The Reel Deal
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
A Reel Deal Film Review
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5
“THE BOOK WITH THE BETTER MOVIE ADAPTATION”
There’s an interesting fact about movies and books. Sometimes great books make lesser movies and sometimes lesser books make great movies. One example of this is The Shining. Stephen King’s novel is a pretty uninteresting penny dreadful–it’s good for a fright, I suppose, but not very memorable from a literary standpoint–yet Stanley Kubrick teased out a phenomenal film from the bare bones of King’s pages. Kubrick did this often actually, he made film adaptations of books that turned out to be either substantially better than the books from whence they came, or, at the very least, were equal to them. Kubrick, of course, is not the only example of a director who has pulled off such a feat. In fact, Hollywood is full of successes in this department: Victor Fleming’s film version of The Wizard of Oz is much better than the L. Frank Baum book; the crime novel on which Hitchcock’s Vertigo is based is little read outside of France, yet the film is ubiquitous, often even called one of the best movies of all time; I think it’s pretty undeniable that no matter what you think of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather as a book, Francis Ford Coppola’s film one-ups it; likewise, Chuck Palahniuk’s book Fight Club was bettered by the movie version, directed by David Fincher (who also directed this Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an “it-novel.” It was 2008′s version of The Da Vinci Code, an overrated novel with a story that captivated millions of readers (many of whom, let’s face it, at risk of sounding pretentious, don’t read all that much actual literature to make adequate comparisons–in other words, lots of mediocre books would look good when compared to much that appears on the New York Times Bestsellers List). The story of the book, and this film, is that of your average run-of-the-mill murder mystery. Years ago Harriet Vanger disappeared, and her grandfather Henrik assumes she was murdered. The disappearance has gone unsolved over the years, but before his death, Henrik decides to hire disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist to solve the cold case. Pretty standard stuff you could find up and down your local bookstore’s mystery aisle, but where it changes the formula a bit, and the reason it has the readership it has, is due almost entirely to the b story: Mikael is helped in his investigation by a rather odd, rather violent, rather unpredictable, rape victim named Lisbeth Salander. Her character is the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, and she’s really what makes the story stand out (if it does indeed stand out all that much). The only other real difference between Larsson’s books and your average murder mystery is the amount of detail in the violence–excessive violence populates many of the book’s pages. (Who knew that what America and the world had been yearning for was a meticulously described anal rape scene?)
There’s always an it-novel every few years, and they always get movies made from them, because when studios see cadres of fans queueing up at bookstores to buy books, they know the same people (and many more) will come see an adaptation on screen. They see dollar signs, and they greenlight an adaptation almost immediately. This has been going on almost since the dawn of the movies. It didn’t take long for The Da Vinci Code to get a film (which turned out as much a mediocrity as the novel), and it took even less time for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to have two films made.
Two? Yes, two. Swedish versions of all three books of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (of which The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is only the first book) were released to relatively positive reviews. But even if Americans love a novel (a rare enough thing in itself), getting them to see a movie with subtitles is never easy. So a couple years later, we have the American version, because the Swedish version had no chance of gaining a substantial American audience. It all would seem quite unnecessary if the new The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo weren’t so great, and weren’t better than both the previous Swedish film and the book upon which both films are based.
Yes, David Fincher manages to create a great movie from a mediocre novel, as he did with Fight Club. Thanks to his stylish direction, a great score from Academy Award winning team Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as a phenomenal performance from Rooney Mara (as Lisbeth Salander), I was thoroughly impressed with the outcome. Yet problems still exist. For example, it continues to bother me that the b story is the more interesting story (this is true of both the novel and the films). The main mystery doesn’t have as high of stakes as Lisbeth Salander’s more engaging backstory. At various points in the film, I caught myself thinking that I could care less about this Vanger mystery from oh so long ago, I just wanted to see Rooney Mara wow me on screen some more. Also, thanks to rather obvious casting and cliche Hollywoodisms, if you’re a film buff, you can probably guess who done the Vanger whodunnit way too early on (even if you haven’t read the book or seen the Swedish film). My other problem is the end is somewhat different from the book (unnecessarily)–I won’t go into how, and thus avoid having to place a spoiler alert above this review–but this altered ending to the main mystery is the only thing that I don’t think is improved upon in the adaptation to the silver screen.
But overall, the film is much more memorable than the book is. In fifty years, or one hundred, when the book is largely forgotten, there will, I assume, still be plenty of moviegoers watching this Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Fincher fests down at Film Forum.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a film directed by David Fincher, written by Steven Zaillian, and based on the novel by Stieg Larsson. It stars Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Christopher Plummer. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Colombia Pictures
Design by Jillian Mercado
Press Photo from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Photography Courtesy of Colombia Pictures