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Review 17 Jan 12

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Boosts Winter Box Office

This Hollywood remake bucks the trend of seemingly certain cinematic failure.

Andrej Klemencic

This remake of the popular Swedish thriller based on Stieg Larsson’s book comes out just two years after the original film. Accented-English replaces Swedish and modest Korean cars have made way for expensive Volvos. Usually a recipe for cinematic disaster, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo defies the odds to become an honourable exception to the long history of unsuccessful Hollywood adaptations.

It has been almost a decade since the Swedish book trilogy Millennium sat atop international bestseller lists. The intriguing story of a top-notch journalist and a computer hacker who solve murders and mysteries while dealing with issues that burden the human psyche was a winning combination of strong writing with smart ideas and analysis of key issues in European society.

The first book and the original film were called Men Who Hate Women. The new title, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", is less likely to offend, in accord with Hollywood’s goal of making films that will appeal to a wide audience.

Despite the politically incorrect title, the original version gained a huge following, turning Swedish actors Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace into household names around the globe.

Familiar role for Bond-man Daniel Craig. | Photo courtesy of TUCK

The Columbia/MGM production decided to play it safe, combining an unknown actress with superstar Daniel Craig. The current James Bond is on familiar territory in the detective’s role.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tells the story of a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who becomes a detective for a wealthy man who wants to find out where his niece disappeared 40 years ago. Along the way, Blomkvist stumbles upon Sweden’s Nazi past, the present intolerance for immigrants and a serial killer roaming freely in the wastelands of the Swedish north.

Although the film is set on a remote, snowy island with scant daylight, the action, suspense and sex scenes are hot and stylish. It is somewhat like watching agent 007 on holiday, picking up some work solving a local mystery just to avoid getting bored by the frozen scenery.

For the female lead, Rooney Mara portrays Lisbeth Salander, a girl who has isolated herself from society. The young American actress succeeds in the challenging role, which came with added pressure after Noomi Rapace received such high praise in the original that some big Hollywood names lobbied for director David Fincher to cast her in the remake. However, the actress, having just finished filming the entire trilogy in Swedish, turned it down.

Since this is a Hollywood film, Craig’s chiselled physique replaces the casually handsome Nyqvist as Blomkvist, while Lisbeth has dark sex-appeal. The naturalistic nuances of the Swedish film have been replaced by the highly-stylised aesthetics of the American director.

He chooses a specific colour for each of his films and this time it is gray. He uses darker filters for the camera, which works very well on the big screen. The hectic musical score by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor also provides an interesting contrast to the emptiness and slow pace of life in the north. And, while criticism of Fencher’s use of fast cuts is justified, the director’s style and Reznor’s music are a good match.

However, fans of the original are sure to miss some elements that have been removed in the $90-million remake to ensure it appeals to a Hollywood audience. Long moments of silent contemplation, which were plentiful in the Swedish film, are entirely absent from this version. The still shots of the outdoors are not necessarily of poorer quality, but one gets the feeling that they were made only because the book is full of them. Despite their beauty, the director does not give us much chance to enjoy them, constantly pulling us back into the action.

Both films succeeded admirably to be consistently interesting for two-and-a-half hours, which is an achievement.

As with many European films, the Swedish original is beautiful, while lacking the kick of a blockbuster action film. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as with most smart American films, is technically good in every way, but lacks intimacy. It is like a highly-charged battery which leaks in a few places. One of them is sound design, used to absolute excess in the rape scenes.

However, despite its few flaws, fans of thrillers will enjoy this film. Others will probably be dragged into cinemas by wives and girlfriends who want to see Daniel Craig, or by adolescents who want to see the piercings on Rooney Mara.

Despite its dark mix of Nazism, the Bible and serial killers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been a success in the highly competitive global holiday box office, making it a serious candidate to be the season’s biggest hit.

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