Less than 24 hours ago I finished one of the most disturbing, suspenseful, and brilliant crime thrillers I have ever read, and for those of you who know how big of a John Grisham fan I am you know how high I regard books of that genre. If you want my thoughts on the book you will have to read my most recent post because here I am going to give my thoughts on both movies that were made based off of the book. I will start with the earlier of the two which was made in Sweden, is in the language that the book was originally written in, and which most viewers consider the better of the two movies.
Whenever I see a preview for a movie that grabs my attention and draws my interest, I check to see if there were previous versions of the movie made and whether or not the story came from a book. When I saw the preview for the Hollywood version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I went out and bought the book. Also having recently added Netflix to my Wii console, I was able to watch this Swedish version of the book. As I mentioned before, most people who have seen both prefer the original to the most recent. I, however, am in total disagreement. I have read the book, and without giving too much of it away let me say that there are at least two but arguably three main conflicts that made the book the international sensation that it was in addition to several important and interesting subplots: Blomkvist and Lisabeth's Salander's hunt for what happened to Harriet, Blomkvist and Salander discovering a serial killer, Blomkvist trying to balance responsibility to his magazine and his current assignment, and numerous others. This Swedish version excluded most of them.
In this version of the novel, Mikael Blomkvist accepts a freelance investigative journalist position from a highly respected and abundantly rich businessman who wants him to find out what happened to his brother's granddaughter, Harriet, and who in the family killed her. According to the movie, Blomkvist takes this job for two reasons: first, he has just been convicted of libel and wants to get out of the public eye (working for this man would require him to relocate four hours north for several months); second, because he really wants to find the killer/what happened to Harriet. According to the book, Blomkvist takes the job for the lone reason that his new employer has promised him information that will vindicate him and prove that his story for which he was found libel was actually accurate. Eliminating this motivation from the plot of the story also all but deleted the character's true inner motivations. While his attitudes do change in the book, it is still a major part of what he has to deal with on a daily basis.
This movie also eliminated two of Blomkvist's three sexual relationships in the book. While I do not complain that there was not too much sex, one of the relationships is direly vital to the subplot of his trying to save his magazine; he has an ongoing relationship with his friend and editor in chief of the magazine. Her character is basically non-existent in this movie while in the book she plays a pretty substantial role. The family Blomkvist works for, the Vanger family, actually buys into the magazine so that it will not go under and she is up at the family land multiple times for board meetings. His relationship with her also is the reason his relationship with Salander comes to a sudden halt (although he does not realize that this is the case).
I could go on about many other things that this movie did not have, but it would take far too long and I think I have succinctly made my point. In a review of the new Hollywood version of this movie, Rolling Stone writer Peter Travers writes, "Something's missing" (December 22, 2011 edition). He then goes on to tell how he feels that the new version has a certain something that is missing from the movie. I disagree with him, and I will get into why in a moment, but for now I am saying that this is the movie that was missing something: half of the plot line. They took a complex murder-mystery that also included political statements, some psychological ideas, and a little shed of tenderness and turned it into a feel-good suspense/drama with a happy ending. Not a bad movie, mind you, but if you have read the book then it is incredibly infuriating.
And now onto to Hollywood. Usually Hollywood butchers novels like they were cows in a stockyard, but this time around they were not so terrible. There were a few minor difference and some bigger differences, but having now read the book and seen both the movies I can definitely say that this is much better than the Swedish version, and not even by a little. It is a vast, vast margin.
One thing it did have in common with the Swedish version was that it deleted Blomkvist's affair with Cecilia Vanger, obviously a relative of the man that hired him. This affair was no small part of the book; it explains his character's coldness towards him after the affair ends and her unwillingness to cooperate with his questions. She is the one, according to the book, who points Blomkvist to Anita Vanger, her sister, who (warning: spoiler) admits to having helped Harriet escape from the family and knows where she is currently living.
Working off of that difference, another major change this version made was that it killed Anita off and portrayed Harriet and Anita as having switched places and lives so that she could be away from her horrendous family and past. I will grant that this change did not hurt the movie so much, but it was still noticeable and is still somewhat bothersome to me. The author wrote the book a certain way for a reason. Still, it can assumed that this change had to occur for the interest of time (the movie was 2 hours, 40 minutes as it was; keeping this subplot could have added 20 or 30 minutes to the end, which goes to show how important it was in the book).
Other than a few other minor changes, the movie followed the book very well. Daniel Craig was the ideal Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara should be nominated for an Oscar for her role as Lisabeth Salander. Christopher Plummer was solid as usual in his few scenes and Stellan Skarsgård was phenomenal as the sick, twisted Martin Vanger. David Fincher, who directed favorites such as Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac, showed why he is high on the list of best crime-thriller directors.
Do not go into this movie expecting an action-packed adventure with car chases and gunfights at every turn. The pace is slow, but it needs to be. That is how the book was written. If you have not read the book, you may find yourself becoming bored at times, not because it is not interesting but because it is not a typical crime-thriller. The exciting scenes are few and far between, and there are a few too many sex scenes for my liking (but nearly as many as there were in the book).
Be aware: it is a very dark and disturbing story, one that involves murder, incest, and rape. It is not pleasant, and while the major conflicts are resolved it does not have a happy ending. If you read the book, you will understand what the meaning behind all of it though: there are sick, sick people out there who do horrible things to women, and it needs to stop. Behind every plot and subplot, that is what Steig Larsson, the author, was trying to convey. Violence towards women is present, its awful, and there are deeper psychological scars than the ones left on the skin of victims.