It irks me that the American entertainment machine has to remake every foreign film that has any success or promises to bring in some money.

Does the English-language remake ever improve on the original? Sure, some are more well-known – but that’s marketing. In the creative sense, I really don’t know of a single instance where the remake is actually so much better than the original it just had to be made; in most cases, the opposite is true and the remake just sucks the life out of what made the original a desirable commodity in the first place. (If you know of remakes that are improvements, please feel free to comment!)

I am not talking about inspirations, like Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai inspiring the 1960 Sturges film The Magnificent Seven. That’s a horse of a different color. I’m talking about outright remakes that make you go, “Wasn’t this movie made already? Why did someone make it again?”

Why not simply find ways to allow more people to see interesting and original films like Brothers (2005), Mostly Martha (2002), Ringu (1998), and La Femme Nikita (1991)? I understand that it’s mostly a revenue issue but there’s more to it, I fear. For audiences, it comes down to an unwillingness to try something out of the ordinary.

We all know the arguments…

“We want our favorite stars in it.”

“We don’t want to have to read subtitles.”

“The original isn’t available!”

SIGH

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) is one of the best literary adaptations I have seen in a long time. Part of why I liked it so much may be that I’ve been watching awfully mediocre films lately. It sure helped get me out of that slump.

This movie is an amazing adaptation of a book that boasts over 700 pages. It’s tough to smash that into a film of 152 minutes. As long as American filmmakers want to get something out of it, maybe that’s a big take-away – learn from this accomplishment how to incorporate the main points and characters and not cut the heck out of it to fit in more explosions or Oscar-worthy nervous breakdowns.  Just saying.

Look, I’m not hating on anyone. Lord knows I need and love the American entertainment machine like I crave my morning coffee. But I cringe at how the planned English-language version will even come close to this achievement. Either it’ll be a direct copy with “insert face here” substitutions of English-speaking actors, shot on location in Sweden like the original, copying scene for scene … or it’ll be a sham moved to some other part of the world, totally ignoring that Sweden is as much as character in these books as the people.

Either way, WHAT IS THE POINT?  A wonderful adaptation of book one in the Millennium Trilogy (and book two for that matter) has already been made. It takes place in Sweden, and the characters are Swedish.  And they always will be.

So listen, American entertainment machine, why not just make a deal of some kind for the rights, dub it for the subtitle-illiterate, and get it into theaters and/or rentals (by the way, this movie is readily available for purchase and viewing – on Amazon, Netflix, in stores – so that’s not an issue).

More about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The cast is superb. Lisbeth Salander is an enigma that certainly posed a casting challenge, but Noomi Rapace is about as close to what most of us imagined as a body can get. Michael Nyqvist also portrays Mikael Blomkvist well, albeit a bit sadder than I imagined him. Right down to the minor characters, the casting is splendid.

The super-long explanations from the book are condensed into wonderful montages. In one of these, we learn about the Vanger family, and since we can’t refer back to the family tree provided in the book, the film has Mikael construct a handy “Wall of Vangers” that helps us keep them all straight. One downside is that time telescopes in on itself the way it doesn’t have to in a book, making the efforts of Blomkvist and Salander seem less epic. The passage of time could easily have been made more evident, and the script did not need to condense the period of investigation from a year to six months. But really, that’s my only wrist-slap.

The Millennium Trilogy is compelling because it is character- and detail-driven; the film, necessarily, must leave out a great deal of the detail. That’s to be expected. It was heartening, though, to see that important characters were not chopped out for simplicity’s sake – THAT I cannot abide. Even characters that we’ll need to know later were introduced. However, some important people had very little screen time. Again, to be expected, but in some cases, quite disappointing. We don’t really learn about Mikael and Erika’s relationship (and don’t meet her husband or even learn she’s married). We see woefully too little of Armansky or learn anything about what makes him tick. And I was quite shocked at how wimpy Zalachenko looked in one of the flashbacks to Lisbeth’s childhood; he could at least have had a menacing face.

Despite these necessary evils of making an adaptation that’s not two days long, this is a very enjoyable film to watch. But read the books – they’re amazing!

A

P.S.  This is a preemptive rant. The English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is slated for a 2012 release. Though I much admire announced director David Fincher, I’m quite leery about the remake holding a candle to the original.

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