Sunday, January 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish Version)

While I've certainly heard about Stieg Larsson's trilogy over the years I've never tried the books before or really had any interest in doing so. Sure they sounded interesting but never grabbing so I never made the effort to track them down. However, I ended up with copies of the first two books during my family's annual gift-swap and my school's movie schedule for the upcoming semester had just gone up online and I hit upon a plan. First, watch the Swedish version of the movie (which I had found on Netflix before and had heard was very good), read the book, and then watch the American version of the movie (which I've heard some mixed reactions on) when it came to my campus in late March. Hopefully this way I'd have seen each version with a long enough gap between them that I wouldn't confuse them but still close enough together that I'd be able to tell how accurate the movies were and which one I preferred. So the other day I took the first step and sat down to see the Swedish version of the movie which really impressed me, the other versions are going to have to do a lot to live up to this!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Summary: Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist who has to spend the next six months in shame and exile from his magazine after he is charged with libel in an article he was set up on. Someone however still wants to make use of him for those six months before he goes to jail, Hnerik Vanger, the head of the powerful Vanger group, who wants Mikael to investigate a 40 year old mystery, the disappearance and presumed murder of his beloved niece, Harriet. And who is the eponous girl with the dragon tattoo? That would be one Lisabeth Slader, a computer hacker who works for a company Vanger used to check Mikael out with first and who still has access to his computer. Mikael becomes aware of her once she emails him the answers to an important clue and her pulls her into the investigation to unravel the mystery.

The Good: It's hard to write a good mystery and harder yet to create one that has remained unsolved for a long time (although, since the characters can only see clues it does seem to eliminate a lot of the problems that visual mysteries often have) but this mystery was both solvable but easy to see why it hadn't been before. I was worried how Lisabeth and Mikael's relationship would work out, I was afraid she was going to turn out to be the cocky, only knows how to use a computer, character and that Mikael would have to teach her and make her less arrogant in the process but she turned out to be not arrogant at all and plenty capable of doing old fashioned research on her own. The plot was gripping, appropriately complex without being over so, and was paced well (even though it's still a two and a half hour long movie) and makes me excited to see the rest of the franchise. 

The Bad: Not specifically a bad thing but a word of caution, this movie has an R rating and it is a deserved one. There are several disturbing sex scenes in the movie (which I did fast-forward through) and the murders themselves are very gruesome as well. To the stories credit none of these events are portrayed as "cool" or "sexy," they're shown to be disturbing events and the audience should be feeling a bit uncomfortable. Again, not a bad thing but I thought I would give a heads up. The story does take a bit of time to get going, it spends quite a bit of time developing Mikael before things really get moving, and Lisabeth still seems quite the mystery by the time the movie is over. Of course, there are more stories in the trilogy, and there were plans for even more before Larsson died, so this was likely the intended effect and some of her back story is revealed towards the very end.  

The Audio: I watched this in Swedish with subtitles and, while the subtitles on Netflix seemed a bit off at times (would put up two lines of dialogue when there was a clear pause between the first and the second, occasionally they would forget to subtitle the first line in a conversation which is very sloppy), I was intrigued to note that it seems like Swedish has a similar word order to English. Doesn't have much to do with the movie itself but it is fun to see movies every now and then in a language you have no familiarity with. The music worked and complimented the scenes nicely so overall a nice job there. 

The Visuals: Even though the entire movie has a rather muted color pallet and low saturation the movie is still visually interesting to look at. I was also impressed at the amount of work put into the photographs from 40 years earlier, it's clear that the props team spent a long time making those look just right, and then the sequence when the images have been animated looked amazing as well, so kudos to them. The actors also looked good especially when it came to facial expressions. I've sometimes thought that European movies and tv shows has more shots of a character's facial expressions when another is talking and I really like those kinds of shots since they are often rather telling. Great job overall with the visuals, I'm not sure how large a budget they had for the movie but it felt like they had a nice sized budget and used it well.

All in all I was really surprised at just how much I enjoyed this movie and I'm eager now to read the book and see how the two versions compare. Bit less excited for the American one since I've heard mixed reviews on it but I'll worry about that when I get to it. 

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