July 27, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

July 27, 2010

Unless you’ve been on a remote island during the last year, you’ve certainly read about Stieg Larsson’s Millennial trilogy, a publishing phenomenon.

The books star computer hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander, who has a brain at least twice the size of her eighty-eight pound body, and investigative reporter and Lisbeth’s sometime partner in solving crimes, Mikael Blomkvist. Like Blomkvist, Larsson was a middle-aged journalist. The author succumbed to a heart attack in 2004 before any of his books hit the stores—every writer’s nightmare, to die right before a mammoth payday.

Let me get this off my chest immediately. I’ve read all three books and now have seen two of the Swedish movies.

I loved “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” enough to sit through it twice. I couldn’t believe how well the screenwriter and/or director had pared the plot down to its bare essentials without losing any of the atmosphere (the gloomy underbelly of Stockholm populated by sadists and murderers) or excitement.

This almost never happens to me, but I thought this movie was better than the book because it moved forward so breathlessly that I didn’t have much time to think twice. Plus, I’m a sucker for stories that take me places I’ve never been or am ever likely to go.

I was naturally excited when “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” the second installment, came to town.

Did I like it? Not as much as the first movie, certainly not enough to plunk down an additional eight dollars and spend another 129 minutes hunkered in my seat, eyeballs plastered to the screen.

The two leads, Noomi Rapace, who looks exactly like I imagined Lisbeth would, and Michael Nyqvist reprise their roles, and they are both welcome presences. But they’re apart for the entire movie, a mistake Larsson made in books two and three, as well.

Lisbeth and Blomkvist are an odd couple, united by their desire for hunting down the truth, no matter what the consequences. Run their stories in parallel, and it’s not nearly as much fun.

Then, too, Lisbeth is a member of a bizarre underground network of hackers, misfits who live in the shadows and lack enough social grace even to close the door when they’re going to the bathroom. Fantastic detail in both the first book and film.

Unfortunately, they are absent from the second movie, as are Lisbeth’s skills, above and beyond a few shots that show her staring at a monitor while she smokes her hundredth cigarette. That leads to a “duh” moment when she is reduced to learning from a newspaper headline that she’s wanted for the murder of three people. Granted Larsson was a journalist, but please!

Here’s a review, in case you aren’t familiar with the particulars of the plot, and a trailer.

Hollywood is planning a remake of all three movies. The actresses being considered for Lisbeth’s role include Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johanson (!!!). Brad Pitt is rumored to be in the running for Blomkvist’s role.

I can’t even begin to tell you how far these performers are from the words on the page as I read them.

Pondering the American Millennial films, I’m seeing CGI extravaganzas full of car chases and explosions. An overload of graphic, gratuitous violence, most of which is suggested or out of sight in the smaller Swedish versions.

Why? Because, unlike Hollywood, our Scandinavian brethren realize that what goes on between two ears is much more frightening than anything they can put on film.

PS: Just read in this morning's paper (Wednesday) that Daniel Craig has signed to play Blomkvist. Better, though he'll definitely have to start smoking and lose the abs of steel.

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