Friday, July 30, 2010

The Film That Should Be Set on Fire

The world seems to be abuzz with chatter about the "Millennium Trilogy," as the triple set of blockbuster novels by Swedish author, Stieg Larsson, has been labeled. Not only have all three books been adapted into Swedish films, but now, acclaimed American director, David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, ...Benjamin Button) has signed on to helm the upcoming Hollywood revamps.

I, myself, have read the first two books in the trilogy, and as of today, have also seen the first two Swedish film adaptations. My assessment: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a good, but not great novel, that received a pretty decent transfer to the cinema. There were some glaring details from the book that were dropped in the making of the film, but I don't really fault the filmmakers for that. It was more a shining example of why it is so difficult to adapt books into films. Even at 2 1/2 hours, there simply wasn't enough room to include everything. Moving onto The Girl Who Played With Fire, you have a great novel with a couple of minor flaws, that has been demolished by a complete and utter hackjob of a film adaptation. If the objective of the filmmakers in this instance was to suck all of the drama, suspense, and emotion out of the story, well - Mission: Accomplished.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, an entirely different creative team was behind the scenes of this second film, than there was for the first. Perhaps that explains the nosedive in quality. Things started off promising. They lopped off an entire story thread from the beginning - one which, in my mind, constituted the most obvious flaw in the novel. So, I was happy to see they did not include it in the film. Then, throwing in a hot lesbian sex scene never hurts. But, from there, it was all downhill. Again, one must be cognizant of the inherent problems involved in the book-to-movie transition. However, this adaptation was just sloppy. First off, certain supporting characters appeared toward the beginning of the film with virtually no introduction or explanation of who they were. I think one hallmark of a great adapted screenplay is that someone should be able to see the movie without having read the book, and still enjoy the experience. That is impossible to do here, because if you haven't read the book, you'd have absolutely no idea what was going on.

Secondly, they changed things that didn't necessarily contribute to keeping the running time of the movie down. There was simply no reason to change them. There was a particularly critical juncture where the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, was supposed to have been at the scene of a double murder around the time that the crime occurred. This lent a sliver of doubt in the readers' minds as to whether she may have actually had some involvement in the killings. In the book, there was also a clear connection between those deaths, and a third murder that took place. Again, placing Salander's innocence in question. In the film, Lisbeth's whereabouts are completely rearranged, as far as what the viewers can see for themselves. There is passing mention made by another character that she was supposedly at the location of the first killings, but it's never explained why we're supposed to know that. That one seemingly minor oversight deflates the power of the entire mystery that is central to the plot. Later, there is another scene in which one of the major villains is entangled in a fight scene with two supporting characters. The way those characters escape the grasp of the enemy is just made up out of thin air by the filmmakers. It's totally and unnecessarily different from what happens in the book. Here, instead of being dramatic, it just makes the entire sequence of events seem hokey and unrealistic.

The third thing that prevented me from enjoying this film, was the editing. I know absolutely nothing about film editing, but despite that, I could tell this was done with extreme incompetence. The movement of the characters in several scenes was so jarring, I literally threw my hands up in the air as if to say, "WTF?" In one instance, Lisbeth had broken into the apartment of her nemesis, and then was seen rifling through his things while he slept. But, without knowing what was going on from having read the book, you almost couldn't tell that she was in the same location. One second she was just inside the front door, the next second, she was sitting at some desk.

Lastly, there were a couple of climactic scenes in the story, where the emotion should have been running high. But the way those scenes played out here on screen, I felt like I might as well have been watching a panda chewing bamboo in a zoo exhibit.

The whole thing was utterly disappointing. Especially because I was looking forward to seeing what Noomi Rapace could do as Lisbeth in this second film. One major reason I liked reading The Girl Who Played With Fire more than I did ...Tattoo, was because the Lisbeth Salander character was so much more developed in the continuation of the saga. We finally started to get a glimpse into her backstory, and instead of being a mysterious supporting character, which is essentially the role she played in ...Tattoo, she evolved into the emotional center of the story. Seeing a couple of English-speaking interviews with Rapace, it was immediately evident what an amazing transformation she underwent to "become" Lisbeth. I really thought we might be in for an award-worthy performance in this second film. But she simply had nothing with which to work. Salander barely even spoke throughout the entire film, once again relegating the character to being a small part of an ensemble.

For those who have read the books and seen the first two Swedish film adaptations, the fear seems to be great that Hollywood is going to completely ruin the trilogy, as it is alleged to do with all reworkings of foreign films. I, for one, am actually hoping that a skilled group of American filmmakers can transcend what the Swedes have done, particularly with this second film. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait a while. The U.S. version of the first film is not due out until Christmas '11. Here's hoping the third book will at least tide me over until then.

No comments: