Monday, January 30, 2017

SS United States Streaming Screen Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a dismal, sad, depressing story. Its author, Lemony Snicket, advises everyone to avoid the tale at all costs. I advise otherwise.

I read this book series when it was first coming out in bookstores. I owned the whole series. I think I was into the mystery surrounding everything and the premise that this was indeed going to be a series full of unfortunate events. It was something you didn't see in the youth genre, and on some level I appreciated that. I did enjoy it, but I only read it once. Odd, because I usually read things I like more than once. I think I was left a little miffed at the questionable ending. I actually got rid of the books, another weird move on my part.

When the 2004 movie came out, I only saw it once (sensing a pattern here?). I remember I did not enjoy it, probably because it deviated so much from the book series. I was a real stickler for sticking to the source material. Still am, but I'm now a little more forgiving.

So, I was not super crazy excited when the Netflix reboot was announced, only pleasantly excited. Netflix has done some great series, and reboots of recently filmed stories are still in vogue. It sounded like a good idea.

Then everything changed with one teaser trailer:


0:01 through 0:19, I was nodding my head. Ah yes. Netflix does not disappoint. At 0:20, I would have done a spit take if I had been drinking something. The SS United States?? Here??

So, A Series of Unfortunate Events instantaneously became one of my newest obsessions!



So let's get down to it. The series chronicles the tale of the three Baudelaire orphans whose parents are killed when their mansion mysteriously catches on fire. The Baudelaires are sent to live with their relative Count Olaf, who will do anything to get his hands on the orphans' family fortune. A series of unfortunate events ensues.

Season one of the Netflix series covers the first 4 books, with each book being covered by 2 episodes. There are 13 books in the series altogether, so there should be at least 2 more seasons

This was a book lover's dream. ASOUE was everything Harry Potter fans were asking of their adaptation to film. No detail was skipped, no character was angry when they were supposed to be calm (I'm still bitter, Goblet of Fire), and there was enough time to cover everything significant and the little details. There were changes and small additions, but every change/addition felt natural, like it could have always been that way. It dissolved into the world like a tasteless, odorous poison into a drink. They didn't contradict major plot points in the book, unlike the 2004 movie did. Everything felt authentic. I was pleased.


The world that was created had a huge Pushing Daisies feel to it. Quirky, morbid, artistically stunning visuals, stoic children, zany one-off characters, timeless fashion, an amazing narrator, and architecture to the T. Pushing Daisies is one of my favorite series, so the feeling was welcomed with open arms. Stills from each show could be confused with each other, except PD took the color saturation to 11, whereas ASOUE muted colors. ASOUE also made everything dingy and run-down-looking.



Let's be honest, I was only here for the ship, you're only probably reading this because of the ship. I have dawdled long enough. Let's go to the dreary dock.


I didn't remember a ship of her magnitude in the book series, so I was interested how the Big U would fit in.

The SS United States first appears briefly in the opening credits of each episode of the season. It's an image of the ship on a cork board, covered with strings tied to thumb-tacks. You later infer it is a montage of Lemony Snicket working, researching and figuring out how the different pieces of the story go together. I was pleasantly surprised to see the ship appear so soon.

Then we get to episode 3 & 4, aka "The Reptile Room." The SS United States stars as the SS Prospero, a ship headed towards Peru. Not much else is stated about the ship itself. It is supposed to take the orphans and their current guardian to Peru to finally get some answers and safety. What actually happens is the exact opposite. No one rides the boat, no one gets any questions answered, no one is safe (especially the guy that dies), and the season of unfortunate events continues on for 4 more episodes.

The SS Prospero in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
In the teaser trailer, she doesn't have a name on her bow.
In the episode, you can see "SS Prospero"

The ship enters the story (a la the magic of CGI) in her current rusty state. The rust fits the look of the series well. Everything looks like it's been through a couple hurricanes. Only problem... like the current SS United States, there are no lifeboats on the SS Prospero. They should probably add some for future voyages, just in case...

Towards the end of the episode, Count Olaf boards the SS Prospero (as seen in the teaser trailer above). The inside of the ship is a set, and is not based on any of the SS United States' innards. One reason: wood. The stateroom walls look like wavy wood veneer, while the hallway you can see out the door is paneled wood. You can get a glimpse of the stateroom in the trailer below, 2:10-2:21.



Something has felt off. The SS United States feels like an odd fit. A very specific real world place was placed in this otherworldly series. There are no connections to the real world, except the SS United States and Peru. I can overlook Peru, because that was in the book series. The boat could have been any turn of the century steamship, and no one would have batted an eye. But no, they chose the SS United States. This is a very fine detail, but it won't stop bothering me, so I intend to get to the bottom of its mystery.

I reached out to the CGI team that created the visuals in the series, CVD VFX. Their response was pretty much, Oh, yeah, it does look like that ship you're talking about, Dunno why, Good eye! Since then, they have elected to not respond to any email asking for anyone I could be referred to who might know. Great customer service right there.



FINAL THOUGHTS
The Season: Absolutely Dreadful. 4/4
SS United States: It's CGI... but you see it a lot, relevant to plot, and you briefly go on it. 2.9/4
CVD VFX: Bad customer service always mars any good experience. 0/4



SS United States Silver Screen Movies
Introduction / Conclusion