Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

"The Girl With the Dragon, Take Two"
"Once More...with Feeling"

"We come from the land of the ice and snow
from the midnight sun where the hot springs FLOW

How soft your fields so green,
can whisper tales of gore,
Of how we calmed the tides of war.

We are your overlords.
On we sweep with threshing oar,

Our only goal will be the western shore."

"Immigrant Song"  Led Zeppelin

The American production of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo advertised itself (amusingly) with the tag-line "The Feel Bad Movie for Christmas."  Compared to the Swedish-TV version (with Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace), it's actually, if one can believe it given the subject matter, a "kinder, gentler" version.

So, what's different?  For those familiar with the first version, many of the locations reveal themselves to be the same.  Resolutions are slightly different. The casting certainly is (and more on that later).  Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall keep things moving very fast, sometimes abruptly, and scripter Steven Zaillian delivers punchy dialogue dripping with icyclic irony, while keeping the circumstances equally savage and shocking (what else can you expect from from a murder mystery involving in-bred families crusty with krona, corruption, Nazi affiliations, serial killers, sexual violence and "men who hate women"—the original title of the book when published in Sweden?).  It's how director David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network) approaches the tone that's slightly different, and though still mordantly frigid, this version is a bit more clever in presentation, adding a darkly humorous slant.  Sure, the violence is still sickening, but blunted, even handled at times more discretely, making the impact contrarily even more squeamy, while, at the same time, counter-pointing with sly musical choices.*

But, it's the casting where the main differences occur.  Daniel Craig, no less intense, but muted and reduced to human scale with a world-weary familiarity, plays Mikael Blomqvist, co-publisher and chief reporter for an investigative magazine, MillenniumDisgraced by a libel suit gone against him and to shake off the publicity and the hit to his reputation and bank account, he takes on a murder investigation for the patriarch of the industrialist Wanger family (Christopher Plummer)—a literal cold case of the forty year old disappearance of the elder Wanger's granddaughter, although distinctive clues point to her either being alive, or the killer is cleverly taunting the old man.

It's soon clear that Blomqvist may be over his head and he calls on an "assistent"the same background investigator who cleared him for the job for the Wangers.  She's the titular "girl with the dragon tattoo"—Elisabeth Salander and "she's different."  "In what way?" asks Wanger's lawyer, Frode (Steven Berkoff).

"In every way," says her employer.

Too true, not only in terms of Society, but also from the actress who previously took the role (Noomi Rapace, currently starring in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows).  She's still the same Salander, the goth-punk, vegan, pierced, bi-sexual hacker-savant who becomes the focus of the series, zipping around the bleak Swedish countryside on her black-on-black motorcycle, but this movies version, in the form of Rooney Mara, is slight (she had to be starring opposite the 5'10" Craig), tiny and even more startling in appearance than Rapace.  There's still the same shock of hair, but with her elfin face, shaved eyebrows and eyes sunk deep into her face, she has the appearance of the walking dead, her head looking often like a skull, and speaking in a dull, listless monotone.  Rapace looked like she could kick serious ass (and did in the Swedish productions), but Mara is deceptively tiny, even looking sickly frail, so when she goes on the attack, it's doubly alarming. 

We learn more about the little spit-fire in the second and third books of the series (hopefully they'll have their own versions with this cast—as with the Swedish films—because this cast is too good to waste, but the film's poor box-office showing—"The Feel-Bad Movie of Christmas," remember?—may make that unlikely), but Mara's dead-inside interpretation, that only slightly blossoms through the film, is an interesting take, doubly tragic, keenly felt and puts both her character and Blomqvist's into an interesting perspective.

I actually like this version better than the first.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a Full-Price Ticket.

Not the actual main title, but the video of the Trent Reznor/Karen O version of the Led Zep song.
It's somewhat in the same visual style, and might consist of "outtakes.".

* The best being what was used in the initial trailers—Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," subtly adapted by producer-composer Trent Reznor (the perfect guy to score this film) for female vocal, while keeping the brutal orchestrations of the original intact.  The Main Title sequence accompanying it, is visually arresting, suggestive and creepy, almost a mission statement in tone—black and white, reflecting the film's dark muted color scheme—while suggesting minds, trapped, tortured and squirming like toads. 


Candice Frederick said...

hmmm interesting. there are differences between the two versions. but i liked how dominant lisbeth was to mikael (who did seem more inferior in this version).

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I love that you made such a connection. I've not seen the "original" (a dubious term, the "first" adaptation, perhaps?) nor have I read the books and I really find no desire to seek out either. The film is fairly good, often exasperating for how literal it is and most exasperating because it brings up an annoyance of the entire year for me - the wastage of Robin Wright in not one, not two, not three, but FOUR feature films in 2011. What a shame.