Spolier alert. This post is about the movie version of A Series of Unfortunate Events and reveals details about the ending, although I don't feel too bad about that since it's been out a month already and if you haven't seen it by now, then you probably have no intention of ever seeing it or your kids won't let you go because Klaus doesn't wear glasses, a big clue that the movie is not faithful enough to the books and must be boycotted.
Honest, I know a kid who refuses to go because the movie Klaus either wears contacts or has 20/20 vision. He objects to Klaus's not being shorter than Violet and somewhat plump as well. And he didn't like it that Klaus is a teenager and not a little boy either.
Our kids didn't have the same objections. Since they've listened to all the books instead of reading them to themselves, Brett Helquist's delightful illustrations aren't integral to the way they've imagined the stories.
The 8 year old doesn't even like illustrations anymore. Once I made the mistake of showing him an illustration of Mr Bean in one of the Freddy the Pig books we were reading and he was outraged.
"You ruined my imagination, dad!" he protested.
I don't know why movie versions of his favorite books don't ruin his imagination, but they don't. He seems to have figured out that movies and books, being different art forms, have to accomplish their effects in different ways.
But he and his brother were curious about why Klaus isn't bespectacled.
I told them my guess, which is that the producers worried that glasses would make Klaus look like Harry Potter and audiences might think their movie was ripping off the Potter movies.
Which means that I think that the producers think that a lot of people showing up to see their movie have never heard of Lemony Snicket's books.
But if they think that why are they calling it Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events?
Maybe the cinematographer complained that putting glasses on Klaus would force him to light the movie differently than he'd planned.
We saw the movie last month. The blonde loved it for Jim Carrey. The 11 year old enjoyed it immensely. The 8 year old still isn't sure how he feels about it, except that he wishes it had been longer, which is his way of saying he wishes it had included more of his favorite scenes from the books.
That's the dilemma filmmakers who want to adapt a beloved book into a movie always face. Should they stick as closely as they can to the book and risk making a filmed book report or should they give their own imaginations free reign and risk offending their core audience, the people who are only interested in the movie because they loved the book it's based on?
A lot of adults and most critics felt the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was the best of the series so far because it was the one least tied to the books...that is the one that did the best job of achieving its own tone and look, the first two seeming more like overly respectful illustrations from the books that happened to move like the photographs and paintings at Hogwarts.
But Azkaban left a lot of the books' younger fans cold. They wanted the moving illustrations and don't give two hoots for Alfonso Cuaron's artistic vision. The only artist's whose artistic vision they were interested in was J.K. Rowling's.
I was creeped out by Unfortunate Events. You might think that's an appropriate reaction to a movie about a grown up weirdo trying to murder a group of children, but the creepiness I felt seemed to be detached from anything that was happening on the screen. It may just have been my mood. We saw the movie on the afternoon of Christmas eve and Christmas eve is the one time of the year when I believe in ghosts. Whatever the cause, it kept me from getting caught up in the movie and so I can't be sure if I liked it or disliked it.
But there were two things about the movie that I definitely didn't care for.
Here come the spoilers.
One was at the beginning when the narrator, who I never accepted as being Lemony Snicket (so I guess that makes three things about the movie I didn't care for) is introducing us to the Baudelaires. He tells us, "Klaus loved books." But then he immediately corrects himself and says, "Or rather he loved the things he learned from books."
Now I don't mind the screenwriters making changes for reasons that have to do with telling the story visually or for adding action or character development or for cutting a sprawling story down to two hours. But there was a quite unnecessary change being underlined.
Snicket never describes Klaus as loving books. He says Klaus loves to read. That's a very different thing. And Klaus enjoys researching subjects that he's developed an interest in, but that isn't the same as loving the things he learns while researching.
What the screenwriter was doing was turning Klaus from a kid who loves to read and learn into a kid who knows a lot of useful stuff. In other words, assuring us that Klaus is no dreamy bookworm. He's a practical-minded kid who will probably grow up to be an engineer or a lawyer or a doctor, somebody who knows a lot of stuff but all of it of the useful kind that helps him make money.
Which seems to me a slap in the faces of all the kids in the audience who came to the movie because they loved reading books from which they gained no practical knowledge whatever.
The other thing that bothered me was the ending. The movie gives the movie Klaus the book Violet's job of contriving the grappling hook and climbing up the tower to try to rescue Sunny. This might be just a matter of the screenwriter wanting Klaus to share some of the glory, since Violet's already had two scenes in which she saves the day through her activeness and ingenuity. But it also does the job of making sure we understand that Klaus isn't just a little bookworm. See, he's not a wimp with his nose in a book. He's an action hero! As though heroism for boys can never be a matter of thinking up things, only of beating up bad guys.
In fact, at the end neither Klaus's researching skills, nor Violet's inventions, nor Sunny's biting---which is a symbol for Sunny's being the most active and aggressive of the Baudelaire orphans, the true heroine of the family. She isn't any less thoughtful than her brother and sister, but she is far more decisive---none of that saves them. Their talents do not help them to rescue themselves. They are saved because Klaus suddenly turns into Bruce Willis in Die Hard.
This is the most typically Hollywood aspect of the movie. I don't know why it is but heroes and heroines of action adventure movies never triumph because they think faster than their enemies. They triumph by suddenly developing super-powers and by a kind of divine intervention. They get incredibly lucky.
Sheer force of will and brute strength is rewarded by the gods in the end.
The deus ex machina appears at the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events in a way that's practically biblical. After Klaus proves he's worthy by virtue of his strength and determination the gods cause the sun to break through the clouds and shine brightly in a scene that up until that moment seemed to be taking place at night!