Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is finally available to bingewatch on Netflix, and it’s awesome.
Netflix’s take on the series of books by Daniel Handler has been getting many positive reviews for being a better adaptation than the 2004 movie was. However, there’s still many room to discuss when it comes to comparing these two different adaptations, and what each of them did best.
NOTE: This article includes mild spoilers for both the movie and the Netflix series
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004 Movie)
Years before Netflix announced its TV adaptation, the one thing critics praised the most about the movie was its aesthetics. Every single visual aspect from the costume design to the sets fits perfectly and gave this Victorian/Gothic feeling to it. Not for nothing many people mistook it for a Tim Burton movie. On the other hand, the Netflix series has a more saturated color palette that seems to be inspired by Wes Anderson. While this choice can be explained with the sad/comedic theme contrast of the series, it’s easy to miss the gloomy, yet astonishing visuals of the movie.
The competition was tought from the beginning: the soundtrack from the 2004 movie was composed by none other than Thomas Newman. Yes, soundtracks take some time to get used to, and music is often subjective. However, the soundtrack for the movie seemed to offer a lot more variety of musical pieces in 100 minutes. Unforunately, the tracks from the Netflix series got quite repetitive quite soon despite it being nearly 6 hours of content.
Both the TV series and the movie had very big budgets, and yet they turned out very differently. Netflix uses perhaps an excessive amount of green screens (I mean, was it really that hard to shoot at an actual beach?). A lot has been said as well about the poor CGI used mostly for Sunny’s ridiculous scenes. Let’s be real here – CGI has to be used for Sunny, as her abilities in the books are over the top and borderline absurd. Despite having been done 13 years ago, the CGI in the movie didn’t stand out as much as it did in the series. Putting Sunny aside, another big difference in special effects is the scene at Aunt Josephine’s house during Hurricane Herman (seen in the video clip above). Just like with the color palette, Netflix probably preferred to go with a more obvious caricaturesque style that, while it fits the absurd tone of the series, comes at a cost of immersion.
This is a tricky one, as some characters turned out better in the movie, while others had their most accurate versions in the series. It’s not so much a matter of casting, but the actual characterization of the characters. The two I preferred most in the movie were Aunt Josephine and Klaus Baudelaire.
It’s always unfair to compare any actress to Meryl Streep, but in this case the script had a lot to do with the characterization. While the series focuses more on her passion for grammar, the movie’s little gags on her fear of utensils around the house (and how most of them turned out to be legit during the hurricane) was pretty amusing. On the other hand, there’s Klaus Baudelaire. Even though Liam Aiken wasn’t physically similar to the book illustrations (he didn’t even wear glasses), the characterization was better. His passion for books and the way he remembered everything he read to conveniently bring it up when needed was better done overall. It also helped that they included a little visual trick in which they showed the spines of the books Klaus was referencing. Lous Hynes looks a lot more like Klaus, and he’s a very likable and sweet kid, but he mostly acts more like a pedant know-it-all, rather than an actual bookworm.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017 Netflix series)
It’s really no surprise that Neflix does a better adaptation of the books. Daniel Handler himself is credited among the writers (he was kicked out of the movie when Paramount came in). A similar thing happened to Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black), who had always been a huge fan of the books, and this time got to be director and executive producer. Netflix pretty much gave both Handler and Sonnenfeld freedom (and budget) to do anything they wanted with the series, and it shows. The series is packed with foreshadowing and easter eggs for book readers. Who else got that “fungus” reference by Justice Strauss?
Having more screen time always allows for writers to include as many details from the books as possible. The movie covered the first three books in 100 minutes, but Netflix pretty much treats every book like a full movie. There’s 8 episodes, and 4 books covered, meaning that every episode gets two 40min-long episodes (one of them is actually 60). This obviously allows for the series to cover a lot of more ground, and even include new details and plot lines like the inclusion of the Quagmires earlier than in the books. On the other hand, while the movie wasn’t necessarily rushed, it was clear to see they were quickly jumping from one thing to another. The pacing for the series is neither fast, nor slow, as everything happens naturally, and every book gets the same amount of time to develop.
There is one thing that made the books special, and it’s also something that can be hard to reflect on screen. That is, its dark, dry humor, and the ridiculousness of many of the events that take place in the story. Netflix knew this, and they also knew how important the narration by Lemony Snicket is to the story. Patrick Warburton‘s deadpan expression while delivering the lines was golden. A Series of Unforunate Events is also, for the most part, a satire of how adults will always mess things up, regardless of whether they mean good or not. The series emphasizes this aspect of the books by making characters like Poe even dumber and more infuriating than in the books. No one ever listens to children, right?
And now for the characters that I thought the series did better: Count Olaf, Uncle Monty, and Mr. Poe.
There was a lot of worry on whether Neil Patrick Harris would be able to do the character justice, or just look like a copy of Jim Carrey (or worse, like a trick from Barney Stinson’s The Playbook). Fortunately, NPH’s Olaf is on point, and one of the main highlights of the series. Olaf’s one-liners (especially as Stephano) were straight-up hilarious, but he also managed to come out as truly menacing and even creepy at times. Uncle Monty was a lot more charismatic this time, and I truly felt for him and his dead more than I did for Bill Conolly’s version of the character. Finally, as I already mentioned, Mr. Poe was a lot more developed than he was in the movies. We also got to see his family, workplace, and his insane cough.
Overall, the movie seemed to do the audiovisual aspects of it better, while the series was certainly a the best adaptation of the two, adding tons of little details and a lot more of world-building.