The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Books get optioned by movie studios constantly. Anytime anything looks like it's selling decently, some studio somewhere will jump on it, just in case it becomes the next huge sleeper hit. However, as I learned a while back, sometimes all that means is that the studios made a bad investment, since the odds of a book that's been optioned actually making it to the screen are slim. Estimates range between 2 and 10 percent managing that leap, in fact. Many times those that do are unrecognizable anyway.

On the other hand, if you've got an absolute blockbuster of a novel like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, not only is it bound to make the big screen (twice, in this case), the odds are also pretty good it won't be very different. Lots and lots of people have read this book, and the movie makers don't want to shock or confuse a large percentage of their audience by changing it all around. There were about two differences you'd call major, and they were both at the end so I can't explain them. I'm being much more considerate than the guy in the row behind me, who had a habit of explaining plot points to his companion -- about fifteen seconds before they happened on the screen. We played a little game. I'd turn around and glare at him and he'd be quiet for a while before starting up again.

Anyway, to make Daniel Craig (Cowboys & Aliens) feel at home, the opener is straight out of a Bond flick. People get stuff poured over them while a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, with Karen O on vocals, plays. They don't leap into the action quite so quickly as Bond does, but close. Even a two hour and forty minute movie has trouble covering a 500+ page book. Bizarrely, I managed to read the book before seeing the movie -- which is a good thing, or that guy behind me might have gotten a face full of popcorn -- so I've got the plot down cold now.

Mikael Blomkvist is what they call a "crusading journalist," meaning he still has some integrity. This is ironic because the movie opens with him being successfully sued for libel by crooked billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerström. To try to salvage his magazine's credibility, he takes a sabbatical which doesn't turn out quite as planned. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer of Priest), former CEO of a fading national conglomerate but still a force to be reckoned with, persuades Blomkvist to investigate a girl's disappearance. The police have given up, but you can't fault them since the girl, Harriet Vanger, Henrik's great-niece, disappeared in the sixties, when she was sixteen. Henrik has been obsessed with the case ever since. It doesn't help that every year on his birthday he still mysteriously receives a carefully pressed flower -- Harriet's traditional gift to him.

Meanwhile -- and I mean that; in the novel it takes over two hundred pages for the two main characters to bump into each other, and it doesn't happen much sooner here -- Rooney Mara of Nightmare on Elm Street is Lisbeth Salander. She's usually summed up as a "troubled computer hacker", which is accurate as far as it goes, but "troubled" is a little light. As the old joke says, she doesn't just have issues, she's got whole subscriptions. Blomkvist seems to be the only person who treats her like a normal human being. Everyone else is scared of her and her piercings, I think. The point is, whatever she can't find out isn't worth knowing, and that's the sort of help you need when trying to solve a forty-year-old mystery.

The huge Vanger clan gets whittled down a lot, since you don't really want to hand out genealogical tables at the theatre door. Most noticeable are Cecilia Vanger, aka Geraldine James of the latest Holmes incarnation, and Martin, Harriet's brother, aka Stellan Skarsgård of Thor. (And yes, that is Julian Sands, last seen by me in Ocean's Thirteen playing Henrik in the flashbacks.)

Robin Wright from State of Play is Erika Berger, Blomkvist's partner in the magazine and longtime lover, despite being married -- her husband knows all about it in the book, though that's less clear here. She's no longer a fairly major player like she was in the novel; here she's got just a handful of scenes and isn't nearly the tough, capable businesswoman she should be. I mean, I think she's supposed to be, but again, that isn't very clear. Robin does what she can with it, though.

A lot of other things are glossed over, of course, even aside from the two big things mentioned above, but on the whole the scriptwriters seem to have approached it with almost reverential awe. And it works -- were it not for the fact that the seats start getting supremely uncomfortable after about two hours, I never would have realized the length. I'll go with four and a quarter out of five. I know people campaigned to have Noomi Rapace (also of the latest Holmes incarnation) reprise her role as Salander from the Swedish version because she was so good, but I haven't seen that yet. Soon. On the other hand, Rooney Mara did just fine, I thought, so maybe a fairly unusual name is all that's required. Heck, Rooney Mara even went out and got all those piercings done for real, so at least she was dedicated.

Image: 
Salander and Blomkvist take a walk in the chilly night air.

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Hi, I read your blogs daily.

Hi, I read your blogs daily. Your story-telling style is witty, keep doing what you're doing!

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