Film #51: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

20120507-012258.jpgDirected by: David Fincher
Language: English with some background Swedish
Length: 158 minutes
Watched on: 15 Feb 2012

Having spent my first few weeks in Japan seeing the posters for this film everywhere I decided that I would go to see it at the cinema. There are a couple of things that are worth noting about Japanese cinemas. Firstly, as with this particular film, the Japanese seem to get films months after we do; I think in the UK it was out before Christmas, yet I went to see it in February. Secondly, just going by the exchange rate, they’re really expensive at ¥1800, which is like £16. I keep telling myself I have to stop converting, especially now that I’m being paid in yen, but it’s difficult to stop when the conversion is as easy as lopping off two zeroes from the yen price and rounding down a little. Anyway, they also get really busy; the cinema was packed when I went.

I have written at length about the Millennium trilogy books and the Swedish films before. To summarise, I liked them, and they were the last proper page-turning books that I read. And I love Noomi Rapace as Salander.

So I was a bit put out when I heard that they were remaking it to put it in the English language for a “wider audience”. Oh, for heaven’s sakes… people are idiots. I also had a bit of trepidation because I’m not much of a fan of Daniel Craig and I couldn’t see how Rooney Mara could live up to Rapace’s performance (plus she looked silly on the posters).

Of course, some of my fears were perfectly reasonable. For example, the language thing becomes a logical inconsistency because the main dialogue is in English but background noises and signs are in Swedish, as you’d expect for a film set in Sweden. You get some actors putting on Swedish accents (Mara affects some kind of Poirot-esque speech by greeting people in a very Swedish way), while others, like Craig, don’t even try.

Comparing it to the Swedish version, the main difference between the two is undoubtedly budget; because the Swedish film was a TV project, it shows sometimes. This film starts with a completely unnecessary flashy CGI credit sequence and goes from there. Yet some of the sets look like they could have been lifted straight out of the Swedish film, as if they’ve actually just gone and used the same locations… at which point I just turn around and think, “why did they bother making it, in that case?”

As for the rapist (oops, spoiler!), I felt he looked a lot more threatening in the Swedish movie; here he comes across as rather jolly and avuncular at first, and only threatening later once you realize that’s what he’s going to do. Perhaps that’s a good point to be made there, that rapists could look like anything, and perhaps someone might find it even more shocking if someone who doesn’t “look threatening” turns out to be threatening, but this is a movie we’re watching, and generally, movies have a sort of visual convention of how people are presented, and it just comes across as jarring when that’s broken.

But all that aside, Rooney Mara’s performance as Salander was truly formidable, and she really sank into the role. I’m not sure I’d say she brought anything new to the role, but I think she’s a really competent actress, especially considering that the only other thing I’ve seen her in is as a preppy love interest in the film about Mark Zuckerberg, and how completely and utterly different she looks and acts in each film. As I mentioned, she affects some kind of Poirot speak at a few points during the movie – she’ll greet or thank people in Swedish – but it was done just subtly enough that it really made me believe that she was actually a Swedish woman who just happened to be speaking English for the sake of the movie. And that can only be a good thing.

Other than that, there are only a few minor differences here and there between this film and the original one; in the end probably not enough to justify making it, despite the good performances. Perhaps this film is more true to the book in some ways – for instance, Salander doesn’t give herself away to Blomkvist as she did in the Swedish film. And one particular part near the climax is more coherently executed. But as with the original movie, the postclimactic ending is poorly executed, although this is a consequence of the book’s Return of the King Ending Syndrome. As I mentioned in my previous review, this was one of the worst things about the book itself too, although it’s easier to get away with it in a book than it is in a film.

Anyway, I still really enjoyed the film, as it’s ultimately an engrossing story, whatever form it’s in. And I suppose if it does accomplish the goal of getting more people aware of the story, then that’s good (most Japanese that I’ve talked to haven’t heard of the Swedish movie, but have heard of this one). But I think anglophones need to quit with the whining about subtitles. After all, I watched this film in a cinema packed with Japanese people, and they didn’t seem to have any trouble with the subtitles.

Oh yeah, I’ve just remembered the other annoying thing that the Japanese do with films… the sex scene was pixellated. I bet it wasn’t even explicit. It’s rather funny, then, that the rape scene actually left less to the imagination with this cut of the film…

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