Even though the trilogy had already been made into films (with many of those film’s cast members moving on to American roles), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was such an international phenomenon that the notion that people don’t like reading subtitles allowed for an American version. To make it into a big prestige project, director David Fincher and writer Steve Zaillian were brought in to adapt the successful novel for the big screen. Here Lisbeth Salander is played by Rooney Mara – who got an Oscar nomination for her work – and Mikael Blomkvist is played by Daniel Craig. Their characters investigate the Vanger family at the insistence of Henrik (Christopher Plummer), because he thinks someone in the family killed his niece. Our review of the Blu-ray of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows after the jump.
The film starts with Craig’s Mikael losing a trial. He was investigating a powerful man and published facts that were proven untrue, and so his newspaper is on the verge of financial ruin and he’s quitting the paper to keep them afloat. He’s also been investigated by Dirch Frode (Steven Berkoff) to see if he can do work for Henrik. The investigator was Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth is a ward of the state, and when her keeper suffers a stroke, she’s forced into the hands of Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), who takes sexual advantage of her when she needs more money to get a new computer.
Mikael takes the job investigating the disappearance of Harriet Vanger from Henrik’s Swedish home forty years ago. The killer keeps sending Henrik the same gift that Harriet did when she was a kid, and so he’s spent years trying to figure out who killed her. Mikael takes the case when he’s promised material that will destroy that man who destroyed his career. Lisbeth gets her revenge on her rapist, but as the clues start coming together, Mikael wants the woman who was able to find out everything about his life (that is to say Lisbeth), and so the two team up to figure out who killed Harriet after Mikael finds clues that it was part of a serial killing, and that Harriet knew the killer.
The books were published posthumously – author Stieg Larsson died before they were released, and he did them partly to work through his own feelings about a woman he saw raped. I haven’t read the books, but one gets the sense that Fincher and company – adapting a huge best seller – had to include much of the book. And what’s fascinating about the film is that as a mystery it’s pretty terrible, and as a narrative it’s completely un-cinematic.
The trial against Blomkvist is a narrative albatross that gets paid off after the mystery is over, adding bloat to an already long story (the film runs 158 minutes), there’s never any real suspects in the mystery, and when they catch a killer, it’s not actually the killer they’ve been chasing. Though it may have worked better in the books, the parallel narratives of Blomkvist and Salander’s don’t compliment each other, and it takes over half the film for the two to meet for the first time. It seems that it would have been smarter to have a sole protagonist, as it’s better to tell the story from one perspective. That was probably impossible as the backstory on Lisbeth is obviously less important cinematically, but her character is part of the reason why the books were a phenomenon.
But that leads to the biggest problems with the movie, specifically the rape sequences. I have no idea why we are shown as much as we are, and why these points are so labored. It’s not bad enough that Lisbeth gets hogtied, face down, but her rapist must ask her if she’s had anal sex before, and then she has to walk home somewhat bowlegged and take a shower where blood is coming from her anus. Honestly, you could have cut to her being locked in the room, and (as it’s the most famous/controversial aspect of the book) I would have gotten it right away. If you wanted to show him on top or just the aftermath, I would have gotten it, but it’s just hammer, hammer, hammer. There is tons of repeated information throughout the film, and yet I can see the problem in removing any of it – to do so would point out that the narrative is garbage, and to remove big chunks would highlight that there is so little forward momentum. I haven’t listed the name of the actor who plays the bad guy, and yet his role in the film is more for there to be someone to punish than anything else. There’s no moment of “aha” just as it’s hard to see why he’d be after Mikael in the first place because Mikael never actually figures anything out about him. It’s a film filled with moments like this.
I would like to think that David Fincher – who is one of the greatest directors working today – saw this in the material, and he made the film as an attempt to do something more commercial than some of his previous efforts, but he doesn’t seem committed to fixing the narrative failings. He’s just shooting the book here. On second pass the film improved a little – it was made for people who’ve read the book, and his work in that regard is interesting. He gets great nuanced performances out of Mara and Craig, and everything is well done. It’s just in the service of a terrible story.
On first pass, I was hoping that the crazy opening credit sequence was Fincher’s way of using this to deconstruct the myth of James Bond, which (with the casting of Craig) seemed interesting, especially when Craig mentions curling up under a duvet. For fans of Fincher, that word immediately connects Craig’s Blmokvist to Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club, but nothing really comes of this. Even the semi-role reversals in the film never play as commentary on genre. On second pass that there is no real hook allowed me to see the film as stylish nonsense, but I could look past the nonsense and enjoy the visual aesthetic. Rooney Mara’s performance is transformative – she inhabits the role in a way that it’s hard to see the actor as she’s looked before. She talks in the supplements about how the look became her mask to hide how much nudity she had to do, and it’s true, the sexy waif on the red carpet of the Oscars looks nothing like Lisbeth Salander.
This is mostly a misfire, but it may be slightly more watchable than Panic Room. That’s not much of a compliment, but it’s not much of a movie.
Sony presents The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Blu-ray in a three disc set. Disc one features the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio. If you don’t think the latest David Fincher film isn’t going to be reference level quality on Blu-ray, well, you’re wrong. The only supplement on the first disc is the commentary track by David Fincher. He’s funny, and walks through the choices he made and points out interesting details. A DVD version of the first disc is also included, as is a Digital Copy.
Disc two offers over four hours of supplements. It kicks off with “Men Who Hate Women” (7 min.), which offers a general overview of the book phenomenon, of which Fincher says “I think people are perverts.” The first major section is “Characters” Which starts with Lisbeth: “Casting Salander” (16 min.) goes through Mara’s grueling audition process, while “Different In Every Way” (6 min.) speaks to what Mara thinks of the character. “The Look Of Salander” (14 min.) talks about the character’s fashion sense and piercings, while “Mara/Fincher” (4 min.) speaks to their working relationship. “Irene Nesser” (6 min.) talks about the sequence where Mara looks normal, and “Salander” concludes with “Salander Test Footage” (3 min.), which offers Mara walking through LA dressed as the character.
Then there’s a section on Mikael Blomkvist: “Casting Blomkvist” (7 min.) gives Craig his due, while “Daniel Craig on Film Acting” (4 min.) has the actor speak about technique, “Dressing Blomkvist” (3 min.) covers his fashion while “Investigation” offers four still galleries to look at Blomkvist’s research.
Then there’s a section on Martin Vanger. It starts with “Stellan Skarsgard On Film Acting” (3 min.), and is followed by “Psychopathy” (6 min.) where Skarsgard talks about how he approaches playing a heavy. “Bondage” (5 min.) shows the work that went into getting the right equipment for a final scene, “Torture” (4 min.) and “Wrapped In Plastic” (5 min.) walk through the last minute change to put a plastic bag over a character’s head, and this section closes out with four still galleries.
In the section “On Location” it’s broken into sections for Sweden and Hollywood. Sweden kicks off with “Stockholm Syndrome” (18 min.) and “Stockholm’s Tunnelbana” (6 min.) speak to the film’s location, while “Fuck These People” (6 min.) shows the difficulties in getting one shot. “The End” (12 min.) focuses on the last shot in the film, while “Picture Wrap” (7 min.) follows the last shot of filming. Hollywood starts with “Casting Armansky” (5 min.) which has Goran Visnjic talking about his part, and is followed by his audition (7 min.). “Thinking Evil Shit” (5 min.) shows Fincher’s prowess in interweaving the technical with the emotional, and“Rape/Revenge” (17 min.) deals with the most controversial aspects of the film. “Int. – Blomkvist’s Cottage” (6 min.) “Int. – Martin’s House” (8 min.) and “Int. – Salander’s Apartment” (3 min.) show Fincher directing on the set. It’s pretty cool for that.
The next sections is “Post Production,” and it starts with “In the Cutting Room” (14 min.), which walks through the editing process, while ADR (7 min.) puts a light on the dubbing stage, and “Main Title Sequence” offers a look at the opening credits that shows two pre-viz version of the opening and the final version sans credits that can be watched individually or all at once. It comes with optional commentary by Tim Miller of Blur Studios. Visual Effects (8 min.) shows many of the small tweaks done to the movie.
Finally, there is “Promotion” which stars with “Hard Copy” (9 min.), a promo done for the internet as a viral video that is done as an 80’s-style mystery show. It comes with a commentary by director (and the producer of the Blu-ray) David Prior. There’s four of the film’s trailers, and seven TV spots, and “Metal One Sheet” (4 min.), which shows how the film’s metallic posters were manufactured. There’s also at least two Easter eggs, with “Mondo Mondino (1 min.) on the film’s fashion shoot hidden in “Promotion,” and “Gunplay (2 min.) in Vanger’s character section.