With the arrival of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix on January 13th, I decided to watch the original attempt at making Lemony Snicket’s massive 13 book series into a filmed franchise.
Directed by Brad Silberling and starring Jim Carrey, A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny after their parents die in a fire. Soon they find themselves in the care of Count Olaf, a diabolical villain who is after the children’s fortune.
Lemony Snicket’s series was out in full swing when I started to read it around age 8. I loved how the series talked up to kids and made you feel like you were smart. Words and concepts in clever ways and helped deepen the story. So, when I finally got to see it, I was excited to see what was in store. I remember picking out the discrepancies to my parents and enjoying it well enough.
As a college student now going back and watching this, there were things I really enjoy and not. Let’s talk about the pros first. I liked the Baudelaire children, especially their interactions after their parents died. After Olaf slaps Klaus, they reminisce about home and their parents with a homemade sanctuary comprised of a tent and their parents framed silhouettes they salvaged from the wreckage. To me, it really encapsulated a key point of the series, in a original way. No matter what the Baudelaires face, they will always find a happy light in the sea of dark. I also found Billy Connolly as Uncle Monty and Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine extremely fun, albeit it was for a short period of time.
Alright, here are some of my problems with this movie. The first is the plot. It’s hard for a movie to fit ALL of a book’s intricacies into one film (looking at you Harry Potter films), but fitting three is virtually impossible. So many things become lost on the editing floor and the main points become hastily crammed in. Yet, the icing on the cake for this movie is that it chooses to shuffle events around for the sake of a Hollywood climax. And by this I mean Violet marrying Count Olaf. The climax of the first book ends up feeling hastily tacked onto the plot of the film. It also is changed quite drastically from the book, which cheapens the story and the Baudelaire’s intelligence. Come on, Count Olaf started the fires by refracting light like he was frying ants? I also felt like is no time to settle into the worlds that are constructed, and it’s tragic we don’t spend anytime with Justice Strauss, see the Reptile Room more, or just see Lake Lachrymose. Snicket created a very unique world with no ties to our own, it’s wrong not to explore it. It feels like we’re just bounced around from place to place to get to the climax quicker.
The second biggest problem was the casting of Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. Jim Carrey is a talented guy, see any of his other stuff. Seriously guys. He was not a good choice for a truly terrifying character. On paper, this character was the absolute worst. Whenever he comes in with a new disguise, the reader and the children feel a sense of panic. Even his introduction in the film is more comedic than anything. Sure I was giggling at Jim Carrey’s Count Olaf, especially with his dinosaur impersonation.
These moments are funny and memorable, but they make the audience forget that Count Olaf is a menacing villain. By the time Count Olaf shows up in a disguise, it never feels as if Olaf is disguised as a character (Stephano and Sham) but, just Carrey another getup with another chance to get a laugh in. Seeing Carrey, it’s easy to forget how Count Olaf straight up murders people to get at the Baudelaire’s fortune.
While this movie is not the adaptation the series ultimately deserved, it is a passable movie to watch from time to time. The production design is Tim Burton-esque with its darker sets and costumes and the cinematography matches this feel as well. The challenge that the readers felt while reading the books is just not in this film. It tries to introduce the concept of V.F.D., but it never feels as if the viewer is gonna be pushed to theorize anymore about the story’s world. It’s really a shame that the story had to suffer in the end. But maybe like the Baudelaires, A Series of Unfortunate Events will be able to find a bright light with their home at Netflix…
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events gets a C+.