Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (US)

Larsson around!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 2011 US
Directed by David Fincher
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Some spoilers about this film
and the Millenium Trilogy in general.

If you’ve read any of my reviews to the previous “native” adaptations of Stieg Larrsson’s phenomenal Millenium Trilogy books, you’ll know how ultimately disappointed I was with the productions... so much so, in fact, that rather than just go with my usual MO and completely ignore the US remake of a film, I decided to give these ones a go in the hopes that they would be more of an adaptation of the original novels and less a remake of their predecessors. I have to say, however, that I was both equally pleased and disappointed by this latest movie by David Fincher.

Now I know a little about adaptation and cinematic shortcuts to facilitate an appreciation of the problems involved when working from a specific piece of source material but, at the same time, when those compromises involve changing the content on which the work of art is based, I have no respect for the artist involved with such a travesty (which is why Lord Of The Rings needs a remake by someone who will do it properly pronto!). So I’ll make this quick with a review conclusion for those of you who have not read the original novel on which this movie is based... The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an entertaining enough mystery movie which won’t annoy you half as much as it would if you’d have read the original tome.

Now then, there’s good and bad about this new adaptation of the novel but the one wholly positive thing I will say in favour of this US version is that it’s not a remake of the original film (at least as much as I’ve seen of that original version... I’ve only seen the theatrical cuts and not the initial TV editions as yet). This is very much Fincher and the screenwriter going back to the original novel and taking that as something to build from. This is a much more faithful version of the novel than the Swedish version... which really surprised me. Lots of stuff which was missing in the originals was here for me including... Mikael Blomkvist’s sexual arrangements with Erica Berger (although his sexual encounters with a prominent suspect in the case he is working were not included), Lisbeth Salander’s Modesty Blaise-like adventures in embezzlement which lead to the death of Blomkvist’s professional enemy and the misunderstanding/betrayal between her and Blomkvist which leads to her not wanting him as part of her life (a crucial point which was missing from the original movie trilogy and which very much leads to a misunderstood conclusion at the end of the third with audiences who have not read the books) are all present and correct in this version and Fincher is to be applauded by the way that these are all fit into the running time of the movie... although it has to be said the editing is tight. No time for anything other than standard “cause and effect” Hollywoodland editing in service of that preposterous pseudo Holy Grail “the story” I’m afraid.

However, as much as this production team has chosen to include some pretty important points which were conspicuous in their absence from the original versions... it has to be said that there are also some glaring ommissions and negative points in this one too.

Surprisingly, from a film by the likes of Fincher who cut his teeth on the grim and gritty Alien 3 and who has a reputation for making what I could only call “designer bleak” (like Se7en), this seems to me to be a very much dumbed down or softened version of events as depicted in the novel. Blomkvists six month jail sentence, for instance, doesn’t happen in this version... he just gets a hefty fine which kind of changes the tone of certain sequences. Both Salander’s “current” and Berger’s “past” interest in a BDSM lifestyle is also very much absent in anything other than the title sequence (which I’ll have a moan about in a minute). The references to Kalle Blomquist which say everything about how Blomkvist is perceived by the media is also completely excised. Granted the US and UK audiences aren’t as likely to “get” the reference but that’s what cinema is partly here to do, isn’t it? Entertain, educate and illuminate? After all... we “got it” in the books, didn’t we?

The casting in this version doesn’t really seem to be right to me either. Rooney Mara as Salander is probably the most representative of the characters as they are in the novels. She’s no Noomi Rapace but she has a certain quality of her own which she manages to bring to the role in a raw, Salanderish way... so that’s a good, positive thing. But all the other characters, it seems to me, seemed much better served by their Swedish predecessors than as they, at least, look in this version (with the possible exception of Figuerola... we’ll see if Fincher can get himself a stunner of a “muscle-babe” for the third film).

Daniel Craig is, of course, a really excellent actor but, for me, he plays Blomkvist as much too self assured and confident than he is in the books... almost like he’s playing James Bond in a way... which is certainly credible on screen but disturbingly unlike the original character. He’s no cardboard cutout either, and Craig is enough of an actor to play this role... I just don’t believe him as Blomkvist, which is a shame. On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with the original novels then this shouldn’t be a problem for you. However, I did feel that Craig was bringing a certain unnecessary amount of baggage from his 007 role with him when, an actor of this calibre really should have been able to nail the character as slightly more vulnerable. It might have been his direction on set though so I really can’t blame him too much and he does make a convincing on-screen presence.

However, I’m thinking that having the latest 007 in their film must have gone to the producer’s heads on this one. The opening title sequence of this movie is pure James Bond and would certainly not look or sound out of place on any of the recent Bond pictures with it’s curious mixture of heavy rock, fetish wear and girly silhouettes. Where it would look out of place, however, is on a movie like... err.. well this... and it does too. What an inappropriate title sequence for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo! I can’t deny that it’s clever and well designed but... why? It’s just at odds with the atmosphere of both the novel and the movie too (as it happens) and completely killed the mood of the pre-credits sequence while totally failing to set the tone of the movie to come (in much the same way that the “cool and groovy song” over the titles of Hammer’s Moon Zero Two totally fails to set the viewer up for what they are to expect from the film)... that’s a total fail as I’m concerned.

If pushed, I’d have to say that this version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a little more faithful to the novel (although I’d prefer a cross-bred version where the mutually exclusive ommissions were reinstated from the two movies) and possibly a little more entertaining in content... but the atmosphere of the original version is a better match for the subject matter.

Truth be told, though, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is unique in that it’s the only part of the trilogy which can be viewed as a stand-alone story... which makes it very hard to speculate on the success of the next two films in the series. Certainly, if The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest manages to totally miss the story threads represented by Figuerola and Berger as the Swedish original does... I’m really not going to be very happy. All I can say is that I’ll continue to watch the progress of this series with interest and see if the director manages to continue to be as respectful of the source material as this one is... Blomkvist’s prison sentence and sexual exploits notwithstanding.

For reviews of the original Millennium Trilogy movies... please check them out here...


  1. Ah, I needed this. Not sure if I'll go see it--not a big fan of books-to-movies except from a remote, how-to-they-do-it POV--so you gave me the points I wanted to know. How was the soundtrack?

  2. Hi there Bucko. Thanks for stopping by. The soundtrack was not as loud in the mix as I'd expected. My galfriend is possibly grabbing me a copy for my birthday so looking forward to hearing it outside the confines of the movie mixdown.

    Thanks for the comments!