After the last book, published in 2006, and the 2004 film (starring Jim Carrey, Jude Law, and Meryl Streep) remaining sequel-less, fans of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events have been denied the pleasure of seeing what could undoubtedly be one of the most visually interesting book-to-screen adaptations in history. The steampunk-esque images and downright strange locations and characters are almost unique in the book-to-film world, with directors making the stylistic decision to incorporate these clashing ideas and time periods.
So naturally, when the new Netflix show was announced I could not have been more thrilled. The film was pretty good, yes, but somewhat lacking (or at least I thought) in the strangeness of the world that Snicket seemed to create in his books so well. Rather than create the mystery and adventure that the books form, the film was retold more as a list of bad things happening to the same children over and over; a mere coincidence.
The show, however, has no such problem. I cannot begin to describe how excited I was simply from the opening credits, which are the perfect mix of interesting and creepy. And the perfect theming does not end there. In the middle of a tragic story following the life of three orphans and their hideous mistreatment, a perfect mix of intrigue in both the story and the physical representation is required to prevent any sane person from turning the show off altogether (as the narrator encourages you to do before our story even starts). The use of weirdly contrasting colours, presumably impossible camera angles, as well as the very elaborate and exaggerated set keep your eyes drawn to the screen, even when you may want to look away.
Right from the get-go we are alerted to the idea that everything may not be as it seems. This narrator seems to know far too much and gives us insight into things that he cannot possibly know – yet he does. The switching of perspectives is used to create an almost film-noir aspect of mystery; we can recognise characters by name and sight but their true purpose is not always clear. This dramatic irony changes the mystery somewhat; from following the children along as they puzzle things out themselves in the progressive way that a book always moves, we are thrown straight into the action – the tension builds as we see the Baudelaire children accept their situations without question, whilst we from behind our screens just desperately want to tell them the truth that we have been privileged to see.
In regards to the film, cast and characters were pretty phenomenal, Billy Connolly as Uncle Montgomery was a stroke of genius, and it should have worked brilliantly. But compared to that phenomenal awkwardness of the Netflix original one can see that the film did not utilize the sheer absurdity of such a situation to its full advantage. Of course the humour is there, but it has got nothing on the awkward over-ebullience of Mr Poe or the simple straight-forwardness of Count Olaf’s theatre troupe. No character behaves really as they should, or even how you expect, which adds to the weird, disjointed atmosphere even more.
Either way, this show needs to be watched, if only to see how it differs from the other formats.