Lemony Snicket: Film and Fiction

There has been some discussion of the relationship between film and fiction between books and movies based on them (see here and here). Touching on this theme is Frederica Mathewes-Green’s review of the film A Series of Unfortunate Events. The film is based on the children’s book series by Daniel Handler under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. Mathewes-Green was disappointed that the movie didn’t build on the strengths of the books:

When I got home from seeing Lemony Snicket, I read through The Bad Beginning, the first in the 11-volume series about the unfortunate Baudelaire children. What with small pages and large print, it took about an hour. There I discovered that thing more precious than gold in publishing circles: a unique authorial voice. Daniel Handler, writing under the pseudonym “Lemony Snicket,” narrates in a quietly morose, worried tone, recounting events that go from bad to worse and then worse again . . . If you’ve never read any of these books, you think you can write it yourself from here. You can’t. What makes them delicious is Handler’s restraint. The Baudelaires’ situation is not so much terrifying as depressing, though it’s also absurd . . . All that delicate, intriguing capital is blasted in the movie version, just released by Dreamworks, starring Jim Carrey as Olaf and other big names in supporting roles (Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Catherine O’Hara, Dustin Hoffman, Cedric the Entertainer). The film is loud, frantic, and smart-alecky. It stoops to lows you could not conceive.

Despite this, she can’t fully indict the movie based on the book:

It’s not fair, of course, to criticize a movie for not being strictly true to its source; the two are separate works and deserve to stand or fall on their own. But it ought to be noted when a film destroys the main thing that made a book intriguing. How does Lemony Snicket, the movie, stand on its own terms? Well, watching it is a lot like watching most other big-budget kid movies. It’s trying so hard to hack out a space in the pantheon of favorites that you can hear it hyperventilating. Everything is big: the obsessively detailed sets, the immense special effects, Carrey’s sweeping gestures. You have to admire it, just for its audacity.

My wife really wants to see the movie so I am sure I will end up seeing it. I confess I wasn’t that impressed by the book (I only read the first one); it just didn’t do anything for me. Has anyone else read the books and seen the film? I would be interested in reactions contrasting the film and the books.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

View all posts

1 Comment

  • I read the first book and made it through half of the second. Like you, I’m not overly impressed with the tale/s. However, unlike you I do want to see the movie. I think it’s the artistry of the sets and costumes that I find appealing.