A Series of Unfortunate Events: books vs. movie vs. Netflix show

You have probably already inferred the purpose of this post from the very long title: I’m going to compare the A Series of Unfortunate Events books to their movie and Netflix adaptations. It’s now been a month since the Netflix series came out, and almost 13 years since the movie adaptation (13? Did they plan this?), so if you wanted to see them, you are probably up to date by now. I’ll keep it spoiler free, though, just in case.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

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Source: IMDB

First, the movie. I actually enjoyed it when it came out, but now that I’ve seen the Netflix series, it pales in comparison. It is an adaptation of the first three books in the series – The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window. I will collect my thoughts using a pro and con list.

Pros

  • It stars some amazing actors. Jim Carrey makes for an interesting Count Olaf; Mr Poe is played by Timothy Spall, Jude Law provides the voice of Lemony Snicket, Billy Connolly plays Uncle Monty, and last but not least we have Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine.
  • I personally love the aesthetic of this movie – though I’m not sure it fits the books, exactly.
  • The end credits are beautiful. They might be better than the entire movie. Seriously.

Cons

  • The most important thing is that they changed a big part of the story. In trying to wrap the story of three books into one movie, they – for some reason – took the ending of the first book (don’t worry, I’m not saying what it is!) and put it at the end of the third one. They came up with another reason for why they have to leave Count Olaf the first time, and then place the children back in his care after the end of book three in order for the finale to take place. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
  • The movie also moves way too fast. It’s not just because a movie is too short to encompass the story of these three books; they actually changed how quickly the story moves along as well. By this I mean, aside from cutting out scenes to save time, reducing the narrative time, they also made the narrated time shorter, for instance by having their whole time with Uncle Monty last less than two days. Both of these things contribute to a big part of the story being left unexplained, but you don’t have time to think about that because everything happens so fast and you need to keep up. It also doesn’t leave a lot of time for the children to react to everything that’s happening to them, making it difficult for the viewer to relate. In fact, the children don’t seem to have a lot of emotions or even much of a personality in this movie.
  • The children are too old. It’s hard to believe Violet is 14 and Klaus is 12 – I would estimate them both two years older (and after doing some research it turns out that was a correct estimation). Sunny’s exact age is never mentioned in the books, so they can sort of get away with using a toddler instead of a baby, but for the older siblings there’s no excuse.
  • The hints they put in about the secrets that are revealed much later in the book series are a little too big. I understand that you would put in some hints earlier on that aren’t in the book – it makes the viewing experience more interesting – but keep them small, and don’t spoil the rest of the story with them!
  • The way the movie starts is just plain weird and it lasts a little too long to be funny.
  • Mister Poe doesn’t even cough once…

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)

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Source: IMDB

Time to talk about the Netflix series. Let me just start with this: it is so good. The first season adapts the first four books – The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill, in eight episodes. I watched it all in one weekend because I couldn’t stop, and then I watched it all again with my boyfriend. They do so many things right, and a lot of the changes they made are actually an improvement. This means you’re about to read a very, very long list of pros.

Pros

  • Neil Patrick Harris makes for an amazing Count Olaf. He perfectly captures the mix of silly and evil that makes this character so good.
  • The children are great actors and they actually look their age. In fact, Malina Weissman, who plays Violet, is 13 years old – one year younger than Violet. Louis Hynes, who plays Klaus, is, surprisingly, 15, playing a boy of 12. I guess he’s a late bloomer? Presley Smith, playing Sunny, is just a really cute and talented baby (though sometimes aided by CGI).
  • I love the way they integrated the character of Lemony Snicket into the story. A lot of his commentary comes directly from the books and I think his voice was conveyed perfectly.
  • In fact, a lot of sentences come directly from the books, which is the perfect way to please any book nerd.
  • They added a lot of hints to the later events of the book series, but unlike the movie, I think they did it right. Most of the hints cannot be understood by the Beaudelaires yet, or aren’t even seen by them – their purpose is to alert the viewer to a bigger scheme happening behind the scenes. This works very well in a Netflix series that people can watch multiple times, pausing to find more Easter eggs, while in a book too many of these hints might be distracting and the build up to a big reveal can be slower without losing the reader’s attention.
  • In many ways the series updated the books a little bit and even got rid of some problems. For instance, the treatment of one of Olaf’s accomplices, the ‘person who looks like neither a man nor a woman’ – something that really irks me about the books – is a lot more progressive. In the books they are referred to as ‘he or she’ and even ‘it’ several times, which is incredibly offensive. But in this series, they are transformed into a funny character who makes off-hand comments about things like gender, the patriarchy and capitalism, and though if you’ve read the books it’s obvious they are supposed to be this particular henchperson, their gender is never discussed. (Neither are pronouns used, which is why I’m sticking to ‘they’.)
  • To stick to the subject of henchpeople (a term I first heard in this series – I love it) and improvements on the books, everyone in Olaf’s theatre troupe has a distinct personality that’s mostly absent from the books, where they are mainly described by their physical attributes and their only character trait seems to be ‘scary’.
  • This show is so perfectly self-aware. To explain that I’d have to list a few jokes, which I’m not going to do. It’s best if you just see it for yourself.
  • I think they caught the feel of the book series perfectly on screen. This is helped by taking lines directly from the books and from the presence of Lemony Snicket, but also by the general aesthetic and the music – the music is so good.
  • Last but not least, they manage to keep things interesting even if you’ve already read the books. Some of the additions they made to the story had me very confused – I was actually prepared to be outraged, but I kept watching, wanting to give the show a chance. Boy, was I happy I did! They managed to fool me completely.

Cons

  • Violet’s inventions are a little less realistic than they are in the book at first, but later on in the book series some of the inventions stretch your imagination pretty far, so I think they can get away with it. It did take a little bit of the suspense off the grappling hook scene in The Bad Beginning.
  • The books contain a lot more crying, especially from Klaus. There are some scenes in the series that feature almost crying, but not enough of the total breakdowns the children (understandably) have in the books.
  • The whole bit about Sunny being a star at playing cards was a little over the top for me. I guess they wanted to give her a bigger role, but, well, she’s a baby. She already does quite a lot of things for someone her age.
  • As the series progressed, more and more changes started to appear. While some of them, as I mentioned above, were positive changes, and the others didn’t bother me either way, I am a little anxious to see how this is going to continue. They did well up till now and I expect good things, but a little part of me, somewhere in the back of my mind, is afraid they’re going to ruin something. Let’s just hope that’s not going to happen.

Well, there we are! I managed to keep it spoiler free! Do you agree with me? Is there anything you’d like to add? Please comment below, and if your comment contains spoilers, please give a warning for anyone who hasn’t read the books or watched the adaptations yet.

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