Revisiting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Later today, I plan on going to see the new English-language adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  In preparation, I re-watched the original Swedish film last night.

As such, I thought I would write a similar column like the one I did for the Paranormal Activity films in October in which I will do some in-depth updated opinions on the film, as well as some preliminary thoughts on the new version.

Like last time, I will probably go into minor SPOILER territory, so you have been warned.

Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – read my original review

Of the three films in the Millennium Trilogy (renamed to Dragon Tattoo Trilogy in North America), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the most stand alone story of the bunch.  In fact, you could watch this film and none of the others and still have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  As such, I would consider it the most re-watchable film in the series, as well as my own personal favourite.
The Swedish title of the film is actually translated to Men Who Hate Women, which actually better relates to the plot of the film, in which disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist tries to locate a serial killer of women.  The character of Lisbeth Salander is much more of a supporting character in this story and indeed she doesn’t join up with Blomkvist until about an hour into the film.
Now, while Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a standalone story, it does establish elements that become very important later in the series.  When I first saw the film, I was puzzled by the inclusion of a brutal and disturbing scene where Lisbeth is raped by her guardian.  While I was initially bothered by the inclusion of this scene, which didn’t really have any impact on the rest of the story, it later became apparent that this is one of the single most important scenes in the whole series.  The fact that Lisbeth was raped (and secretly filmed it, as part of a blackmail plan) becomes an essential plot element in both The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

The fact that there is so much essential exposition in the film is part of the reason why the film has a length of over two and half hours.  In fact, the main plot of the film is all but resolved just after the two hour mark, with the final half hour serving as an extended epilogue that ties up the loose ends of the story.  However, despite the length, the film still has good pacing and I was never bored with what was going on.

When I first saw the film, I thought that it was just as good as the thrillers released in North America, which is a feeling that I still have.  I still find it sad that a lot of people probably missed out on this film for the sole reason that it has subtitles.

There are actually a few rabble-rousers out there that don’t believe that the film was a “true” film adaptation, because extended versions of the films were shown as a TV miniseries.  Personally, I think that any belief that this isn’t a true film is pure hogwash, especially considering the fact that all three films were released theatrically first and this is actually the most viewed film in Sweden ever, with over 1 million admissions.

No overview of this film is complete without talking a bit about Noomi Rapace’s performance as Lisbeth Salander.  To me, she is the definitive version of this character.  Of course, I only know her from the film, since I haven’t read the book.  Apparently the character’s depiction is much different in the book and some of the fans of the book have been much more critical of Rapace’s performance.  That said, I personally cannot truly see anyone else in that role.

I guess that leads me to talk about adaptations in general.  Because I’m a notoriously slow reader, I generally don’t read books before seeing film adaptations.  I personally think this is the better method, since I can see the movie as a movie and not as a movie based on a book.  In fact, I think it’s a better experience to read the book afterwards and expand my experience, rather than see the movie after reading the book and complain about all the stuff that was cut out.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
So, what are my preliminary thoughts on David Fincher’s new English-language adaptation of the story?  Well, for starters, it’s been an incredibly short turnaround since I saw the original film in theatres and the release of this film (about 1 year, 8 months).  If it was anyone else doing the film, I would probably be much more inclined to outright skip the film in theatres.  However, David Fincher has a great track record and I’m interested to see what his take of the story will be.

That said, I still say that this adaptation is totally unnecessary.  I might be saying this because I have a degree in film studies and I am very used to seeing films with subtitles, but language should not be a reason to remake a film.  Now a remake might be a little more understandable if they changed the location of the story to the United States with American characters.  However, the location of the film remains in Sweden and many of the characters (including Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander) sport faux Swedish accents, which are totally distracting.

Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander is definitely going to be the the linchpin that decides whether or not I like the film.  I’m quite supportive of the rest of the film’s cast, which is actually quite impressive.  However, like I said, I personally cannot see anyone but Noomi Rapace in the role of Salander.  Based on what I saw in the trailer, I sort of think Mara is trying to hard to much more punk than Rapace was in the original.  I’ve actually heard from some early reviews that Mara’s performance is actually closer to how Salander is in the novel, which I will take into consideration when I see the film.

Well, I will be seeing the film a couple hours from now and you can look forward to my thoughts on it this evening.

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).