Manic Movie Magic: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: 2009 vs. 2011

Oh the holidays, a time for joy, family, and murder! And if you’re like me, and your family goes to the movies on Christmas, that’s exactly what you got if you went to go see the new David Fincher project.

Yes, it is that time, dear readers, when I must sit down and wrestle with whether or not it’s time to take back all the shit I have said about the 2011 re-imagining of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.


Now, be forewarned, there will be spoilers, so before you go any further, and are interested in seeing this film, I will give you the low-down. The Fincher film is good, and besides some weird parts, is mostly enjoyable. However, I’m going to warn those of you now who haven’t heard (and the theater I saw it in had many of these people who didn’t know), this film contains graphic depictions of rape and sexual abuse.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go see the movie, just be prepared for them if you’re uncomfortable with that kind of stuff.

Just to make sure I was not biased, or at least unbiased as I could get, I re-watched the original only a few hours after the Fincher version, and compared them on cinematography, story, and acting.

The opening for the 2009 version was much better in my opinion. It sets the mood better, it gives some back story without many words, and it looks better. I will never understand what possessed them to do that weird oil-people-thing. I could see where the imagery makes some sense compared to the film, but it was just far too strange and jarring for me.

In terms of the film’s cinematography, I’ve got to give it to the Fincher. It’s not that the Swedish film didn’t look great, but this is Fincher, who has a fantastic handle on wonderful looking movies. The American version uses the bleak, lonely atmosphere of the Swedish country-side, the dark grimy but also sleek feel of the city, and  of course, the fun of digging for information is a dark, dusty archive!

The atmosphere of research: Oppressive, bland, and paranoia inducing. Just like a day at the library!

The films are both…graphic. And I mean that. I’m decently comfortable with sex scenes, less so with rape, but I can usually bear to keep my eyes on the screen. I couldn’t for either film. There is a lot of violence against women in this film, which is not really a surprise since one, the film’s title in Swedish is ‘The men who hate women” and two, when traditionally, and rather sadly, women have been the target of sexual violence, save for the occasional male prison films.  Still, both these films use these scenes to move the plot along, and not just for shock value.

The rest of the cast, except Lisbeth who I will discuss later, are all capable actors, and make their roles both convincing, and subtle. I will say that I do prefer the Swedish version of Mikeal and Martin, mostly because they seem more realistic and unassuming, and a little bit more interesting and developed than their 2011 counterparts. In the same vein, I like the American version of Henrik, simply because his performance is so much more believable and, strangely enough, endearing than the 2009 actor. He seems more like the charismatic aging businessman to me, and the scene where the truth is discovered is very emotional, more so I believe than the original.

Who said the elderly can’t have swagger?

The Fincher film is almost a copy of the Swedish, except for a few minor-major points. The biggest, for me, is the message. The original Swedish film’s message was to show how a woman, mostly a social outcast of her own choices, interacts and works in a society which greatly devalues, and yes, even hates women. This is getting to be a big theme in Europe. Not to go too off track, in Spain (where my family is from) in recent years has begun a huge campaign, supported by the government, against spousal abuse, especially concerning abused wives. Previously, numbers of wives who were raped, beaten, and even killed by their husbands were very high, although nothing compared to the statistics about Sweden and their female-oriented violence presented in the original novel. It’s a topic, which is occasional spoken about American culture, but never with the same depth that is touched about in this film.

The message of the American film is a resounding “Men will disappoint women forever, no matter how nice, now matter how unasshole-like they appear. They are all jerks, many of who are sexually abusive. Ladies, beware.”  I know many guys, I have many male friends and I am pretty sure the majority of them are kind, not-rapist people.  And while it is true men disappoint women, it works in the reverse too. In fact, it’s really that people disappoint and hurt other people – gender really doesn’t have much of a defining factor on those roles. Women aren’t always the victims, men aren’t always the predators. And I am not the only person who noticed this about the Fincher version.

Rooney Mara makes a better Lisbeth Salander, this I cannot deny. She is fantastic and really went all out in terms of character to the point where I forgot she was an actress playing a role.  Her portrayal of the part given to her is flawless…the role written is not. Lisbeth in the original Swedish film was insane, very true, but you also see some moments of vulnerability in there. Fincher’s Lisbeth seems more like a robot than an actual person, save for two scenes, and one of those happens right at the end. There’s a difference between anti-social and non-feeling entity, and I feel the character really played up the emotional and mental problems, but that’s from Mara’s performance alone.

Not that I don’t like Noomi Rapace…I just…please don’t kill me scary lady…

The Fincher version is fine, good even, but the problem is that, other than the points it gets for cinematography and the more intense action sequences, it’s basically a copy of the original, and therefore useless. I wouldn’t have minded if Fincher had changed the context of the novel’s ideas, or maybe even brought something new to the story. But he didn’t, and it makes me questions the point of making the movie in the first place. People told me over and over, both fans and critics alike, this remake wasn’t a remake at all – Fincher was going to really take on the film and make it amazing, or at least do something with it. But he didn’t, it is now essentially remake, and I was sadly proved right.

People also tell me I should get over it – that foreign movies will never be popular in America because there will be no dubs, and people dislike subs, and that’s just how it is. Just because something is a certain way doesn’t mean it’s right. And I’m not just talking about American foreign remakes, this goes for foreign remakes of American films. Unless you can add something to the story, then all you’re doing to making the same movie, often just to grab the cash of an audience too lazy to watch subtitles.

Otherwise, both movies are good – since there really is a huge difference between the two, you can pick whichever version is more readily available, or watch both and see which one you prefer. I would be wrong to say I didn’t enjoy the Fincher film, but for the same reasons I liked the original, and I think they’re both very competent.

2009 Version:

Rating: ★★★☆☆

2011 Version:

Rating: ★★★☆☆

While next week’s column will be about G Gundam, the week after is going to be the new Tintin film.

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Starshine5050

As just a regular, hard-working work, often-stressing, procrastination-mastering history and journalism student, I often turn to the silver and small screens for relief, even though I'm only an average cinema-and-television loving viewer, commenting on what, and does not, makes good entertainment. I love horror everything - book, TV shows, games, movies - even though they frighten me terribly. I'm a long time believer of the old saying "When life gives you lemons, don't take life's lemons! Give the lemons back!" So, onward I go, returning lemons and logging an unhealthy amount of screen time for your enjoyment. So please be sure to read my stuff and let me know what you think, I'm alway looking to improve and be the best, most cynical critic I can be!

Latest posts by Starshine5050 (see all)

Starshine5050

As just a regular, hard-working work, often-stressing, procrastination-mastering history and journalism student, I often turn to the silver and small screens for relief, even though I'm only an average cinema-and-television loving viewer, commenting on what, and does not, makes good entertainment. I love horror everything - book, TV shows, games, movies - even though they frighten me terribly. I'm a long time believer of the old saying "When life gives you lemons, don't take life's lemons! Give the lemons back!" So, onward I go, returning lemons and logging an unhealthy amount of screen time for your enjoyment. So please be sure to read my stuff and let me know what you think, I'm alway looking to improve and be the best, most cynical critic I can be!

2 Comments:

  1. Terrible review. Who cares if it looks good? Did you even read the books? A large majority of the review should be on the plot & actual content and how accurate it is to the book. I think the swedish version is meant for those that read the books and actually follow the series wheras the american version is just for ppl looking to watch a thriller on a saturday night. I liked every single actor better in the swedish one.. yes I'm including Noomi Rapace. Of course it's all personal preference but I just liked Noomis Lisbeth better than Rooneys Lisbeth. Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist? eek. Terrible choice. And why did he have a british accent when everyone else talked in a swedish accent?? The actor who played Blomkvist in the original was much much better for the role (if you read the books you would most likely agree.) The american version strayed too far from the original plot and was poorly done. He cut out parts that shouldn't have been cut out and grossly extended certain parts (like the scene in Martins house.. the whole waiting game..)

    • Sadly, I only managed to finish the first book a short while ago, and am going onto the second one now, but I couldn't base the review on its accuracy to the book at the time. And looking back on it now, you're right, the swedish version was better in respect to sticking with the book, so I might go back and edit this article and change the scores to reflect that. Yeah, I think they just got Craig in there for name value, he wasn't very convincing…or that good either. Personally, I feel like the 2011 movie just shouldn't have been made in general – there was no need when the original one was very well made. But I will say with a visual medium like a movie, how it looks matters, if only cause terrible design and set up can ruin a movie. This isn't to say that the Swedish looks bad, far from it, but the American one had a ton of money behind it, and has a director whose main strength is stunning visuals. That doesn't excuse the script being less than stellar though.

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