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A Series of Unfortunate Events: Movie VS TV Series

VO: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Beware, the video you’re about to watch is rife with misfortune, misery, and despair. We’ll be evaluating a wide range of areas to determine which version best adapted Lemony Snicket’s novels. Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the A Series of Unfortunate Events Movie vs TV Show.
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A Series of Unfortunate Events Movie vs TV Show


Beware, the video you’re about to watch is rife with misfortune, misery, and despair. Welcome to WatchMojo, and in today’s installment of verses, we’re pitting the 2004 film adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” against the Netflix series that ran from 2017 to 2019. We’ll be evaluating a wide range of areas to determine which version best adapted Lemony Snicket’s novels.

Round 1: The World of Lemony Snicket


The whimsical, macabre world that Snicket created in his novels felt modern and grounded, while still being timeless and magical. Visually speaking, Brad Silberling’s film personifies the gothic atmosphere of Snicket’s books to a T, drawing heavily from steampunk influences. The movie’s use of color makes every environment distinctive, from Count Olaf’s dilapidated abode, to Uncle Monty’s reptile room, to Aunt Josephine’s dreary house by Lake Lachrymose. The film received Oscar nominations for its Art Direction and Costume Design, while the makeup artists took home an Oscar for transforming Jim Carrey into Count Olaf, as well as a various other dastardly personas.

Years after dropping out of the movie, Barry Sonnenfeld was given a second crack at adapting Snicket’s books thanks to Netflix. Having previously directed the first two “Addams Family” movies, Sonnenfeld was tailor-made to bring this darkly comedic story to life. Like the film, the series strikes just the right balance of old-fashioned yet contemporary and enchanting yet grim. What sets the show apart is its dingier color pallet, which is fitting given the Baudelaire’s bleak circumstances. Production designer Bo Welch also takes us to several locations that never made it to the silver screen, such as Lucky Smells Lumbermill and Prufrock Preparatory School.

Although the series features more exploration, many places feel similar due to the restricted colors. In the film, every location is unique and sticks with us. Granted, you could argue that the show’s dryer, flatter style is more in accordance with the spirit of the books . . . but the movie shows more of an eye for detail, and wins this round.

WINNER: Movie 1 / TV Show 0

Round 2: The Acting Ensemble


The film stars Emily Browning as Violet Baudelaire, Liam Aiken as middle child Klaus, and twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman as little Sunny, all of whom bring out the likable nobility of their characters. Jude Law narrates the Baudelaire’s tragic tale as Lemony Snicket while Timothy Spall pops up every now and then as Mr. Poe. At only 108 minutes, though, a lot of the supporting characters are given less screen time than desired, particularly Billy Connolly as Uncle Monty and Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine. Plus, it’s easy to get upstaged when you have Jim Carrey stealing the show as Count Olaf.

Quality kid actors aren’t always easy to come by, but the show found a trinity of talent in Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith, who play the Baudelaire orphans. While Neil Patrick Harris hits it out of the park as Count Olaf, he’s not the only scene-stealer. In addition to creating fun new characters like the mysterious Jacquelyn, the show gave every major supporting player just the right amount of time to shine, from the Baudelaire’s various guardians to Olaf’s acting troupe. K. Todd Freeman is particularly hilarious as the incompetent Mr. Poe and Patrick Warburton’s blunt delivery makes him an ideal Lemony Snicket.

While the movie is well-cast across the board, the supporting characters just aren’t given enough time to be fully fleshed out. The show proves that when given time to shine, there are no small roles, only small actors, turning even the most minor characters into stars.

WINNER: Movie 1 / TV Show 1

Round 3: Count Olaf


Jim Carrey is one of the most dedicated and dynamic comedic actors of his generation. Carrey’s manic energy shines through in his depiction of Count Olaf, but he doesn’t solely play the role for laughs. He escapes into the part and brings out Olaf’s diabolical nature, having a ball with every cackling moment he’s onscreen. Carrey further demonstrates his range under the guises of Italian scientist Stephano and salty seaman Captain Sham. It’s a shame we never got to see Carrey reprise this role, as we can only imagine that he’d bring the same charisma to personas like Shirley the receptionist and Detective Dupin.

Neil Patrick Harris is just as over-the-top as Count Olaf, which might initially lead viewers to believe that his performance will be heavily inspired by Carrey’s. It doesn’t take long for Harris to make the role his own, however, creating an Olaf who’s even more theatrical and sinister. He’s a winking devil who pulls no punches, making us laugh while also making us fear for the welfare ofthe Baudelaires. Where Carrey only got to play two of Olaf’s alter egos, Harris dons a wider wardrobe of disguises, from Coach Genghis, to Gunther, to Dr. Mattathias Medicalschool, giving us the whole package.

Although Harris turns in a more complete interpretation of Count Olaf, that shouldn’t take away from Carrey’s performance. Carrey gives 100% as Olaf and probably would have taken the role even further had the film received a sequel. Thus, we’re calling this round atie. You may say that’s cheating, but it’s not like Count Olaf ever plays by the rules.

WINNER: Movie 2 / TV Show 2

Round 4: Humor


As you can imagine, a majority of the humor in the film stems from Carrey’s eccentric performance. Carrey is a master ofimprovisation, which gives Olaf a wild card factor that’s more than welcome. Whether he’s making a bad first impression, trying to milk a snake, or bombing on stage, Olaf’s antics are always a riot. While Carrey carries much of the comedy, we also get some solid laughs from Sunny’s wisecracking gibberish and Aunt Josephine obsessively worrying about the most ridiculous things. One of the comedic highlights is when Hurricane Herman hits and Josephine’s paranoid premonitions actually come to fruition.

As hysterical as Harris is as Olaf, the show is more of an ensemble piece with some of the best lines coming from Lucy Punch as Esmé Squalor and Usman Ally as Fernald the Hook-Handed Man. In addition to the main cast, guest stars like Joan Cusack, Tony Hale, and Max Greenfield all put their natural comedic gifts to impeccable use. The writing also has a darkly comedic edge that finds the humor in tragedy, appealing to kids and adults alike. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the first episode when Mr. Poe informs the Baudelaires that their parents have perished.

While both adaptations bring a colorful sense of humor to an incredibly bleak tale, the show’s writing is sharper and its cast has comedic chops in spades. It packs in clever in-jokes, Easter eggs, and the occasional musical number while still managing to tell an inventive story with a gripping mystery.

WINNER: Movie 2 / TV Show 3

Round 5: Representation of the Books


“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is comprised of thirteen main books in total. Giving each book an individual movie adaption probably wasn’t feasible, seeing as how the Baudelaires don’t significantly age throughout the series and the young actors would’ve quickly grown out of their roles. So, it made sense for the film to combine the first three novels together. The film mostly follows the books, although the ending of “The Bad Beginning” instead takes place after the events of “The Wide Window.” With so much ground to cover in so little time, though, a few characters are short-changed and the pacing can feel rushed at times.

As a television series, this Netflix original had the freedom to tell the whole story with no stone left unturned. The show consists ofthree seasons and twenty-five episodes with almost every book being depicted in two-parters. While the show is faithful to the books, it makes some notable changes and expands upon a few ideas. For example, the secret organization of V.F.D. is touched upon much earlier and viewers are briefly tricked into the believing that the Baudelaire’s parents are still alive. It gives longtime fans of the books what they’ve always wanted to see while also giving them more than they bargained for.

Despite the limitations of the medium, the movie delivered the best adaptation it possibly could. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” simply works better as a television series, however, given the length of its source material. What’s more, the show tonally matches the books perfectly, feeling tongue in cheek and earnest all at once.

WINNER: Movie 2 / TV Show 4

With a final score of 2 to 4, the TV show is the most fortunate adaptation of Snicket’s books.
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