Thursday, 19 January 2017

TBT: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

I know I always tend to upload these things quite late in the day but today I have a genuine excuse for my rush job. Namely that I fell asleep at around half 8 and didn't wake up until about an hour later. Okay it's not a great excuse but it's the truth. Work has just been so exhausting this week and I've been rubbish at getting to bed on time. Still, I'm here now, I've got the Les Mis soundtrack on full blast, and I'm ready to crank this out. It's my day off tomorrow so I was always planning to sleep all day anyway. On my last day off, I decided to start watching the new Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I'd seen all the stuff about it but hadn't thought I'd watch it. I've not read the books and I wasn't a huge fan of the Jim Carrey film so I didn't really care. On Monday, though, something told me to watch it and I fucking love it. I'm only about 3/4 of the way through but it's so good. Patrick Warburton and Neil Patrick Harris are absolutely amazing and the baby is so fucking adorable. I'm obsessed. The show works so well because it gives each book enough time. Each book is given two episodes so the plot can move along quickly enough whilst still staying true to the book. As I'm at the point where I've just watched book 3 I decided it was time to rewatch the film, which also deals with the first 3 books in the series. It only seemed fair to compare the two.


I had something of a personal crisis on my way home from work tonight when I remembered that this film came out 12 years ago. It makes me feel fucking ancient. I was a youthful 16 year old back then and really wasn't that interested in it release. I remember it being a huge deal, though, because it was another series of books that were deemed unfilmable or something. Plus, Jim Carrey was still something of a big deal back then and there are some huge names in the cast. In the months prior to its release, it's safe to say people were excited about this. It's difficult to look back now we have the knowledge that everyone much prefers the Netflix show. It makes me assume that people hated the film but I don't think that was true. There are lot of favourable reviews from that time and, aside from book fans who obviously felt a bit hard done by, I think it did quite well.

It tackles the story of the three Baudelaire children after their parents die in a mysterious fire. Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and Sunny are put into the care of their relative Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Olaf is an eccentric actor who lives in a rundown old mansion with his creepy acting troupe. Olaf accepts guardianship of the children in order to get his hands on the huge Baudelaire fortune, which the children won't get their hands on until Violet turns 18. Count Olaf, it turns out, is also incredibly evil and spends the rest of the film attempting to dispose of the children to get to the money. When his plans fail to succeed the children are moved into other accommodation with their Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) and Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep). However, the evil Olaf won't let the money get too far away from him.

I guess, in all honesty, that the film isn't that bad for what it's trying to be. It's a children's film that is trying to be both dark and incredibly silly. It never really dwells on the awful nature of the narrative and kind of side steps some of the more depressing aspects (something the Netflix show seems to be trying to embrace a bit more) but it isn't afraid to amp up the dark humour. The problem it mainly faces is that Jim Carrey completely dominates everything. He was such a huge star that he was allowed to just do whatever he wanted and goes wild in the role. This isn't so much the story of the Baudelaire orphans but the story of Count Olaf. He never quite feels right and, now that we've seen Neil Patrick Harris in the role, feels like a massive miscast.

The film also ruins the narrative by trying to cram too much in. It smushes together the plot of 3 books and messes with the running order so we're going round in circles. There is never any time to dwell on anything so you can't really connect with what's going on. You never really feel anything for the orphans because you don't have time to share their grief. You don't really feel afraid of Count Olaf because you don't really feel the weight of his scheming. Characters are introduced and dispatched in a matter of minutes meaning you don't really give a shit of they're alive or dead. It just feels rushed.

Which is a shame because, I have to say, I really liked the actors playing the children. I mean the 3 kids from the Netflix show are incredible but the casting of the children is the film's only real win aside from it's visual elements. They just feel more natural in the roles and fit better with the characters. It's just a shame they're not given the chance to develop on screen. If this had been cut down to just one or two books then we might have been able to understand the children more and empathise with their plight. However, we don't ever really get to know them outside of the annoying voice-over provided by Jude Law's Lemony Snicket, who is not a patch on Patrick Warburton's incredible turn in the show.

Now that Netflix have provided lovers of the book at better adaptation of these novels, it seems as though this film is going to fall even deeper into oblivion. Except when someone needs to make an unfavourable comparison with the TV show, obviously. It's fair though. This film wanted to be something for everyone but in keeping it family friendly it diluted the books' tone. It placed the focus in the wrong areas and just wasn't faithful enough. It just about beats Netflix on its visuals, set design, and the three children. Other than that it just feels like a sad and rather lifeless copy. Like all those shitty parody movies from the makers of Scary Movie. It's trying desperately to be funny but all it's doing is making you cringe.

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