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A Dragon-Tattooed Girl

I just saw the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. An interesting experience. The film had a number of differences from the Swedish film. Mostly, I feel like the American version tried to make Daniel Craig/Mikael Blomkvist more super-powered at the expense of Lisbeth, and I wasn't terribly thrilled by that.

Key sequences that are different. First, Blomkvist doesn't get sentenced to jail time. Although it was a difference from the book, I liked how the Swedish film used Blomkvist's jail time to enforce his time away from Lisbeth.

I think that Lisbeth's first moment on screen, her meeting with Dirch Frode, is a good example of the way that the American film managed to find humour in various scenes. Again, unlike the book, our first introduction to Lisbeth is when she's being competent. We've been told that people in the office don't like her, and that she might not even show up at the meeting, but her handling of the meeting is perfectly competent. I really, really grew to like Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, and was tremendously uncertain about warming up to Rooney Mara. But I liked Mara's Lisbeth. Although I found her black hair and blond eyebrows made her face look a bit unnatural. I think that was intentional.

Blomkvist's deal with Vanger is far less impressive. Blomkvist's motivation is clearly the "dirt" that Vanger tells Blomkvist he has on Wennerström -- the book seems to provide a much clearer financial incentive. But whereas the Swedish film just simply omitted Vanger's "dirt" on Wennerström, the American film seems to make that the centrepiece of Vanger's deal with Blomkvist. The American film also touches on Millennium's financial difficulties and Vanger becoming a partner in the magazine. When the deal finishes, the dirt is found to be useless, but Vanger is absolved -- he's an old man, and clearly he thought that the information was more valuable than it was.

We see a few more scenes with Lisbeth -- we see the scene in which she finds Palmgren, just after his stroke. She visits him a few times. Her friendship with Plague seems much more like a business relationship -- he builds a device to help her tap into Wennerström's home network. When her computer is damaged, she goes to a local Mac genius bar for help. <eyeroll>

Bjurman is just as unpleasant as we expect. So we know that he's unpleasant, the film makes him fat. <eyeroll> The famous rape scene cuts is easier to watch in the American film, but still uncomfortable. Me, I think rape scenes should be hard to watch. Mara's Lisbeth is a bit scarier when she's dealing with Bjurman. In the Swedish film, after Lisbeth takes her revenge on Bjurman, he disappears from the story. The American film gives us one follow-up showing us that Lisbeth is keeping track of Bjurman.

The main parts that annoy me relate to the mystery. In the Swedish film, and in the book, Lisbeth basically injects herself into Blomkvist's investigation when she emails Blomkvist the clue that the "phone numbers" in Harriet's diary are really references to Bible verses. In the American film, Blomkvist's daughter sees the numbers out of context and, in passing, refers to them as Bible verses (the daughter, see, is on her way to Bible camp and sees the world through Bible-coloured glasses).

This leads Mikael to looking up the Bible verses, and ultimately helps him figure out that the verses are references to a set of murders of women. It's only after he puts all this together that he talks to Frode about hiring a researcher, and is put in touch with Lisbeth. I found this part kinda annoying, and took away from Lisbeth's significant contributions to the investigation. As a consolation prize, she gets to be the one who notices the woman in the 1966 photos, standing behind Harriet taking a photo. Blomkvist goes off to hunt down the woman with the camera, while Lisbeth investigates the murders. In the Swedish film, they investigate the murders together, and this becomes the moment when they start to get to know one another. (I'm very fond of the scene in the Swedish film, where Lisbeth turns off Mikael's car radio, only to have Mikael turn it back on).

In the American film, I feel like the two of them never do really get to know one another. Out of the blue, they start sleeping together, but I never really feel like they get close emotionally.

The American film invents a reason for Blomkvist to visit Harald -- Blomkvist figures out that Harald took some photos on the bridge during the car accident. In the American film, he's appears to be a far more reasonable character than his counterpart in the Swedish film. "Oh," I thought. "They made the Nazi much nicer!" Feh.

But I actually grew to like his brief scene. He's showing off his photos of Nazi officials to Blomkvist and complaining that his kids refuse to come to see him and Blomkvist says something like, "maybe if you changed the decor," snarking about the Nazi photos. And Harold says, quite sincerely, "I'm not going to hide the past. In a way, I'm more honest than all of them."

"You mean your family?" Blomkvist asks.

"Sweden," Harald replied.

In the Swedish film, Harald is a bit of a stereotypical old codger with a shotgun. Fully forgettable. In the American version, Harald represents (in my opinion) Stieg Larsson's vision of Sweden -- that just underneath the surface, fascism is very much alive.

Finally, we get the main climax. Blomkvist and Lisbeth each, independently, come to the realization that Martin is a murderer, and still Blomkvist gets captured. Stellan Skarsgard is marvelous as evil Martin Vanger, but oddly his secret kill room stuck me as too over the top. These scenes in the Swedish film seemed far more banally horrifying.

Lisbeth saves Blomkvist, but before she leaves to chase after Martin she asks Mikael, "Can I kill him?" No. Just... no. That's not what Lisbeth would do.

I like the scene in the Swedish film where she quietly watches Martin's car catch fire. It really speaks to how cold she could be toward a murderer like Martin. In the American film, Martin's car crashes, and she'd walking up to the wreckage, clearly intending to shoot Martin, when the car suddenly explodes. It's a weaker scene. And the film never really establishes for us whether or not either Henrik or the police ever learn of Martin's criminal actions. The American film, like the Swedish film, doesn't give us that powerful moment in the book where Vanger forces Mikael to help cover up Martin's crimes. Henrik's a cuddly, friendly capitalist.

At one point, Lisbeth refers to "Harriet Fucking Vanger" and I thought she was going to get to talk about how Harriet hiding for all those years allowed Martin to continue killing (an observation she makes in the book). But no.

The denouement is slower -- as in the book, Mikael goes to London to speak to Anita Vanger, taking Plague, Lisbeth and Trinity to tap Anita's phones on the assumption that she'll contact Harriet. The film invents its own twist -- that this Anita (who we met earlier in the film) is really Harriet. No trip to Australia required.

We see more of Lisbeth's actions as she empties Wennerström's bank accounts, and the film actually ends with the ending from the book -- where Lisbeth buys Mikael a gift, and is all ready to surprise him with it, but she sees him going out on a date with Erika Berger, and realizes that it's too hurtful for her to fall for him. The scene works in the book. It doesn't work on the screen. It just seems like an odd ending.

I'm okay with the films deviating from the books. I don't like that the trend in this film seemed to be that a bunch of Lisbeth's best moments were given to Mikael.

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where the colours are brighter, the conversation wittier, and people will mail you a free puppy when they like what you've written.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:53 am (UTC)
Hmm, this makes me not want to see it. Anything that tones down Lisbeth is not a good change IMO.
Jan. 22nd, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
There's also the strange James-Bond-esque over-the-top title sequence. Weird.
Brook Bakay
Jan. 29th, 2012 07:53 am (UTC)
One mistake
Just wanted to mention that in the book it's Blomquist's daughter that figures out the bible references when she visits him on her way to bible camp. I didn't much care for it in the book either - it's very deus ex machina-y - but they were being faithful to the book. In the book as well, it's Blomquist's who looks up the verses, and realizes he needs a researcher and after talking to Frode, show up at Lisbeth's apartment with breakfast.

In fact, I thought the Fincher version was generally more faithful to the book than the Swedish one, and better plotted as well.

I definitely preferred the two main actors in the Swedish film, they were both brilliant and their relationship was far more believable. But Stellan Skarsgard was fantastically creepy as Martin.
Jan. 29th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
Re: One mistake
Oh, that's interesting. Thanks for that comment.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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