A Series of Unfortunate Events: Thoughts about the Movie and the Show

A Series of Unfortunate Events is opening on Netflix today, and as such, I figured I’d take a quick look back at the other screen adaptation, the 2004 movie.

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The series was written by Daniel Handler (pen name Lemony Snicket, and the film focuses on the first three books, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window. I have not read any of the books, so I’m not qualified to judge this as an adaptation, but as a stand-alone film, I found it very enjoyable. It felt very much like a Grimm’s fairytale set in modern day, and the opening scene with the overly cutesy-cutesy, Rankin-Bass-style film being cut off by Jude Law, the narrator, was both jarring and very funny. As an outsider to the series viewing this for the first time, I thought it set the stage and tone very well.

Jim Carrey’s Count Olaf, like most of Jim Carrey’s characters, spends a lot of time mugging and playing to the camera, but at worst, I only find it slightly distracting. It really depends on the movie he’s in. I got the sense that Olaf was an eccentric egotist, as well as a greedy, dangerous psychopath, so it didn’t particularly bother me in this movie. I found Olaf genuinely creepy, aided by the fact that none of the other adults seem to take the children seriously. It plays well into two childhood fears of mine: that of scary strangers, and the idea that the only person I can rely on is myself. I would hate to think I lived in a world where my guardians couldn’t protect me, and even worse, weren’t aware of my need.

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The view of the adults is both mean-spirited and child-like; they are all so focused on their own plans and worries that they tune the Baudelaire children out. They rationalize the orphans as either too struck by tragedy to be thinking clearly, or just generally too young to know what they’re talking about. There are bad adults, and then there are well-intentioned, but bumbling or selfish adults, and the ineptitude of the latter puts the children arguably into more danger than the former.

But the point of the film seems to be highlighting the intelligence and resourcefulness of the Baudelaires, as well as showing that even in a world so full of unfortunate events, there is still plenty of goodness to be found and defended. It is, ultimately, an empowering story for kids, and I like that about it. Ironically, it doesn’t feel like unpleasantness just for unpleasantness’s sake, unlike Boxtrolls.

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The cinematography is all delightfully dark, morbid, and whimsical. It’s almost Tim Burton-eqsue, which is very fun to watch. It is credited to a man named Emmanuel Lubezki, who did work on the shooting of Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, so there you go. The music is fitting, if not the most memorable score in history. One of the songs reminded me a lot of something Enya had once released, but that is by no means a complaint.

My only gripe with the story was the fact that, for such smart children, the Baudelaires do have an awfully obnoxious habit of letting Count Olaf know what they plan to do. Instead of just going to Mr. Poe, the police, or anyone else in secret, they must constantly announce that they’re going to do so in front of the one person who can successfully stop them. It’s very frustrating, and unlike the situation with the hapless adults, it doesn’t feel like the film intends this one.

Otherwise, it’s a solid movie that I love breaking out from time to time. I wish they had done more at the time, as I really liked the child actors, but hey, there’s a tv show coming out right now. I’m hoping it will be even better than what came before.

My only immediate concern is that while Jim Carrey as an actor is usually a weirdo (and that may even be his general appeal), Neil Patrick Harris is usually too lovable, in person or in character. He was in a Muppets movie, for Pete’s sake, so to me, at worst, he’s Barney Stinson. That isn’t exactly the most intimidating monster television has ever created.

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Still, I’ll be curious to see what he does with the role. He’s a good actor, but I personally have a little trouble divorcing him from his characters. I’d also be interested to hear about the show’s book accuracy from any readers out there.

 

*None of the images used in this post belong to me.

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6 thoughts on “A Series of Unfortunate Events: Thoughts about the Movie and the Show”

  1. There’s one detail you got wrong in your review. Sleepy Hollow came out in 1999, and this movie came out in 2004, so Emmanuel Lubezki definitely worked on Sleepy Hollow first. Otherwise, this is well thought out review. However, it’s a terrible adaptation of the source material because they tried to shove too much into a movie that’s less than two hours long, and they rearranged several events from the books to give the movie a better ending. There’s a very real reason why they never made any more movies in the series. While I am still unsure about how I feel about Neil Patrick Harris’s portrayal of Count Olaf (mostly because I won’t have a chance to watch the new series until I get home form work tonight), I’m positive that I’m going to like this series more than the movie because it’s supposed to be a much better thought out adaptation and follow the books much more closely. Either way, I will still watch my copy of the movie whenever the mood arises because while it is a terrible adaptation, it’s still a pretty great movie much like Ella Enchanted (well written and an entertaining story even if it’s literally nothing like it’s source material) and unlike the Percy Jackson movies (gag me, too many issues to discuss).

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    1. Thank you for spotting that! I’ve heard it’s not a great adaptation, but I never learned exactly why. Sometimes trying to go back and read children’s or young adults books is a little awkward, but this is one series I think I’d make an exception for. I really do hope the tv show does better.

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