Monday, December 26, 2011

The One You've Been Waiting For: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Why an American film version?

Boy, talk about your hotly debated remakes. Firstly, the Swedish film version of 2009 was quite popular in the U.S., so I don't hold with all the talk about Americans being too lazy or stupid to deal with subtitles. If some people find that having to read subtitles detracts from the full film experience, that makes them neither lazy, nor stupid. It's simply an experiential debate, in my opinion. Anyway, plenty of us lazy, stupid Americans managed to read the subtitles for this film. I don't think the remake was in any way meant to pander to Americans who dislike subtitles. Actually, I think the popularity of the Swedish film, combined with the popularity of the Steig Larssons's book, is largely what drove the remaking of this movie. It's an opportunity to make money. It's also an opportunity for filmakers to have their way in interpreting the source material. Have at it, fellas. Why not an American version?

The Inevitable Comparison

I feel as though I won't be able to fairly compare the two films without watching both this version and the Swedish version one more time. However, I am not going to do that right now, so this unfair comparison will have to suffice. I'll start with the pet peeve.

When I first heard that Daniel Craig was cast as Mikael Blomkvist, I was concerned that he would be too athletic, too macho, and too damned good-looking to portray the middle-aged journalist. Lisbeth Salander is the action hero of this story, not Mikael Blomkvist. I must say, though, that Craig did a fine job with the role. He gave a controlled, believable performance. However, they did him no favors by dressing him so well.  He can't help that he has a very taut body (or actually, maybe he should've tried to gain a few donut pounds), but the wardrobe director did not have to make it so obvious. Did you get a load of how his clothes fit? Puleeeez. I guess Swedes get even their down jackets tailored.

For the general public, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth seemed to strike the bigger casting controversy, but I have to say, I think she was fine. I think the Swedish film did more to enable the audience to understand Lisbeth's character, but I thought Mara did well with the road traveled in this version. I think she could actually be great in the 2nd and 3rd films, which I presume (and fervently hope) will be made. Not taking anything away from Noomi Rapace, though, who was fantastic in her own right.

Apparently, some folks took issue with the length of the almost 2 3/4 hour American film. I actually loved the pacing and loved the detail. I'm probably in a minority, but even 3 hours would have been fine with me. Some thought the piece at the end (after the mystery is resolved) was unnecessary, but I found it useful. All except the bit at the the very end. I don't think Lisbeth had any romantic expectations of Mikael, and I don't think she would have been the least surprised, much less bothered, by his spending time with Erika, his longtime lover. More true to Lisbeth's character: Walk right up and hand him a gift in front of Erika.

As with all great stories, understanding the motivation of key characters is critical. I feel the Swedish version did a better job with this. Prime example is the plotline involving Lisbeth and her public guardian.

Why would Lisbeth, a hard-as-nails survivor, allow any man to force or manipulate her into doing anything she did not want to do? You would expect her to say 'f*ck-off' and thrust her knee into his crotch. What on earth could he do or say to force a different reaction? The Swedish film made it very clear, both in set-up and in action, that he had her truly cornered. He had something she could not do without. We understood that, and also understood that Lisbeth was somehow accustomed to getting nasty jobs done in order to get what she needed.

Another example is the relationship between Harriet and Henrick. There was a lot of love and support in that relationship; that was clear. Why would an adult Harriet not inform her uncle--and the police, for that matter-- about the events of her youth? The Swedish film did a much better job of detailing the grisly nature of events, the abject terror that ruled Harriet's young life, and the guttural pain and lasting fear that would lead a person to completely put away that part of their life forever---even at the cost of the lives of others.

Other little things in the film were also missing, for me. I think it makes for a more effective mystery if you cast suspicious light on a number of characters. This version, I felt, did less of that. We needed more contact with Harald and the other Vangers. They were all apparently horrid people, so the guilty party could have been any one of them, or any two or three of them. Let us have a chance to look at them with suspicion.

All in all, though, this was a good film. Very engrossing and a perfectly legitimate take on the story. The greater thing that will come of this, I hope, is that the 2nd and 3rd films will be made. The Swedish made-for-tv versions were okay at best---not even close to the quality of the first film. The lazy, stupid Americans have a great opportunity here to do justice to those stories. I can hardly wait!

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