The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo In Its Myriad Forms

2010 April 8

I walked into Borders a few weeks ago to pick up the second book of the “Millennium Trilogy” — The Girl Who Played With Fire — and was surprised to see the new paperback prominently displayed right as I walked into the store. It was evidence that I don’t have a clue as to what is popular outside of the internet. Sure, it seemed pretty popular in the places I spend time online, but many times that hasn’t exactly indicated mainstream appeal or popularity. Even when I went up to the register to pay for the book (using my 40% coupon — the only time I’ll shop at Borders), the cashier said how much he loved the book and then started talking about the film adaptation of the first book and then I mentioned the American remake and by that time I’m sure the line behind me hated both of us; I seemed much more concerned about this than the cashier. Man, I knew the books (and film) were big hits over in Europe, but I didn’t realize they had already elicited such a fanbase over here.

So if you’re wondering, the first book is in the title of this blog entry: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. As for its myriad forms: there’s the original Swedish novel; then its Swedish film adaptation; and coming in 2011, its American adaptation. I experienced the first two practically back-to-back, and I’m still looking forward to the American version solely due to confirmation of David Fincher directing it. Yeah yeah, needless American remake — but the guy behind Se7en and Zodiac directing another dark, murder mystery film? Count me the fuck in.

And yes, that’s what The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is; it’s an exceedingly dark novel that delves into some of the most sadistic stuff imaginable, while also being a very entertaining crime mystery. It revolves around two main characters, Mikael Blomvkist and Lisbeth Salander. The former is a relentless, uncompromising journalist who believes his magazine Millennium is the last bastion of true journalism, while the latter is an introverted, cold, miniature whaif of a girl whose fashion sense is about as “punk goth chick” as it gets (see above). But the other side of Salander is a brilliant researcher who can be brutally vicious to anyone who wrongs her or someone she cares about.

Their paths don’t intertwine until about halfway through the novel, when they’re both pulled into an almost 40-year-old murder of a girl on a Swedish island. The body was never found, but the uncle of the girl can’t see it being anything but a murder. It was a high profile case due to it involving the illustrious Vanger family, but like most things, it was quickly forgotten by anyone not initimately involved or affected. The uncle, Henvik Vanger, hires Blomkvist to investigate, while giving him the cover of writing a history of the Vanger clan — but not until Salander shows up do the pieces truly start to come together.

It does take quite a while for the book to get to the interesting action, as a lot of the early-going is dry and filled with exposition, but it didn’t really bother me — which is something I can’t say its sequel. But that’s a story for another post.

It’s hard for me to say whether the book or movie is better, but if I had to choose I’d most likely have to side with the movie (a random observation: book:novel::movie:film, right?). Stieg Larsson obviously wrote the novels in Swedish so I really don’t feel right criticizing he prose, but 1) I have on good authority — @waxinthaksin — that any book translated in the past decade or so is probably pretty faithful; and 2) it’s just not good. But once again, it most definitely annoyed me more while reading the second book; there were some passages and lines in that that were just plain embarrassing. The books could also use a bit of editing; but hey, Larsson died before the trilogy was published, so maybe he felt the same way.

Meanwhile, the film adaptation of the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo streamlines everything about as perfectly as one could possibly hope. Some of the details are switched around, and there’s practically no mention of a few of the bigger relationships in the novel, but none of them are integral to the main plotline of the disappearance mystery. The film even manages to throw an extra bit of misdirection that I thought was a nice touch. But the best part of the film in comparison to the novel has to be the removal of Mikael Blomvkist’s pussy magnetism. I’ll just leave it at that.

While I thought that maybe the friend with which I saw the film wouldn’t be able to keep up with the much quicker pace compared to the more detailed and deliberate novel, he only asked me one quick question while watching. And after he walked out, I think he loved the film more than I did, possibly because he wasn’t comparing the two versions to each other the entire time. The film is brutal, tense, disturbing, but also immensely satisfying. I think Fincher has quite a bit to compete with. At the very least, I do think Fincher will make a better looking film. I just wonder if there are any high-profile actresses — because you just know that’s going to be required — that can play the role of Salander as perfectly as the Swedish actress Noomi Rapace did, while also fitting the diminutive frame described in the novel. As I read the second novel, any image I originally had of Salander was replaced with her performance.

I could go on about the second novel, but this blog post is long enough already. I did not enjoy it as much as the first, but it does have some interesting plotlines and definitely sets up the third novel — The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest — well. Too bad I won’t bother to read it until the paperback version comes out in the states. Fuck hardcovers. Unless it’s a Library of America hardcover — those are awesome.

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  • anth

    seeing that picture of lisbeth makes me randy. what an awesome movie.