Should you see the movie or read the book? -- EW compares ''Lemony Snicket'' and ''Million Dollar Baby'' to the books from which they were adapted

By Michelle Kung
January 10, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Should you see the movie or read the book?

A Very Long Engagement, Sebastien Japrisot
In the hands of helmer-co-screenwriter Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie), spritely heroine Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) is no longer wheelchair-bound as she mournfully plays her tuba and flits around WWI Paris in search of her presumed-dead fiancé. Jeunet also applies his trademark zippy editing to several battle sequences with great visceral effect. The Last Word
Mon Dieu! While Jeunet’s stunning film is epic-worthy, Japrisot’s 1993 novel supplies more suspense.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window
Unevenly stitched from the Baudelaire orphans’ first three showdowns with evil Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), Robert Gordon’s script lacks the books’ wicked wordplay — and prematurely solves the mystery of the parent-killing fire. The Last Word
Dear Reader, I’m sorry to inform you that Snicket’s ingenious — the word ingenious here means clever — tales are more satisfying.

Flight of the Phoenix, Elleston Trevor
Like Trevor’s 1964 novel, Scott Frank and Edward Burns’ script follows 13 plane-crash survivors fashioning a new plane from the wreckage — only this time, a motley crew of American oil riggers (plus Dennis Quaid’s pilot) have replaced the original British protagonists (and pet monkey). The Last Word
Bypass both Trevor’s tome and the ’04 remake; instead, set your course for Robert Aldrich’s sterling 1965 adaptation, starring Jimmy Stewart in the Quaid role.

Rope Burns, F.X. Toole
In one corner, Toole’s ”Million $$$ Baby” — the taut, gritty anchor of his 2000 story collection — poignantly depicts an unlikely female boxer (Hilary Swank); in the other, screenwriter Paul Haggis’ generally faithful adaptation adds a ruminative narrator that gives director Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby a more mythic tone. The Last Word
The one-two punch of Eastwood and Swank delivers the winning KO, but Toole’s bluntly honest tales don’t go down without a fight.