Before you start reading this, please be aware that this isn’t a review. Even if I loved David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I didn’t), as a fan of both the source novel and the Swedish version of the film, I’m not sure I could have put together an objective viewpoint. If you’re looking for advice about whether or not to see this version, then my advice to you is this: if you haven’t seen the original, then this one might be worth your time. For everyone who has seen the original, there’s really nothing new here aside from a slightly tweaked ending, and a magnificent opening credits sequence (which you can view on YouTube, and I’ve embedded it below. It’s like James Bond’s nightmare, and it’s spectacular).
So, if I’m not going to review this film, then why am I here writing about it at all? I guess there are a few things I wanted to talk about, and it’s always nice to try and do something different with my writing. So, without further ado, here’s what I was thinking about while watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
First of all, let me say that the film is impeccably constructed. My biggest reason for going to see this at all was to see what Fincher could do with the material, and from a technical standpoint he really cannot be faulted. His framing and shot compositions are right up there with the best in the business, making TGWTDT certainly an interesting film to look at. He uses the hostility of the frozen environment, not to mention the menace of Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ oppressive score, to set the tone very effectively, something that the original Swedish version couldn’t achieve on their limited budget. This is a very unpleasant story, and no-one can set that feeling of unease quite like Fincher.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the improvements made by the remake end. The story isn’t told any better, in fact, it’s almost exactly the same. It seems to me that the reason to remake a film so soon after the
original, particularly a film with a rich source material, would be to fix things that the original perhaps didn’t handle so well. The Swedish TGWTDT is by no means a perfect film, but Fincher has done nothing to the story to put his own stamp on it. But I get it, American audiences are largely against watching foreign films with subtitles, and the Millenium series of books has a high enough profile that remaking the films must have seemed like a no-brainer for Sony. Sadly, the mediocre box-office performance has proven otherwise, which concerns me not because of how it affects the chances of seeing the sequels, but rather what this film’s performance means in the bigger picture of the Hollywood studio system as it stands today.
Fincher’s TGWTDT represents something we rarely get from Hollywood nowadays, if ever: the potential beginning of a serious, adult-focused franchise. When was the last time we saw that? The Godfather maybe? It was a commendably risky move from Sony, and scoring an A-list director with a couple of outstanding serial killer movies already under his belt (Se7en, Zodiac) was quite the coup. And in perhaps their boldest move, Sony and Fincher refused to water down the story for the American audience; indeed Fincher’s version is possibly more brutal than the original. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is the recipient and administrator of some truly horrific acts of sexual violence, and Mara gives a brave, Oscar-nominated performance*. But the unfortunate truth is the film just didn’t perform well enough to be deemed a success for the studio. Yes, it will make back it’s budget, and with overseas box-office and ancillary markets Sony will make a profit.
But TGWTDT needed to be a smash. The bean counters who control Hollywood will not be satisfied with a modest success, and the lukewarm turnout for this film will almost certainly close the door on any future film franchises of this type, perhaps for another couple of decades. Was the Millenium trilogy, a violent, confronting, and at times difficult to watch series the right property to conduct this kind of experiment with? A quick look at the numbers suggests not. I hope I’m wrong about this, and we see other studios branching out past the typical summer blockbuster franchises, but I have my doubts.
* Incidentally, Mara’s performance owes maybe 95% to Noomi Rapace’s fearless work in the original Swedish films. Where was her nomination, Academy?