Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rants on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

What sets David Fincher's version of the Swedish bestseller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo apart from the original adaptation (and, I'm guessing, the book itself) is the punk rock spirit that drove the marketing campaign and provides the foundation for the film itself. It's certainly an interesting way to set the film apart from one of the few foreign language films in the past decade average movie-going Americans actually saw. The problem is that it's an inappropriate choice for this film. What Fincher is attempting to do is bury Dragon Tattoo under so much style and edginess that you forget that what he is actually trying to sell is a conservative, middling, over-long mystery that, apart from a couple of sodomy scenes, would have been tame 40 years ago. I give him (some) credit for trying to turn this turd into something, but, in the end, it's like putting lipstick on a pig: no amount of stylization is going to make up for the deficiencies of the story or the fact that I've had more fun at family gatherings, cramped with 14 other people in a single-wide trailer, then I had watching this movie. It's the first of many failures in this attempt at making this dog of a story cool.

My main gripe with the film, even before I saw it, was the fact that it has a nearly three hour runtime. I saw the original on a whim and detested it, one of my main complaints being that it was far too long. Surely, I thought, Fincher or someone on the team will realize this and cut something, anything from this story. Nope. In fact, it's even a little longer than the Swedish version. How is it even possible to need 160 minutes to tell this story? The problem is that both films cater far too much to the Lisbeth character. I understand that she's supposed to be this edgy, instantly iconic, teetering-on-the-edge-of-sanity firecracker, but did we really need a whole hour to introduce her character? I got it after a couple of scenes, thank you very much.

The bloated adaptation is actually very indicative of a major problem in Hollywood today. When fans of a huge bestseller, particularly one that's part of a series, go to see its inevitable movie adaptation, they don't want to see an adaptation that works the best for the film medium. Oh no, they want to see the entire damn book on the screen, length or narrative sense be damned! This ideology is what ruined the Twilight franchise (I know I said it's like putting lipstick on a pig, but they could be mildly enjoyable if someone had said no to Stephenie Meyer along the way) and makes the Harry Potter movies incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't read the book beforehand (never has the phrase "Oh, that made more sense in the book" been used more freely and treated as if it isn't a problem then with the Harry Potter franchise). Dragon Tattoo suffers the same fate and not only because of its coma-inducing length. One of the big criticisms thrown at the film was that it was still set in Sweden even though everyone speaks English and no one seems particularly interested in attempting an accent. While it was a silly choice, I understand why everyone was hesitant to change the setting. The fanboy uproar that this film takes place on an island not off Sweden but Maine and that Mikael Blomkvist's name had been changed to Michael Bloom would have been much larger than the tiny dissent that arose from keeping it the same. "How dare you change our beloved novel!" they would have protested. "How dare you hold these books captive so that we can't get adequate, film-appropriate adaptations from them!" I respond.

As I mentioned earlier, the character of Lisbeth Salander, with her severe haircut, tattoos, clothes and lack of social skills, is meant to be instantly iconic. Noomi Rapace, the original Lisbeth, went on and on about how difficult it was adjusting back to her normal self after living with Lisbeth "insanity" for the duration of the Swedish trilogy. Rooney Mara earned raves and an Oscar nomination for "transforming" herself into such a "dark", "disturbed" character. While neither of these actresses were "terrible" in any sense of the word, I'm still not clear on where all of these adjectives showed up in their respective performances. In Mara's case, we learn everything about the character a couple of scenes, just from the way she is dressed and the way she interacts with people. Mara doesn't add anything to Lisbeth to make her appear as dangerous as she allegedly is. Aside from one notorious revenge scene, Mara's Lisbeth comes off more as a bored, bratty teenager who lacks the proper manners to thank those who have helped her or make basic conversation with others rather than the anti-social psychopath she is supposed to be. Just like the film, Mara is all style with very little substance. You can try to put black lipstick on her, but it's like putting...well, you know where I'm going with this. C-

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