12/06/2010 06:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Makes the Dragon Tattoo Films so Compelling?

I just saw The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third film based on author Stieg Larsson's excellent Dragon Tattoo trilogy. It's a great example of the story, the acting, and the filmmaking coming together in perfect harmony to create one of the best trilogies in cinematic history. There's never a wasted moment in these films, never a scene that isn't pivotal to the story.

But I didn't see the movie in New York or Los Angeles. I saw it in my hometown, Traverse City, Michigan, at our downtown State Theatre, newly restored by the Traverse City Film Festival. The theater was packed, as it was when I saw the first two films. In fact, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the highest-grossing film to play at the State Theatre this year. Keep in mind that this is a two-and-a-half hour Swedish film with subtitles, a complicated story structure, and no well-known stars. At least, they weren't well-known when the film was released.

I asked film festival founder Michael Moore why people in a small town in the Midwest are flocking in droves to see this movie.

"The conventional wisdom is that independent films -- you know, the more difficult films, the documentaries and foreign movies -- don't play well out here," he said, adding that people are always drawn to well-made films, especially in times of economic strife.

"In past eras, these are the times when the movies have really spoken to peoples' souls, have inspired them, have comforted them, have given them an escape, have produced new ideas," said Moore. "The films that came out during the Great Depression and the Vietnam War era were really bold and brave films."

I'll add that the Dragon Tattoo films resonate with people on a personal level for a variety of reasons. Noomi Rapace plays the part of Lisbeth Salander with both a fierceness and a stoic reserve that makes her completely believable. So believable, in fact, that if you didn't know better, you'd think she was playing herself.

One of my favorite scenes from the trilogy occurs near the end of Hornet's Nest. On her way to the trial, Lisbeth emerges into the prison hallway decked out in gothic garb, nose rings, heavy eyeliner, and a massive mohawk the likes of which I haven't seen since the 1980s. Here's a character who at the beginning of the story is merely a weird, funky girl who'd had some bad things happen to her. By the end of the third film, however, she's my hero. Not only is justice served on her abusers, but this tiny powerhouse of a girl helps to topple a massive tower of corruption and evil. It was all I could do not to jump out of my red velvet theatre seat and cheer wildly at the site of her platform boots clumping down that hallway.

That brings me to the next reason why I believe these films are so popular right now. In the real world, you don't have to look far to find corruption. It's lurking everywhere, especially in governmental systems around the globe. But how often is justice truly served? How often do these people get what's coming to them? And if it ever happens, how often does the public get to see it?

In Larsson's trilogy, justice is served and the entire world knows about it, thanks to the combined efforts and courage of many people, including journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played so winningly by Michael Nyqvist. As a journalist myself, I can attest to the fact that things rarely ever fall into place to produce the desired result. There are too many editors stirring the pot, too many corporate suits issuing orders about what and what not to publish, and too many advertisers afraid to take a risk on anything that deviates from the plain vanilla content that permeates the publishing industry. Blomkvist solves that problem by creating his own magazine. Is that what journalists have to do? Create our own publication in order to write the important stories?

I also love how the trilogy ends. Larsson and the filmmakers could have taken the easy way out and delivered a John Grisham-type ending with Lisbeth and Mikael sipping exotic drinks under a palm tree on a Caribbean beach. But no, this story ends with each of them uttering an awkward "see you around" as she closes her apartment door and he goes about his business. That's probably how it would go down in real life, although I do wonder what happens after the movie ends. Do they ever cross paths again? Are they friends? How did their shared experience impact their future?

Maybe we'll find out in the American version, which has me a little worried. When I first heard about the remake, I was quick to trash it. Why remake a film that's superb in its original form? Are Americans too stupid to read subtitles? Do we need well-known actors to plunk down our $9 and see a film? Clearly, that's not the case, as evidenced by the crowd who saw the Dragon Tattoo films in Traverse City, Michigan.

But the caliber of producers, filmmakers and actors has me singing a different tune on the remake. Ole Sondberg is executive producer, a title he held on the Swedish films, as well as the excellent BBC series Wallander. Having him on the project might help to retain the edgy ambience of the Swedish films. The director is David Fincher, who also helmed The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Zodiac, one of my favorite films from 2007. Fincher also successfully directed Alien3, the third film in an established series with a loyal fan base.

Rooney Mara has been cast as Lisbeth Salander, and I appreciate the fact that she's not yet a household name, but she already has a following from her roles in The Social Network and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Likewise, Daniel Craig, with his ability to play both rough-edged and resilient, is a good choice for Mikael Blomkvist. Other players at this writing include Robin Wright (Erika Berger), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Stellan Skarsgard (Martin Vanger) and Joely Richardson (Anita Vanger). I have no qualms about any of these actors.

Steven Zaillian is scribing the American screenplay. Based on his credits, I have to believe that he won't produce a script that bows down to the Hollywood clichés screaming out to this project. His screenplay for Schindler's List won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and he's been nominated for and won a slew of other awards for his work through the years, including Searching for Bobby Fischer, American Gangster, and Gangs of New York. Let's just hope the Hollywood Machine allows all of these people to create a film worthy of the original films.

There's also a six-part Swedish miniseries, Millennium, which includes all of the main players from the films. My next task is getting my hands on that. Anyone seen it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on these films. Do you find the Dragon Tattoo movies compelling? And if so, why?