Having read all three of Stieg Larsson's novel trilogy featuring his super heroine Lisbeth Salander, and having seen all three of the Swedish movies adapted from those books as well as the American version, I have arrived at one conclusion.
The Swedes win, at least when it comes to the first film adaptation of the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Larsson's narratively compelling, bizarre revenge fantasy of a badly abused young woman with a very compromised persona, which comes alarmingly close to a diagnoses of Asperger Syndrome, was a one in a million super world-wide best seller hit. Its provenance is equally bizarre since the talented Larsson died before the first book was published and his vast inheritance is muddied by Swedish law, which gives the rights and inheritance to his blood relatives instead of the common law wife who was his helpmate throughout the composition of his books.
The plots of his three books, a smorgasbord of kinky sex and incredibly evil doings, are an object lesson in narrative drive, and his observing eye and knowledge of technological and financial detail is nothing short of astonishing. Indeed, the mesmerizing plot of Larsson's three novels are so compelling and complicated as to make its adaptation to the screen an extraordinary challenge.
Above all, the filmmakers who apparently were dedicated to sticking with the spider web-like plot turns and keeping true to the weird and shockingly perverse aberrations of all the principle characters, had to compromise action with exposition to supply some understanding to those in the audience who had not read the books.
For an American audience, the Swedes had the advantage since they could provide subtitles so that English speakers could follow the twists and turns in the plot and deliberately shrink the exposition to make it more marketable to a worldwide audience not fluent in Swedish. Also, the chances were that most dedicated novel readers in Sweden, which is a highly literate nation, were far more familiar with the characters and plot than those in other countries who were served up the text of the novels in translation.
In the Hollywood version, one has to have read the book to have some understanding of what was going on. The scriptwriter Steven Zaillian and director David Fincher chose a murkier course and made it maddenly difficult to follow the plot line and apparently thought that long exposition passages would suffice to keep the narrative moving along. They didn't.
Worse, the most fatal flaw in the production, which is rich in production values and in portraying the scenic wonders of the snow clad landscape of northern Sweden, is almost incoherent in making its dialogue understood. The sound design is a disaster. Characters talk but are difficult to hear and understand, especially with the incessant background noise provided to needlessly hype the authenticity of reality and the constant iteration of a musical background designed to needlessly punch up the sense of menace.
Even the great Christopher Plummer, who plays a key character in the film, whose voice is one of extraordinary resonance, was, in parts, difficult to understand. I am not judging this on the basis of my own hearing, which is faulty, but on the absolute fidelity of my wife, who left the theatre complaining of deep gaps in understanding the dialogue, which is crucial to the understanding of the plot.
Daniel Craig provided a workmanlike Mikael Blomkvist a crusading journalist having an affair with his colleague editor at their muckraking magazine Millenium with the consent of her husband. Apparently sex in all its forms is like mother's milk to the Swedes. In this movie alone we have rather descriptive scenes of sadism, lesbian sex, anal penetration by an object, murder as a sexual turn on and the usual straight sex in various modes.
Frankly, to understand the plot of this movie one should read the book first or seek help on various book report sites as an aid to comprehension.
Both Noomi Rapace, the Swedish actress, and Rooney Mara, the American actress who played the super heroine Lisbeth Salander, were outstanding in conveying the character's strange behavioral tics and lack of empathy, although the American version portrays her character as softening at the end, a jarring turnabout and, in my opinion, another adaptation mistake.
I don't know how this movie will be received by English-speaking audiences, but I am hopeful that the director of the second and third installment and the script writer will learn by their mistakes and make the plot of the second two in the series a lot easier to understand.
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include 'The War of the Roses,'Random Hearts' and the PBS trilogy 'The Sunset Gang'. He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's website at www.warrenadler.com.
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