The Girl With the Adaptation Fatigue

A few words today on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, b-rollers (and beware, spoilers hence). I’ve been dragging my heels a bit because if I’m being honest, I don’t know how I feel about it. Truly. Not “I think I liked it” or “I’m on the fence” but I genuinely have no idea if I like this movie or not. Since I’m rarely without an opinion, this is a profoundly jarring experience.

Let me unspool this.

I read Stieg Larsson’s novel when it became popular here in the US, and it hooked me. In fact, related story: While I was reading it a friend visited, and I wasn’t feeling well so I stayed home and gave her my keys so she could go out; I became so engrossed in the book that I was still reading at 3am, just in the middle of the climactic “torture chamber” scene when my front door opened. (Advice: Don’t ever do that.)

Now that I was officially on the Dragon Tattoo bandwagon (with a newly-minted heart condition), I anxiously awaited the Swedish film adaptation, and not just because it felt terribly artsy to say I was attending a Swedish film (hey, I didn’t have to specify which one). That version was taut and dramatic, carefully following the novel’s blueprint; it was fascinating to see the characters brought to life in such a vivid way, as it always is when a good book is adapted really well.

Then came the news that an American version was in the works, because God forbid Hollywood pass up a blockbuster remake (or people read subtitles), but it was promising: David Fincher (perfect). Daniel Craig (ditto). Appropriately creepy trailers. And the movie is just what we thought it would be – darkly atmospheric, violent, twisty.

But not a moment of it surprised me, because I know those twists, intimately. I envied the friend I saw it with who had no idea what would happen, and gasped in shock. There were a few tweaks, one pretty big one in particular, but I saw it coming because, well, duh – if you know the story, that is.

It just feels rather like a paint-by-numbers exercise: A little darker here, maybe, a little bolder there, but the same picture. Maybe it was just one version too many; when a movie hinges on suspense, what happens when you know way too much?

I guess if I have to compare/critique, I did think that Rooney Mara was an excellent Lisbeth Salander, fairly equal to the wonderful Noomi Rapace of the original film. But I actually preferred the Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, whose Blomkvist was a little less handsome and a little more flawed than Daniel Craig’s steely hero (who, incidentally, is the only main character without a Swedish accent – why, again?). But in plot and tone, Fincher’s adaptation is just as faithful to the novel as the last.

So, bottom line: As this new, improved? Dragon Tattoo appears to pick up steam heading into Oscar season (in a surprise, David Fincher received a Directors’ Guild nomination today over Steven Spielberg), should you see it?

Well, sure. You’ll like it, I think. Have you read the books? You should, they were great. And the Swedish movies are good, too, and they’re streaming on Netflix. But if you haven’t read the books, maybe see this one. Or just read it, then see it. Or the Swedish one.

Oh, hell. I don’t know.

Help me out, b-rollers. Any Dragon Tattoo fans out there – movie(s), book or otherwise? What did you think? And how do you judge a thriller when you know exactly what’s coming?

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