Reviews: A Series Of Unfortunate Events 2017
Maybe a Little Too Unfortunate
I've read the first book, watched the first movie, and now I've watched the first episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Previously I've criticised the film and book for not living up to its conceit. From the beginning, we have a narrator promising us how nasty the tale is going to be, but what we got was something way tamer than any Roald Dahl story. And this new series? Well, it seems to have the opposite problem. This one is a lot more subdued this time around. There are quite a few biggish names in this one, and the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Warburton are known for playing larger than life characters, but here they put on a far less cartoony performance. This is especially the case with our new Count Olaf, who brings none of the whimsy of Jim Carey's take, but retains all the menace. This actually made it less comfortable to watch. Jim Carey's villainous Count Olaf is a cruel, murderous cad, but he's so lively and silly it softens some of the harder edges. Harris plays a plain old mean bastard, doing mean things to kids. And that is harder to watch. It doesn't help that the first episode kind of ends without any real conclusion or resolution; it starts with some happy kids finding their parents dead, it ends with them being slapped around by their psychopathic foster parent - that isn't a particularly satisfying or entertaining thing to see. It's almost as if the story lives up to its promises of nastiness a little too well. After a certain point, I'm just not having fun watching miserable kids trying to come to terms with a miserable existence. There are other issues as well, such as the utterly terrible and distracting CGI throughout, resembling an early 2000s videogame cutscene. If Netflix can't budget half-decent special effects, they might have been better off going full Wes Anderson, using the most janky, least convincing effects on purpose. The pace is also a little too slow too, no doubt a consequence of stretching the first book across two episodes (which explains the lack of any real resolution). For its flaws, Unfortunate Events still has a few things I do like, such as the clever word play and steadfast conviction that adults all wind up becoming patronising, self-deluded idiots. Whilst I'll probably watch more episodes, I'm not in a hurry to do so. For all its flaws, I still find myself preferring the Jim Carey movie.
A Not So Fortunate Series
The story and style is engaging enough to keep interest, but the pacing can drag at times. I like the added scenes and storylines that fit perfectly with what was in the books. It's no doubt because the author of the books himself, Daniel Handler, was involved in the writing for the series. I was worried there'd be too much comedy or adventure and the dark style would be either overlooked or lost. Thankfully I was wrong and the dark tone is there. The one downside is that itís stretched out to the point of annoying or boring in some parts to get the full screen time. A result of stretching each book into two-part episodes that are an hour long each. The characters range from questionable at worst to really good at best. Neal Patrick Harris as Olaf isn't as good as I thought he'd be, but he gives a more threatening presence than Carrey. Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes do great as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire, but I think they hold back on their delivery. The Theatre troupe are really good in this and I like the young and energetic Monty, but the annoyingly crass Mr. Poe, his wife and the odd portrayal of Aunt Josephine evens it out. Poe and his wife especially irk me because they're complete a-holes in this. I know that's the point, but it's so overdone that I hate them just as much, if not more, than Count Olaf. Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is good, but he's in it a bit too much. He's giving a good performance, far better than what I thought he'd do. But he overstays his welcome sometimes, especially when he explains phrases. I know it was in the books, but we could have gone without them. Or shortened them somehow. The style and effects mostly work with a few glaring exceptions. The lower budget and limitations are only noticeable in some places, but only really bad in the Lake Lachrymose scenes. The staging for the orphans sailing and the CGI for Sunny was Youtube quality by comparison, and not in the good way. Otherwise, the style and look is actually really good, and close to the books to boot. Out of all of this, there is one thing you will not forget after watching this series. That theme song. "Look Away" is so irritatingly catchy and memorable. The series did something really smart, though. The song CHANGES the middle section for each place the Baudelaires are living, so you're tempted to listen to that song at least every other episode to hear the new part for it. Clever. This is a weird series, one that most people would have to watch the first two episodes to decide if it's something for them. Or better yet, read the first book to see if it's something you're interested in, because the series follows it far better than the Carrey movie did. I personally give it a 3/5. Good attempt, but some elements keep it from being great and need improving. Upgrade the effects, let the kids emote more, cut back on Snicket's monologues and make Poe less of a douche and itíd be a lot better.
Arc The First - A Good Beginning
ASOUE has been both a beloved book series and a rather more contested film, and now Netflix has decided to take on a series-length adaptation... and it's really rather good. The new format gives the writers (including the books' original author) more time to breathe, the series' wordplay and loquaciousness getting far more focus. Each episode being up to an hour long means each of the books gets proper focus instead of the breakneck pace the film was forced to adopt. As a result, whilst each of the three children still have only one real defining characteristic (inventor, bookworm, baby) they are given more personality outside of these. A premise of the books was that the three Baudelaire orphans (including baby Sunny!) were all rather more intelligent than the adults around them - which again gets the due attention with more time available. The adults however are amongst the stand-outs. Patrick Warburton dials the ham right down as Lemony Snicket, the narrator who addresses the audience directly in a deliciously dry style. Neil Patrick Harris has to step into Jim Carrey's shoes as Count Olaf, but this Olaf is much more menacing and sinister without losing the buffoonery inherent to a terrible actor. Olaf (the character) is a giant ham, but NPH convinces us that any child entrusted to his care would be genuinely scared. Overall (and despite what the catchy opening number would have you do) it's most certainly worth a watch, with the caveat that binging the whole series in quick succession will highlight the inherent repetitiveness and it may be worth pacing it out over a longer period.