The effect of the adaptation is that "we witness a brutal adult world from a child’s perspective." *Contains spoliers*by Lucinda Smyth / January 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Anyone who grew up in the early noughties will remember A Series of Unfortunate Events, the children’s book series by lugubrious author “Lemony Snicket” (pen-name of Daniel Handler). Narrated by Snicket, the 13 books documented the lives of orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire as they became subject to endless misery following the deaths of their parents in a fire. This seemed a strange premise for a children’s series, but the books were instantly popular. Since the release of the first instalment in 1999, the series has sold over 65m copies, and has been translated into 41 languages. In 2002 it was reported by the Times Online that the books had helped a number of bereaved children cope with grief following the 9/11 attacks. Snicket’s use of irony, dark humour and twisted optimism was comforting. It made unfortunate events—and the unfortunate world which had allowed them to happen—easier for children to process.
The lacklustre 2004 film adaptation, directed by Brad Silberling, therefore came as a huge disappointment. Everything that had made Snicket’s books original and entertaining—the dry wit, the literary nods, the risqué jokes—was removed, and in its place left a flattened Hollywood cut-out, with thin dialogue and a pretty boring plot. Not even a glittering cast including Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep could salvage the film. It failed to take off at the box office, and planned sequels were cancelled.
Thankfully, however, Netflix’s new television series (A Series of Unfortunate Events) has done a much better job. With a screenplay by Snicket himself, the show is wittier, more evenly paced, and visually slicker than the film. The cinematography is also brilliant. Riffing on Brett Hellquist’s illustrations, the world of the Baudelaires is part-Wes Anderson, with twee twinsets and pastel colours, and part-dreamworld dystopia, with distorted gothic turrets and grey skies. The overall effect is that we are witnessing a brutal adult world from a child’s perspective.
Another nice detail is the characterisation of Snicket. Played by Patrick Warburton, Snicket opens each episode by warning us not to watch any further. Warburton’s dry, gloomy delivery is a faithful interpretation of the book’s narrator, and his deadpan asides to-camera create a noir feel. (The lyrics of the opening theme…