As a child, I was a huge reader and re-reader, especially of one book serial by “Lemony Snicket” (Daniel Handler) called A Series Of Unfortunate Events. I think I have may read the whole series through even more times than I did Harry Potter. I also rewatched the 2004 film version starring Jim Carrey many times (to be fair, I didn’t own that big a collection of DVDs and VHS tapes back then and Netflix didn’t yet exist).
And speaking of Netflix, I was very excited when an actual series with the entire story, all 13 books, was announced to be aired online. I waited in anticipation for months. So when the series was posted about three weeks ago, I devoured the first eight episodes like the Lachrymose leeches did poor Ike Anwhistle (too soon?). So I thought I’d write a post comparing the 2004 Nickelodeon movie to the 2017 Netflix series.
The direction for both adaptions is somewhat Burton-esque (Helena Bonham Carter even made a brief, faceless cameo as the Baudelaires’ mother in the film). The movie is reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands in style (especially costume); the series more like Big Fish. The movie definitely took its own path, plotwise, but seeing as it was adapting a 13 short novel series (well, the first three books) into a 110 minute movie, it was really good, and earnest. Plus some of the original scenes that weren’t pulled straight from the book (like Klaus’s “this is not home” monologue) are really well written. Meanwhile, the Netflix series is pretty true to the books (except for Violet’s pink dress from “The Bad Beginning” – Violet canonically hates pink), and is a real treat for someone who’s read them over and over like I have. We actually get to delve deeper into the mythos of the secret society V.F.D. in a way the film couldn’t do, although I have to admit, part of what made the books so enticing was all the mystery and suspense behind it. The series just gives it all away up front. We even get to see Lemony Snicket’s face, whereas in the movie, all we got was a voiceover and unrevealing shots of Jude Law. I’m not saying you have to have read the books to understand or enjoy the Netflix series, but it’s clear that it was designed for fans of the source material. One thing I thought was interesting was that the series borrowed the spyglass from the movie, even though it was never in the books.
The acting in the movie is clearly superior. The child acting from the Netflix series tends to fall flat sometimes, like participants in a middle school play. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf is clearly a replication of Carrey’s portrayal, spliced with Barney Stinson and Doctor Horrible (maybe some Dougie Houser on the side). What I’m saying is, NPH is playing NPH playing Jim Carrey. I was delighted at the diversity in the series, however (Sir and Charles confirmed as a gay couple, finally!); it was a pleasant change from the pasty white complexion of the movie (even Cedric the Entertainer was white). I was so excited when I realized that Mr. Poe was being played by the same actor who played Mr. Trick from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The actors playing Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine from both adaptations, respectively, differ from their counterparts yet are delightful to watch in both cases. I found it amusing that Catherine O’Hara, who played Justice Strauss in the 2004 movie, played Dr. Orwell, the optometrist/hypnotist, in the Netflix series. But I have to say, I think the best actor in the entire series is Patrick Warburton. I’d only ever seen PW in frat bro roles like Puddy on Seinfeld or Jeff Bingham from Rules Of Engagement. But it seems like Warburton was the only (adult) actor in the series who was playing it straight the whole time. I have to admit, I always did envision Lemony Snicket with a British accent (like Jude Law’s portrayal), but Warburton’s ironic deadpan really sold me on his performance. Oh, and the genderless henchperson. I love he/she/them too.
There’s many great things to love about both the movie and the series. I thoroughly enjoy both adaptations and would highly recommend either one. The score to the movie by Thomas Newman is one of my all time favorites. And the Netflix series, since there are two fifty minute episodes for each book, explain a lot of things that the movie – and the book series itself – didn’t address. Like, why did the employees of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill stay there when all the pay they received for their work was coupons and gum? Or how did Count Olaf, a man who is clearly an enemy of the Baudelaire parents, end up with custody of their children?
However, if ever another version of A Series of Unfortunate Events is made, can we have an actually scary Olaf? He terrified me as a child, and I’m sorry, but Neil Patrick Harris is not scary. ~TRL