With the much anticipated release of the Hollywood remake starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in coming December, I would like to share my two pence worth on the Swedish original films based on the novels. I have expressed my humble opinion on a book club site I belong to as well as elsewhere, and I’m surprised to find that my positive take seem to belong to the mere minority, if not totally controversial.
Because of the huge appeal of Stieg Larsson, his international rise to posthumous fame had led to all his three books being adapted for the big screen and European box office success. My husband and I were the early ‘converts’ to Larsson’s phenomenal and ambitious undertaking, tackling issues of sexual violence against women, political corruption at the top level, big-scale financial fraud and the extent to which an investigative journalist had to go to uncover such crimes. With the help of Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed punk girl who had been abused by the system but nevertheless a strong, determined, first-rate researcher and computer hacker, the liberal-minded editor of a Stockholm-based magazine Michael Blomkvist they uncovered a series of crimes hence exposing themselves to clear, and present mortal danger.
The plots of the books were multi-layered, complex, surprising, shocking and simply incredible, which some critics have condemned as implausible, and as a reader, you are taken on an unforgettable roller-coaster ride with breath-taking pace and action-packed sequences. How do they translate onto the screen? As we all know, not all great books transform into equally great movies, and it would take an awful lot of work and talent, not to mention deep pockets to do justice to the original works with such an all encompassing scope.
After waiting eagerly for the release of the Swedish films, we watched each of them with bated breath and keen enthusiasm. We caught The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first installment and then the third and the final The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest in the cinema, but somehow missed the second The Girl Who Played with Fire. We made up for it by buying the DVD, so our desire for more Stieg Larsson was satisfied.
I did not know what to expect, but I was happy with what I saw. As I read the books, I had conjured some images as to what the characters would look like, what motivates and drives them, what they would do under certain circumstances. I did not expect that a two to three hour film would capture everything Stieg Larsson had tried to convey in his 500 or so page epic, but after sitting through the film, I was reminded again what I had read, my impressions reinforced, my imaginings confirmed, and I felt that I could still identify with the leading characters which Larsson had created expertly and I wanted them to get justice which is rightfully their’s in the end.
As I was planning to write this blog today, I decided to have a quick scan of what other professional, well-known critics have said about the films. I was dismayed when I found that they either under-rated or panned it completely. They didn’t like it, guess what? Because it was gruesome and violent.
My conclusion? perhaps they didn’t actually read the books, or if they did, they didn’t rate them. Yes, there was explicit violence, sex, abuse and horrific crime scenes, but they were in the original story, and they happen in reality. The Swedish films stayed true to what happened in the books, and it was dark, psychotic, quirky, bleak, very Northern European and authentic.
I expect no less from the big budget Hollywood remake.
Here I include a quote from another Nordic-based writer James Thompson regarding Larsson’s protagonist Lisbeth Salander: “A pint-sized Superwoman. She’s been brutalized as a child and an adult. She’s emotionally damaged beyond words. Her appearance is diminutive and child-like. Everything about her screams victim. But she overcomes all. She finds a way to live life on her own terms and refuses to be a victim. When others try to victimize her, she punishes them in the most vicious ways. The kinds of punishments people dream about when figures in their own lives mistreat them. It sends the message that no matter how cruelly life treats you, you can overcome it and survive, even thrive. I think it’s that message that made the series a success.”
P.S. I watched the Hollywood Remake on Boxing day 2011, and I enjoyed it very much. I can confirm that the bigger budget does help, together with fabulous acting from both leads, a great script, fine directing and excellent music/soundtracks. So I would recommend the film to all Stieg Larsson fans! Dec, 2011