Why can’t American filmmakers leave perfectly good Scandinavian thrillers alone?
Last year we had director Matt (Cloverfield) Reeves’ well-intentioned remake of Let the Right One In.
Y’know, the one about the little girl who turns out to be a vampire (“I’m twelve years old but I’ve been twelve for a very long time”) and saves her new best friend, a young and all too mortal male, from a pack of bullies.
True, Reeves transplanted the scenario from Sweden to New Mexico in a presumed bid to make the film more relatable for American audiences.
It is hard to argue with the casting of Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the roles played to eerie perfection by Lina Leandersson and Kare Hedebrandt in the Swedish language original.
Basically, though, Reeves’ remake is a note for note version of director Tomas Alfredson’s far superior 2008 film.
Now, we have an English language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
To his credit director David Fincher hasn’t tweaked the title (Let the Right One In was changed to Let Me In for the English language version) and he didn’t transplant the story to an American location (like, say, Minneapolis.)
Instead, the film (like the Stieg Larsson novel on which it is based) remains rooted in Sweden.
Critics have been uncharacteristically kind (“this retread finds new traction and explores the core issues of morality, affluent entitlement, and the petty urge for payback” – Postmedia News film reviewer Katherine Monk).
Still, to quote (famed sports figure) Yogi Berra (in a somewhat different context): “This is deja vu all over again.”
Daniel Craig takes over from Michael Nyquist as disgraced investigative reporter Mikael Blomqvist. Christopher Plummer plays Henrik Vanger, the aging industrialist willing to pay Blomqvist big bucks to investigate the disappearance of his favorite niece, Harriet, 40 years ago.
The Hollywood hype machine went into overdrive as director David Fincher auditioned some of Hollywood’s hottest young actresses in a widely publicized search to find a new Lisbeth Salander. (In case you have been living in a cave for the past few years, Salander is the goth punk hacker with the distinctive tattoo helping Blomqvist in his search for clues.)
Scarlett Johansson, Ellen Page and Natalie Portman were among the names rumored to be interested in the part.
In the end the role went to relative newcomer Rooney Mara (best known as the girl who dumps Mark Zuckerberg in the opening scenes of The Social Network)
It wasn’t long before Ms. Mara was gracing magazine covers in Salander mode and photos from the set were being leaked online.
There were intriguing teaser trailers in theatres and online.
American movie marketers and media types have turned pre-release hype into something of a pop culture art form.
Sometimes it works (The Hunger Games). Sometimes it doesn’t (MGM recently announced the studio will apparently lose money on the Tattoo remake.)
I rented the Swedish language version of Tattoo again a few days after watching the English language remake.
Maybe I’m prejudiced in favor of the original but it seems to me Scandinavian director Niels Arden Oplev moves the plot along more quickly while injecting genuine tension into the proceedings.
I also think the original Swedish title of the film “Men Who Hate Women”, is more representative of the film/novel’s content.
And, while we’re at it, let me say that I have no problem reading subtitles. In fact, hearing the characters converse in the language in which the book was originally written makes the film feel more authentic.
With all due respect to Ms. Mara, who earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her work in the remake, her character seems to lack the feral intensity of Noomi Rapace’s Salander in the 2009 film. (Although she was bypassed by both award committees, Ms. Rapace did win a BAFTA Award – the Oscars of the British film biz.)
You gotta hand it to Ms. Mara though – she does a great cover version.
Screenwriter Steven Zaillian also deserves credit for including characters mentioned in Larsson’s novel but not in the Swedish screenplay (credited to Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg.) For example, in the book, Blomqvist has a daughter, Pernilla (played in the remake by an actress named Josefin Asplund) and, just like in the novel, it is Pernilla in the Zaillian screenplay who unlocks the secrets of Harriet’s diary.
However, despite a dream cast, Jeff Chenoweth’s wintry Oscar-nominated cinematography and Fincher’s grim efficiency behind the camera, that is exactly what the English language remake is … a great cover version.
Y’know, one of those polished all-star renditions of a pop classic. You hafta admire the thought, dedication and expense that went into the production. But all it really does, in the end, is remind you of all the reasons you liked the original version more.