Thinking About Thinking About Movies, The Sequel (Possible Trilogy Alert)
So before I continue, let me just say there’s a reason I’m writing so much about movies. I love ’em. I took film courses in high school (and even won an award in one of them, weird) and throughout my senior year of high school and sophomore year of college, I worked in the video department of Media Play. Remember that place?
We were like a less fancy version of Best Buy, until they bought us and then the chain simply ran out of business. Anyway, when you spend your shift unpacking and stocking movies and DVDs, rearranging DVDs and looking up DVDs for customers, you end up getting REALLY familiar with movies. Then I took two film courses in college, one on how to approach cinema critically and the other on horror films. Yeah, horror films. Fast forward to present, and I’ve got 1877 ratings. Since some of those are from TV series, I’ll say it’s safe to say I’ve seen over 1800 movies. Since I didn’t really start watching movies until age 14 or so, that’s about 128 movies a year, about 1 every 3 days. In sum, movies are very important to me, so I think about them a lot.
In this post, I’m going back to the what originally started my writing on this subject, and that’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” What I am having a hard time doing is coming up with an opinion on this movie. It’s not because it did a bad job with its logline. Hell, it did about as good as it could have done. My problem rather is that Fincher’s version is the American Remake of a Swedish movie that was an adaptation of a popular Swedish novel. I said earlier that movies should be judged against others, but what happens when judging movies against their source material or source material once removed? Should I compare Fincher’s version to the book, to the Swedish movie with Noomi Rapace, to both or to neither?
The problem with Fincher’s version is that by the time it came out, it was overhyped. Frankly, I was sick of hearing about who was going to play Lisbeth Salander, how edgy and gritty Fincher was going to make it, and so on. Critiquing this movie to me is somewhat impossible because with all the hype, one can’t simply analyze how it’s about it’s logline, because it’s not longer about it’s logline, it’s about a brand. Fincher doesn’t really owe anything to American audiences in his remake (unlike how Harry Potter films are created with readers definitely in mind) because they weren’t the consumers of the original source material and Paramount is simply trying to cash in on the brand of the Millenium trilogy.
However, many remakes can be consumed very successfully. The Oscar-winning “The Departed” is an American remake of an Asian film called “Infernal Affairs” and both are excellent films. What makes “The Departed” succeed is that it forged its own story in Boston using a real American crime boss Whitey Bulger and it had no hype to deliver on. It used an amazing cast, but they were their own characters. The problem with Fincher’s remake is Daniel Craig looks too much Michael Nyqvist and many shots in his film are too close to the Swedish version.
*SEMI SPOILERS HERE*
As a stand-alone film, Fincher’s version is pretty enjoyable. It has great acting, nice locations sets, and builds what suspense it can from the story by Larsson (although if you know anything about the casting of characters, or as Ebert calls it, “the law of economy of characters” then you will know who the villian is pretty early on.) But the problems arise when you compare it to the universe from where it came. Millennium’s office is the Swedish version is much more subtle, it looks like they’re operating out of a basement and there’s a real sense that their future is in jeopardy. In Fincher’s version they appear to be in a fancy office highrise with large windows, lots of lighting and high-tech accommodations. You also get a better sense of Blomkvist’s backstory in the Swedish version and it pains me to think that Fincher relegated that to background news clips in order to cut right to the action of seeing Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, because that’s that the hype had reduced it to and that’s what the American audiences were craving. I also think the ending of Fincher’s showed too much of Lisbeth and since it’s part of a trilogy, she was better left a little cold, as she was in the Swedish version. We can watch her character arc in the subsequent films.
Considering the content of my first post, Fincher’s movie is a well made film because it goes about its subject matter in a pretty effective way. Not as effective as I thought the original did, but then again, I think Fincher’s was doomed in that respect from the start (and not all remakes ARE subject to this fate). I think remakes are worth doing if you can see them as stand-alone films that are distantly related. Good examples are George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and Zack Snyder’s remake, and Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly“. So to finish up here, I thought Fincher’s film was well-done, but unnecessary in that it added nothing to the Millennium universe from where it came. But how would I rate it, say on Netflix, if I thought it was a well-done, but useless movie? Would I even see it again? See you in Part 3 for that discussion.