You know that feeling when you first find out that a story you really like is going to be turned into a movie? And there's a part of you that's really excited, but another part of you remembers having seen movie adaptions of other stories that you loved, but the movie turns out to be horrible? And so you don't know if you want to put yourself through the torment of seeing another awful adaption?
This is more or less how my siblings and I felt way back in 2004 when the 'Series Of Unfortunate Events' movie was released. We had been going through the books together as a family. Having started reading them when the series was in full swing (I think I started on them when Book 8: 'The Hostile Hospital' was the current release, so 2001ish) we had caught up to the current books and were eagerly awaiting the annual releases as they began ending in cliffhangers.
We had every right to be concerned. They were squishing three books into one movie. How were they going to handle Sunny Baudelaire, an infant who spoke only in gibberish, whose siblings could understand? And that casting choice of Jim Carrey as Count Olaf - loved him in 'The Mask' but he's been in some real stinkers since then.
It's not a perfect movie. Squishing the first three books together - or rather, chopping 'The Bad Beginning' in half and inserting 'The Reptile Room' and 'The Wide Window' between the two halves, could be viewed as a mistake. The movie is barely over an hour and a half, and it moves along at breakneck speed. Re-watching it, I checked the time stamp and they only spend about 17 minutes on 'The Reptile Room', which is a murder mystery, and they kind of skip over the solution of the murder. I haven't seen the new Netflix adaption of the books but as they spend two episodes per book the stories probably have more time to breathe.
As an adaption though, it is true to the spirit of the books. The story is framed with narration from Lemony Snicket, chronicler of the many misfortunes that have befallen the Baudelaires and writer of the books. He's every bit the character in the movie that he is in the books - a mysterious shadowy figure who's face is never clearly seen - who interrupts the story every now and then to apologies for just how woeful the tale is and to show off his vocabulary. Fun fact: If I hadn't read the books when I was a kid there's a chance I wouldn't know the meaning of words like schism or penultimate. When I saw the promotional material for the Netflix show and saw the character of Snicket front and center instead of lurking in the shadows I was horrified. How could this show that was supposed to be more faithful to the books get wrong what the movie got so right?
And how is Jim Carrey as Count Olaf? He's sinister. He's hilarious. You love to hate him. In short, he's just about perfect. There may be a moment or two where he takes things a little too far - a little too Jim Carrey and not enough Count Olaf - with the silly faces and funny noises, but for the most part he's great. And as Count Olaf is a master of disguise (well, sort of. He'll never fool the kids, but the adults fall for it every time.) Jim Carrey is really playing three different characters, and he makes each of them his own. It could be argued that Count Olaf gets too much time in the spotlight, and the story is supposed to be about the Baudelaire orphans, not the villain. But hey. I love to see a great villain.
Things are changed around for the ending a little bit. One thing that happens from time to time in the books is the siblings get separated and either Klaus or Violet has to pick up the slack as they are down one of the skill-sets they need to get out of a sticky situation. The movie has that too, with Klaus tapping into Violet's talents and inventing a grappling hook to rescue Sunny.
Some of the main themes of the books are how bad things happen to good people. That's just how the world works. How we wish things could be are not the same as how things are. The movie captures 'How we wish things could be' vs. 'How things really are' well in two scenes near the end. One where Lemony Snicket says that he wishes he could end the story with 'And then they caught Count Olaf, and he was forced to endure all the hardships that he inflicted on the Orphans.' We get a hilarious montage of Count Olaf getting run over by a train and attacked by carnivorous leeches. And then we learn that in actuality he escaped justice and would be back once again to torment the Baudelaires. The other is where the Orphans visit their childhood home (which had burned down in the beginning of the story) and see it as they wish to see it - in it's former glory - as the camera pans over it and the beauty fades to ashes before their eyes. It's a beautiful and sad scene.
The themes of family sticking together and relying on each other to get through hard times are really strong in this movie. As a fan of the books, I don't mind that they changed things around a little bit. They captured the spirit of the books but they weren't afraid to be their own thing. I think I'd miss all of the scenes they added if they weren't there. And honestly, if this were an adaption that were 100% faithful to the source material, what would the point be of making an adaption? If a movie is identical to the book, you may as well just read the book. This captures the feel of the books and brings something new to the table as well.
Good movie. Check it out.