Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Film Yap: Who is the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?

Nobody knows when or how a literary phenomenon is going to happen. Dan Brown hit it big with The Da Vinci Code and J.K. Rowling will forever be getting paychecks for her Harry Potter franchise. Now those books are charming and can appeal to a mass audience. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is an entirely different story. This (incomplete) saga is horrifying at times and very dull at times.

Yet the three books were not only gigantic bestsellers in its home country of Sweden, but they have also swarmed the bestsellers lists in countless other countries as well, including the United States. Within just five years, the three books have already been made into movies and American remakes are now in the works.

The rumor is that it was supposed to be a 10 part series, but Larsson died at age 50 from a heart attack. He left behind three completed manuscripts and an unfinished fourth one. His estate handled the publishing of the books in an attempt to stay true to Larsson’s vision.

There have been a ton of scholars breaking down these novels and movies. It can be overwhelming. So here is a personal breakdown/introduction to this incredible trilogy.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This is the name of the English version. The actual translation is The Men Who Hate Women, which is a smoother transition into the major themes of the trilogy. Larsson was a public feminist and so much of the series shows terrible things happening to women and an attempt towards justice. There are two main characters: journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker Lisbeth Salander. For most of the novel they are separate. In fact one of the oddest things about the book is the very long exposition about Blomkvist’s libel controversy that doesn’t fact enough into the novel.

Yes, Salander is the one with the titular tattoo and this character is the reason why this series is such a success. After all three books she’s still an enigma. Without giving too much away about her past, she has become very distrusting and anti-social. She’s absolutely brilliant with computer skills. Those skills are incorporated when Blomkvist is hired to solve a locked room—okay locked island—missing person case and Salander becomes tangentially intrigued.

The mystery aspect is very strong, but the book works because the characters are so fascinating. This has to be attributed to Larsson and his writing style which still has a powerful impact even after translation. This book won a lot of mystery awards including the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. (It was also unprecedentedly nominated in the Best Novel category for the Anthonys that year. This is a choice the awards chairman still thinks was a good idea to allow. So I don’t want to hear anymore complaining on the blogs.)

A Swedish film was made and it came out last year with rave reviews (including one from Chris on this site.) I thought it was a very strong adaptation with an unexpected visual style. It handled a lot of the bumps in the novel well, but it seemed to lose focus of some of the supporting characters. The major reason to recommend this movie is the brilliant casting of the leads. Michael Nyqvist is just how I pictured Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace is just perfect as Salander. This film did well in art houses in America and is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Netflix streaming.

The film is already on the fast track to be remade because we all know subtitles are the worst things in the entire world. I do have hope because this is now such a big success Hollywood is afraid to tamper with it. They’ve hired David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) to direct it. They’ve hired Steven Zallian (Schindler’s List, A Civil Action, Gangs of New York) to write it. It’s not confirmed, but Daniel Craig has been attached to play Blomkvist and they are now searching for a Salander. Fincher says he wants an unknown, but come on let’s let Carey Mulligan knock it out of the park.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

This is actually my favorite book of the series. It is a lot quicker to get into the plot and expands the world in an interesting way. In this one, Salander is framed for three murders that are tied into a sex-trafficking scandal. Blomkvist was looking into this for his magazine, the Millennium, and is the only one who absolutely believes that Salander didn’t do it. The book is very exciting and shows the power of persuading the public to believe a certain truth.

The movie, however, really dropped the ball. They switched up the director and screenwriter for the next two movies. I heard it was so they could film #2 and #3 at the same time. The movie becomes too muddled and boring. It felt like the director didn’t care about any of the stakes at hand. Rapace is still captivating as Salander and that is still a worthy plus.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

While I thought the opening part of Dragon Tattoo was odd, I never really felt burdened by how long it was. That is not the case for this book. I can’t exactly explain the situation without spoiling Fire but this book spends way too much time resolving all of the plot from the last book. It is almost the halfway point for my interest to return. How about this: Once a Palm Pilot comes into play, then I felt the excitement I had towards the last two books. The ending is fantastic and accidently serves as a great capper for the trilogy.

I have not seen this movie because it hasn’t been released in America yet. Like I said, it’s the same team from the last one and that does not give me much hope. For once, it actually makes me excited for the American remakes. They may actually be better for once! USA! USA! USA!

There will always be rumored that the Larsson family will released the incomplete fourth novel or reveal his notes for the rest of the series. At this point I like what was accidently created. It works as a trilogy and not just because there are three films. There is an arc that is established and I like how it all ends. I’m thrilled these books have become this successful but I will remind people this is not for everyone. Every film is rated R and definitely should be. However if this is for you, I cannot recommend it enough.


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