Last week, I went to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on an utter whim. It was New Years Eve, it had good reviews, and of course I’d heard all of the buzz surrounding the books for the past year and a half, at least. I went in not knowing anything about the plot, except that it was some kind of mystery. I emerged utterly amazed. Having since read the book, I have come to the following somewhat stunning conclusion: The movie was better.
It is extremely rare in any medium for an adaptation to be of higher quality than the original source material, but I would argue that this is exactly the case with David Fincher’s adaptation. It is wonderfully directed, stars a cast of fabulous, believably real characters, and has excellent pacing, which keeps the suspense turned up to 11 for the entire 158 minute runtime.
For those not familiar, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is about a disgraced Swedish journalist, who is hired to investigate a disappearance, and possible murder, nearly half a century old, under the cover of writing a biography about a family of industrial magnates.
The plot does not play out like any classic mystery, however, and twists and turns abound will keep the audience at the edge of their seats. A big part of the success of the film is the connection that it forges with the viewer through the two very likeable, but very flawed protagonists: Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander (played by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara respectively). The characters are anything but flat- they have quirks, and personality, and rarely do what you want them to, but you cheer them on as they race to unravel the mystery.
But why is the movie better than the book? How could I even make such a claim, in a world saturated with bad movie adaptations? Well, there are a few reasons:
Firstly, the book suffers in a couple of areas where the movie does not. The translation from the original Swedish is not the greatest writing, and there are often mistakes. While I’m sure the original version is quite well-written, the English translation for us Westerners is not on the same level. This is not a problem with the film, because most of the issues were in the exposition, rather than the dialogue.
Secondly, the book suffers from pacing issues. It is a truly massive tome- the paperback clocks in at some 800-odd pages. It is difficult to maintain suspense through a work that large, and the story in the book comes across at times as tedious and plodding. While it is understandable that it takes some time for the mystery to build as each element is added into place, Larsson moves at the pace of molasses in the beginning.
I’d still recommend the book, it’s just that the film is better. It’s an excellent mystery, and in fact, the one thing it has over the movie completely is the ending. No spoilers, but due to time constraints, the ending is significantly compressed. While it’s no less satisfying in the film version, it is positively luxurious the way that Larsson spreads it out over the last 200 or so pages.
And don’t forget the soundtrack- Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the insanely talented duo who previous worked with Fincher for the highly lauded The Social Network soundtrack, are back with a 39 track epic, including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the opening titles, which features Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. It’s beautiful.
If you’re looking for a good thriller to see and you hadn’t quite made your mind up, or you’re a fan of Steig Larsson and had your doubts about the film- wonder no more! The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a non-stop thrillride, and will, in my opinion, be one of the best films of 2012.