Dec 23, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Long ago, the drumbeat started. It was faint at first, but over weeks and months it gradually built, and by December it turned loud and unavoidable.
The beat consisted of voices, scattered throughout our land and other lands, offering variations on the same theme of danger and warning that a great desecration was about to descend upon us.
All this was about a movie – but not just any movie. This was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, director David Fincher’s long-awaited take on the first book in the Stieg Larsson “Millennium” trilogy that has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.
The popularity of Larsson’s material was daunting enough. What made it tougher for Fincher was the fact that Dragon Tattoo already had a big-screen life thanks to a 2009 Swedish version that many film fans and critics drooled over.
Given that, they said over and over, why does Hollywood have to try and ruin it?
Mainly, for the simple reason that most people never saw the Swedish Girl. Nothing nefarious there – it’s just that English-speaking moviegoers have a difficult time warming up to any movie with subtitles from beginning to end.
But the diehards didn’t care. They mostly fretted that Noomi Rapace was a perfect Lisbeth Salander and Micheal Nyqvist an ideal Mikael Blomkvist, so anyone else attempting to play them, no matter how good, were just ripping it off.
Heard this story before? You have, over and over, in entertainment, especially music. Whatever is done first is always the best, and anything that follows is a dilution of the product, and eventually you go the dark side and sell out.
So Fincher went in with all kinds of strikes against him, not to mention the fact that, with any movie adopted from any mega-popular book, everyone who read it is looking for variations from the original.
For Blomkvist, Fincher chose Daniel Craig, so well established as the latest 007 that you can’t see him in anything else without thinking about Mr. Bond. More importantly, to cast Salander, Fincher skirted the begging of every big young actress in Hollywood and went with Rooney Mara.
They were wise choices. Mara’s Salander is brilliant, menacing, cold, lethal and, when it’s needed, very dry on the humorous side. Craig, as Blomkvist, flaunts macho tendencies even though, as he looks into the messed-up Vanger clan, he knows he’s getting into further trouble. An extra bravo goes to the great Christopher Plummer, whose Henrik Vanger gives a heart to the tale.
Fincher has made a Dragon Tattoo where time flies by, the cold of Sweden is mercilessly reinforced and you’re absorbed into the minute details, like one hilarious T-shirt Salander wears (not to be repeated here) and the strategic use of Enya, even if you know every blasted detail already. And that was the rub.
Much as I enjoyed and respected the film, like any person who’s combed through the Larsson books I brought in a mental checklist, just to see where, or if, Fincher strayed from the well-known narrative.
In short, not that much, and that’s quite a feat. Fincher and screenwriter Steve Zaillian do take a few shortcuts, combining some plot points and choosing not to use a few of the extraneous details. Also, the characters of Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s co-worker and married lover, and Dragan Armansky, the security consultant who hires Salander, are minimized a bit.
As to the notorious stuff, the scene of rape and torture on Salander by her guardian, Nils Bjurman, is tough to watch, but not as graphic as you might think. What makes it tolerable is that you know Salander will get her payback, and when she does, it’s quite satisfying.
My sense is that this film will look even better if and when the other two books, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, get their big-screen treatment. Both of those stories add a full bevy of new and rich characters and explain, in full detail, why Salander was so messed up.
What is striking, among other things, is that you realize that Larsson’s books are old-fashioned detective stories with 21st-century variations. True, there’s newspaper clips, books and dusty archives and photographs, but there’s plenty of software, too.
Somewhere, Steve Jobs would be smiling at all the strategic placement his company’s products get in the film. More pertinently, I wonder what Stieg Larsson would think about how his remarkable books are now a big-screen enterprise that will continue to fascinate us, whether it’s in Swedish or English.
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