Adaptation can be difficult. The most frequent problem I have with adaptations of novels to film is the choice to adapt them in the first place, especially when it comes to a rather lengthy crime thriller like Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tatto, the first in a three book mystery series dubbed "The Millenium Trilogy." The trilogy has already been made into three film adaptations in Sweden, and now, mostly sparked by the immense popularity of the books in the US, comes the first American installment, directed by David Fincher (Seven, 1995; Fight Club, 1999; Zodiac, 2007; The Social Network, 2010). Unfortunately, the most ecstatic moment is offered up in the opening credit sequence.
Although I can't speak to the specific choices Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian (whose commercial screenwriting successes range from Awakenings in 1990, Schindler's List in '93, and the first Mission Impossible in '96 to the currently acclaimed Moneyball) made in transferring Larsson's book to the screen, I think it's accurate to say that a different format would fit the arc of the narrative better. To use the parlance of my high school football coach (though he wasn't speaking in reference to literary adaptation) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo feels like 10 pounds of shit stuffed into a 5 pound bag. From what I can surmise, this may have to do as much with Larsson's capabilities as a writer as it does with Fincher's abilities as a visual storyteller, though Fincher does manage to raise this source material here to a higher level than he did with the Forest Gump-esque schmaltz of Eric Roth's script for 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, itself a similarly questionable adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story from the start. Where I can't quite see a need for a film adaptation of Button to exist in the first place, I can see The Girl series existing more successfully as something like a nine part mini-series, or a short TV series. But, the first novel presented as a single film that attempts to simultaneously survive on its own and muster enthusiasm for the two following entries in the trilogy seems to create more problems than it's worth.
|The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo|
|The Curious Case of Benjamin Button|
Reznor's score for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, his second with Fincher after their collaboration on The Social Network is nicely integrated, underscoring scenes in a way that mark the film and his work as a composer as unique; it's a refreshing transformation for an artist who had seemingly exhausted the limits of his preferred genre by his third proper album with Nine Inch Nails in the mid-nineties. At the same time, anyone familiar with Reznor's work would most likely not be surprised by his ability to score scenes of anal rape effectively.
|Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salnader in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo|
In an age when the highest rated television programs continually exploit the idea of death for the sake of presenting yet another stale crime drama narrative, all the while perpetuating ideas of victimization and justice that are inconsistent with a reality we have become all too out of touch with, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo comes off as little more than another product of a degrading media landscape. Tonight America will chase a healthy dose of rape and murder with a Coke, all for the sake of discovering "who done it," but at the expense of ever having to engage with it in any meaningful way. And, I'm not playing the "holier-than-thou" patron here, because I admittedly sucked down half a cherry slushy while watching Lisbeth Salander hammer a metal dildo into her rapist's anus. But, I'm not going to pay to see the remaining films or read the books, and, ultimately, I'll try to be satisfied with the small gesture of empowerment that comes with the choice of where I toss my money. Fincher has a lot to do with that choice, too. Last year I paid eagerly and early for what I thought could potentially be a film that had something significant to communicate about the phenomenon of Facebook and the path of a culture under the influence of social media. What I got was more utilitarian direction by Fincher, working his way through a nicely penned bio-pic by Aaron Sorkin; not terrible...but nothing close to the ecstatic engagement Fincher hinted at with his work on the end-of-the-millennium adaptation Fight Club. Fincher obviously has a tremendous grasp of tone and style, but it's time we saw him do something more than stylishly cash a check, an endeavor he seems to receive numerous critical accolades for time and time again. Meanwhile, I'm given to wondering what we as a culture would do with the same promotional image for the American Girl With the Dragon Tattoo attached to the novel's original title...
|Men Who Hate Women|
“There’s a certain way people are used to seeing nude women, and that’s in a submissive, coy pose, not looking at the camera,” Mara says. “And in this poster, I’m looking dead into the camera with no expression on my face.” She smiles and flicks a cigarette into the street. “I think it freaks a lot of people out.”Later in the article, Fincher likens the risks they're taking in their particular adaptation of the novels as not unlike being "out on the ledge juggling with chainsaws." If The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo adds up to risky film making and daringly subversive portrayals of femininity, then I must be missing something.