Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book to Movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Book to movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2009 directed by Niels Arden Oplev

Stieg Larrson was a Swedish writer. The novel was set in Sweden. So, it makes sense that the first movie adaptation of Larrson’s bestseller would be a Swedish movie.

The movie is very true to the book. A strong cast turning in strong performances with well translated English subtitles, the movie moves as quickly as the book and incorporates the same well developed subplots, the same deceptive red herrings, and the same trail of clues that are developed so well in the book.

Salander’s character is a little less emotionally unstable than she is portrayed in the book. Most of her paranoia and distrust are developed in text through internal dialogue. However, we get a taste of her nature developed in the book when she deals with her legal guardian and her response to him raping her. I love the tattoo idea and her execution of it on film!

The clues in the pictures work well on celluloid – perhaps better than the book. This is not result of weak writing on Larrson’s part, but rather the simple fact that pictures are visual and movies are visual translations. On film, we are able to see Anita’s shock and dismay in recognizing someone across the street during a parade and her abrupt departure from her friends and the parade – which is of course the key clue to determining her ultimate fate.

Not mentioned in the book, but evident in the movie, is the slow feminization of Salander. Salander is bisexual and her female sex partners are in the movie. However, at the beginning of the movie, her multiple piercings, harsh makeup, spiked hair, and shoddy dress aptly portray her as a rebel against the traditional accoutrements and social mores of femininity.

However, after she meets Blomqvist, her appearance softens. Less evident are the multiple piercings. Her dress, while still heavy on the leather, nonetheless is more conformist. Most striking is the change in her hair. Her jet-black spikes are combed over to soften her facial features, making her a lovely young woman. I was told that this developing femininity is a feature of the later books.

The film’s chief fault is its quick resolution of the two major subplots: Anita’s fate which we’re led to believe is the central plot at the beginning of the movie, but is really a subplot leading to something much more sinister, and Blomqvist’s revenge on Wennerström.

In the book, once the sinister plot’s perpetrator is revealed and thwarted, Anita’s fate is quickly determined. However, the plot to get Wennerstrom is complex. The details of the journalistic espionage are carefully described. Salander’s independent financial espionage is also carefully detailed. Larrson was masterful in developing satisfying climaxes and denouements for Blomqvist’s revenge and redemption. In the book, the espionage is not mentioned at all and Salander’s clever computer hacking and play acting to achieve her goal of establishing Wennerstrom’s guilt while enriching herself is but merely glimpsed.

This is unfortunate because I found Larrson’s attention to developing these complex schemes after it seemed that the intrigue was over one of the most redeeming qualities of the book.

Running 2 hours, 26 minutes, the movie was plenty long and the script had already cut much to keep it that long. So, the producer may have deemed it necessary to tie up these ends quickly.

Despite the mentioned shortcomings, strong performances from Michael Nyqvist as Blomqvist and Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander carry Larrson’s story well to the visual medium.

An American version of the film is in development. Daniel Craig, late of James Bond fame, is set to play Mikael Blomqvist. Rooney Mara, who had a leading role in the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is set to play Lisbeth Salander. The movie is set to be released in 2011.

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