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The World With Two Dragon Tattoos
by Nathan Reece

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The book that started it all.

The book that started it all.
I remember the first time I became aware of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It wasn't through my discovery of the books, and this certainly wasn't the first time - particularly in recent years - that I learned a movie series was based on a hugely successful book series. This week's THE HUNGER GAMES is the most recent example, and I'm sure I'm not the only American male over thirty who's been heard asking what the hell THE HUNGER GAMES is.

My awareness came the night I was shooting a small documentary I was doing for the Colony theatre in Raleigh. The movie was simply one of the "Coming Attraction" posters in the lobby. It was pretty clear to me that it was a movie I wanted to see (even though there was still a year and a half left before that actually happened, which I'll explain later). Why? A few reasons.

There was a badass-looking chick on the poster that looked to be waiting to do something aggressive to someone, for starters. Plus the combination of words in the title just promises something cool ("Dragon"..."Tattoo"...tough words). Furthermore, it was rated R, which is a promising rating for any action movie; not to mention that it was an independent movie (or it wouldn't have been coming to the Colony), which added to the edginess factor.

So it was a movie I was planning on seeing when it arrived in Greensboro, where I was living at the time. I didn't know exactly when that would be, only that it would be later than its arrival in Raleigh, as was the case with most independent movies.

I'm pretty sure I found out the same night that it was the first movie in a trilogy of films that were based on a bestselling series of mystery books by Stieg Larsson: "The Millennium Trilogy," they're called. Why I don't know, because the first book wasn't released until 2005, well past the turn of the millennium; and I don't remember the movies' stories involving any discussion of the millennium. Maybe it's just a cool title.

Anyway, what I also didn't know when the movie arrived in Raleigh - and later Greensboro - that summer was that the first movie had been released a year and a few months earlier in its native country of Sweden.

[Side note: I just saw on IMDb that the magazine the lead male character works for in the stories is called Millennium. Whoops. Forgot that.]

...in its native country of Sweden, with the second and third movies in the trilogy being released in the fall of that same year. Why the movies took so long to reach America, I don't know. But as soon as the news of their American releases got to me, so did the news that they were each being remade in Hollywood for release over the next few years.

The three Swedish movies were released very quickly in Greensboro - as in, like, one hit the Carousel every few weeks (maybe a record, in my moviegoing history, for the time entries in a series of original movies were released). The American audiences didn't have as much time to digest the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO before the second and third chapters were released, or for that matter, as they will between the first and second chapters of the American versions. So for us it was more like a trilogy of movies you could go see at the rate of a miniseries, which would've been kind of fun.

The problem the movies faced was that a lot of people aren't looking for those kinds of movies, meaning independent films and - more specifically - foreign independent films. Whether it be the subtitles issue, the low budgets, or the simple lack of awareness that they're in release, many people are not going to go, and many of those are not interested. Which is why Hollywood, where the powers that be were aware of a bestselling series of suspense novels that hadn't reached most of America through the cinematic medium, decided it would be best to make the same movies again, this time in the English language.

Which leads to what my problem was, admittedly, with the original series of movies when they were released in America: I already knew the remake of the first one was coming up very shortly, and that it was going to be directed by David Fincher and would star Daniel Craig. I'm a fan of both of those guys, so I figured it would be a given that I would end up seeing that version - I mean, how could it go wrong? And if I was going to see that version, why see the same movie twice, even if the Swedish one came first? And if I wasn't going to see that first Swedish one, I obviously wasn't going to see the second and third ones.

Turns out all three of them went to Netflix instant watching,

well...instantly, once they were released to video. Infact seeing that the Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was already on instant watching marked the first time I can remember noticing a movie was released straight to that format on Netflix, and several have done that since then. This made it extremely easy to watch them if I wanted to, at least the first one.

Yet I knew the American remake was coming up! (Infact, I'm not even going to call it a remake. Hollywood loves its remakes, but this was more of a redo). Plus I found out that Trent Reznor and his scoring partner Atticus Ross were going to be doing the music. They sure were making this movie a tempting package! Even though, as I've been reminded by a friend as I finalized this column, it's strange that Fincher - and Reznor - would be attracted to the idea of contributing to a re-imagining of someone else's recent work. Being two original artists, their contributions are a bit of a mystery, and at least many of Fincher's fans have apparently revealed in their blogs that they feel the same. Could it be the money? Perhaps the familiar subject matter? Or the lure of being able to Americanize a foreign work? Maybe a combination of these.

Still, I wondered, why see the original, when the new one was clearly going to be the same movie, and one directed by the guy that did SEVEN, starring James Bond, and featuring music by Nine Inch Nails? Wow. For my tastes, that sounded like a lineup that couldn't miss.

So why did the exact opposite thing happen? Because a few months before the new movie was going to be released - this past October, to be exact - I asked a friend of mine if, all things being considered, the original movie was worth my time, considering that I'd soon be seeing the DRAGON TATTOO redo. After all, it would just be that one movie I'd be seeing twice in a short period of time: the other two American chapters would be released much later, so if I wanted to finish the original Swedish trilogy, I'd have time to distance the Swedish versions of the second and third chapters from the American redos of the second and third chapters (this is getting confusing). My friend, who'd seen all three originals, I believe (at least the first one) told me it was, infact, worth it to see the original first movie. So I added the Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO to my Netflix instant queue, and ultimately decided to just take in the whole trilogy.

After watching all three in one weekend, I still intended to see the American version when it was released. In late November, when I started seeing TV spots for it, it occurred to me that it looked A LOT like the Swedish version, practically identical. And that being the case, why was I being sold this carefully planned reconstruction of a movie I'd just seen, which was done - more or less - as well as I think the story could've been done?

No matter. I looked at it like a cover song, as Richard Roeper described the remake of THE OMEN. Listening to both Elvis and Sinatra's versions of "My Way," for example, I reasoned. Kind of an experiment.

And I was going to go the day it was released. Then the day after. Then sometime that week. Then my mom got me a gift card to the Carousel cinemas for Krismas, and I could've seen it for free. I'm writing this on the day that it's being released on DVD. I haven't seen it, and I don't plan on it.

I'm sure the American version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a great movie. And I find no fault with anyone who saw the American version and enjoyed it, but not the Swedish one. Some may not like movies that are in a foreign language, and some may not have known about the Swedish one. I'm sure it's entirely possible to enjoy both. With its credentials, how could the new one not be good? It's a first-class, quality production, and it - no doubt - delivers the goods. It had a wide release right before Krismas last year, commercials that ran for at least a month, and even a plug in the new Van Halen single (I'm suspicious of sneaky, cross-promotional product placements). If you haven't seen the Swedish one, I'm sure it has the same impact as that one, whether or not you've read the book, which I haven't. Plus it's drawing even more people to the books, and possibly the original movies.

But in the same way I chose not to view the Swedish one for so long, knowing the American one would be so similar, I just couldn't compel myself to sit through the same movie I'd just seen, particularly one that's nearly three hours long and contains a rape scene

that's tough to watch once (despite being aware - once you've been through the story one time - that there's a subsequent retribution for it). Plus, the entire movie is pretty ugly and unpleasant. Even in this country, where prime time TV shows deal with similarly lurid subject matter, a movie about the rape and torture of women could be a tough sell, especially one told with the aggressively grimy tone that (I'm sure) both versions are.

If they'd done something a little different with it, I might feel differently, but from what I've gathered from reviews (critic and consumer, that is), it's literally the same movie. Top to bottom. One user review I saw on a website even compared it to Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO. And even with the longer time in between movies, I imagine the next two, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST, will be done the same way.

That being said, I'm glad I saw the one I did, because it was the original. Since the story takes place in Sweden, it seems more realistic to me that they're speaking Swedish. And the movie Niels Arden Oplev made was, I'm assuming, faithful to the book (I read a quote from him recently where he said, in more words or less, "Why would you remake a movie when people can just see the original?"). It also contained effective music and suspense, as well as great performances.

True, I felt that the material and the character of Mikael Blomkvist had Daniel Craig written all over it, and I'm sure he does a great job and probably brings a different, more Bond-like quality to the character. But Michael Nyqvist (who was more recently the villain in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL) played the assigned part about as well as I can imagine it being played.

So did Noomi Rapace. I'm not negating Rooney Mara's talent. (She was Nancy in the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET the year before DRAGON TATTOO came out, then appeared in the scene that opened Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK later that year before getting this role - talk about moving up in the world). And from what I've gathered, she adds a little more vulnerability to the character, which makes it a slightly different take. But Rapace made that role her own.

According to IMDb, Rapace said in a BBC interview that she prepared seven months for the role. That included strict dieting, kickboxing lessons and two piercings, not to mention the filming of the aforementioned rape scene. She created a character that was very strong and very believable, and I simply don't believe her realization of Lisbeth Salander can be improved upon. Not that Mara didn't go through an ordeal herself to play the character, but to me, Rapace deserves to have her portrayal be remembered as the definitive one, and I don't know if that will be the case.

This was a star-making performance by Mara (it could even be argued that they were trying to create a new star with the casting) in a movie that more people will have seen in the long run, I believe, than the Swedish version. Also...Mara was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes and the Oscars this year. For her first starring role in what most people would consider a "high class" production. FOR PLAYING THE SAME PART SOMEONE PLAYED TWO YEARS EARLIER.

Was this a testament to her performance? Or was it preferential treatment towards an American portrayal of a very strong character, combined with a display of Hollywood's "Welcome to our club" mentality? It's not like James Bond, where someone plays the character in a few movies, then someone plays him in a few different movies. It's the equivalent of someone playing James Bond in DR. NO two years after Sean Connery did. And getting nominated for awards for it that Connery did not.

Again, I'm not disrespecting Mara. She seems to be a really good actress. I'm defending Rapace. True, like Nyqvist, Rapace had a big part in a recent Hollywood blockbuster (she was the gypsy in SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS). I guess their roles in these guaranteed hits (Rapace is also appearing in PROMETHEUS, the ALIEN prequel that comes out this summer) - as well as their paychecks - is the tradeoff for having their work duplicated and, maybe in some way, diminished. When asked in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview how she thought Rapace felt seeing another actress play the part she'd just played, Mara replied that she'd never spoken to Rapace. Then she said - naturally - that "I think there's room for both."

But taking a turn -
Can you repeat that?

Can you repeat that?
for a moment - in the discussion of fairness towards actresses, Mara was presented with another interesting inquiry in her appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show," which aired at the end of last year, but which I saw when it was re-aired at the beginning of this year. Placed strangely at the end of the show, with no break between the last question & answer and Letterman's "Good night" to the audience, her interview made an impression on me specifically because of a question Letterman thought to ask about the movie's graphic rape scene and Fincher's reported directing style.

"This movie has a scene in it that's...obscenely brutal." he said. "And those are my words. So, if this is the guy that likes to do a hundred takes, did he do that for this scene? And if so, how do you get through that?"

Mara answered that Fincher did his best to get through the scene as quickly as he could, but that it was an integral scene in the trilogy, that he had to "get it right," and that after awhile she "was used to it." Mara also said in the interview with EW, when asked about it, that the scene took quite a long time, infact, to shoot. Is the multiple, repeated simulation of a violent rape fair to subject someone to? Furthermore, was Letterman placing this segment at the very end of the show as a sort-of warning to people about the movie's content, which was ultimately cited as one of the reasons for its box office take being lower than expected? That was certainly the aspect of the interview that remained in my mind after I saw it.

And while I'm writing about fairness, as it pertains to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, how about this issue? Like I said, Rooney Mara was nominated for Best Actress at the 2012 Academy Awards for her performance, but hers wasn't the only nomination the movie got. The American version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Film Editing (which it won). Good for it. Bad for the 2009 Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which was nominated for a total of...NOT ONE ACADEMY AWARD. Not even for Best Foreign Film, despite receiving several nominations and wins from multiple other awards organizations. Again, for - more or less - the same picture. Why? Perhaps because it would add more attention to that version, thus subtracting relevance from the planned Hollywood redo?

The original trilogy is widely available to be seen (now even in a GODFATHER SAGA-like version consisting of the three movies spliced together, complete with additional footage), and as of today the new DRAGON TATTOO is on video. Both versions of the trilogy's first movie have a rating in the high eighties on Rotten Tomatoes. Soon we'll see someone's version of the next two movies in the trilogy. When the dust settles, I don't know that it'll be correct (or possible) to consider either version of "The Millennium Trilogy" better than the other. But they'll both be there, as proof that the world wanted this series of stories made into movies REALLY, REALLY BADLY.

Furthermore, though I've seen the Swedish trilogy, and thought all three movies were excellent, I've seen reviews by people - and heard stories about people - who've seen the new American movie, and thought it was also excellent.

Infact, to completely "catch 22" myself, I've recalled - during the process of proofreading and editing this column - that I saw the American version of FUNNY GAMES without having seen the original German version, and that...after reading how it was virtually identical to the original, shot by shot, saw no real reason to see the first one. And both of those versions were done by the same director! At least they came out ten years apart.

So which one do you see in cases like these, when you have two twins of the same movie right in front of you, you know they both exist, one speaks a different language but has a translator, both have the same valuable information, and you have to pick one? Unless you don't mind seeing them both in a short period of time, or you're willing to wait a long time in between seeing them...uh...flip a coin? Otherwise pick the one you know about, or think would be closer to your tastes.

I do have to confirm something that I read in a few of those reviews and learned was true on Youtube: 2011's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO really does have a great opening credits sequence.

But that's all I've watched of it. You see, I already know "the girl's" story. And I don't know that it's worth another nine hours.

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Mar 23, 2012 12:10 AM
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....excited to say the least... looking foward to more...great first column!

Mike Thomas
Mar 23, 2012 12:49 AM
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Good Column!

Mar 23, 2012 1:56 AM
[comment deleted by BillyBob]

Mar 23, 2012 2:49 AM
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Did you see The Illustrated Man? (which I noticed isn't in Matchflick's database)

Dash Riprock
Mar 23, 2012 10:22 AM
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Sure, man, I understand about the different movie versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but what about the story, itself? - That I don't know much about.

Mar 23, 2012 3:56 PM
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Hey, thanks for the support, Tim! I'm glad you liked it. Thank you as well for your comment, Mike.

I haven't seen - or until now even heard of - The Illustrated Man, but I looked it up and it sounds awesome! I'm gonna add that to my list.

As far as the comment about the movie's story, I wasn't reviewing the movie, and I didn't think a description of the story was necessary in a column about the strangeness of the two identical versions. There are certainly a number of reviews you can find online that will describe it, as well as its descriptions on Netflix and IMDb. Infact, even if you just google it, I'm sure the plot won't be hard to find.

Mar 31, 2012 11:11 PM
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A bit longer column than usual but a well-documented entry nonetheless. You live in Raleigh or Greensboro? Thanks,

Apr 3, 2012 11:58 AM
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I'm actually living in Burlington. Thanks for the compliment!

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This is an outlet granted to me by the makers, in which I will espouse grand words, unleashing in written form the very movie-related praise and outrage I'm probably thinking about and/or discussing at the time anyway.

Other Columns
Other columns by Nathan Reece:

Led Zeppelin's Reunion Show Movie

The Night He Came Home

The Scariest Movie I've Ever Seen

And the best use of 3D in recent years is...

20 Albums That Play Like Movies

All Columns

Nathan Reece
I was born in a log cabin that was built in a sewer. After serving during wartime, I woke up from this vicious dream and learned to tapdance.
It's a commendable trade, but not a recommendable one. As I've said many a time, on one hand, I have five fingers. Yet on the other hand, I have
five fingers. Sometimes I sleep. I would probably watch more sumo wrestling if it was on TV more often. The first movie I saw at the theater was Superman
II...the last was The Terror, and this much is true. Far be it from me to call myself stupid, but if I did so (and believe me, I would), I'd say it behind
my back. Then I would figure out how I did it. Sometimes I sleep. Love, Nate.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Nathan Reece by clicking here.

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