad tracks. He gets out to get the kids drinks and locks them in. A train (naturally) is bearing down on them. Using their combined talents they build a spring-loaded device to switch the tracks. Mr. Poe arrives and is angry at the Count for letting Sunny drive his car! He will hear nothing from the children about the Counts attempt on their lives, but does take them away from him and places them with an uncle who lives reptiles. The uncle is quite nice and wants to take the children to Peru. He says its for research, but eventually tells them in a roundabout fashion its for their protection. He has a spyglass like their fathers. But, the Count shows up disguised as the Uncles new research assistant. The kids see through him in an instant, but not their Uncle. They manage to warn him, but he thinks the man is from a reptile society out to steal his discoveries. In the morning, Uncle is dead apparently by a snake bite. The kids protest, but the adults ignore them. Sunny spots the deadly snake and goes after it. Everyone hears a scream, turns and sees Sunny PLAYING with the snake! They now know its harmless and try to grab the assistant, but hes vanished.
Mr. Poe takes the children to an Aunt, who lives in a house on a hillside and is afraid of well, just about everything! She was a grammar teacher until her husband was killed by deadly leeches and now is a shut-in. She tells the children all about the lake they live on and the caves she and her husband used to explore (important later!). While looking at family photos the children see a group shot with their parents in it everyone has a spyglass! They ask about it, but their Aunt will tell them nothing. Later, while shopping at the harbor they run into the Count disguised as a sailor. He flirts with the Aunt and she takes him homes to chat while the children buy food for dinner. When the kids return they find a window broken and a suicide note from their Aunt. But, its full of spelling errors. Klaus realizes its a code and that their Aunt is hiding in a cave. They prepare to go after her when a terrible hurricane hits. The house is destroyed around them and they end up on a tiny deck high above the rocks and ocean below. Once again, Violet gets them out by using an anchor to knock out a key board. Their deck swings toward the shore and they jump.
Next, they use Klaus knowledge of boats to sail to the cave and rescue their Aunt. But, as theyre returning to shore the leeches attack. Count Olaf appears and takes the children into his boat, but leaves the Aunt to her fate when she dares to correct his English. Mr. Poe and the police arrive a moment later and think the Count has saved the children. The court gives him custody again, but tells him he cant get their fortune. It only goes to the children when theyre 18 or a blood relative or a SPOUSE! So, the Count sets up a play with a wedding scene hes going to MARRY Violet! Although shes 14 she can marry with her guardians permission. Since thats the Count, he gives it. And, he has Sunny suspended high in the air in a cage. Violet marries him or Sunny plunges to her death! Violet agrees. As the play starts, Klaus tries to rescue Sunny. When he climbs the tower he fights Olafs minion and wins, AND finds a giant refracting lens thats pointed right at the ruins of their house! The play ends Violet signing the wedding certificate VERY slowly and Olaf reveals his true colors with joy! Klaus uses the lens to burn the marriage certificate and everyone grabs Olaf. Hes found guilty of murder and as a special punishment must live through all the things the children did.
We get a quick montage of him in the car on the tracks, throwing the anchor and the deck falling the wrong way and trying to fight off the leeches. But, as Lemony tells us, his conviction is overturned and he disappears. The film ends with Poe driving the children to yet another relatives house. The spyglasses as never explained, but I guess thats for another film.