It can’t be denied any longer: The ‘Millennium Trilogy’ books are a full blown cultural phenomenon. The three mysteries written by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson have appeared on the cover of ‘Entertainment Weekly’ (Books! On the cover of a major weekly publication!), been suggested by Stephen King as essential summer reading, and are pretty much the only thing you see people reading on New York City subways. (They’re easy to spot.) I like to think that I keep my fingers pretty much glue-gunned to the pulse of the country, but I still haven’t gotten around to reading these beloved books. I have, however, seen two of the three Swedish movies. And they don’t exactly have me chomping at the bit to read the source material.
Earlier this spring, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘ was released here in the United States. (It premiered in Europe a year earlier.) I thought it was boring, prolonged, humorless and visually inert. Also, thanks to my seating in a screening room behind a certain spiky-headed blogger, I could barely make out the subtitles. While I thought that there was a interesting narrative hook at the core of the film – the relationship between controversial newspaperman Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and punk rock lesbian hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) – the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ movie took far too long to get these two characters together (to solve a 40-year-old crime) and spent an unnecessary amount of time on scenes of extreme sexual violence. Still, I was glad to take a peek inside the cultural madness. It’ll also be nice to compare the original Swedish version to the American remake, which is set to go before cameras this fall under the watchful eye of David Fincher.
The sequel, ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire,’ is even worse than ‘Dragon Tattoo.’ The center of the story is Lisbeth Salander and her outrageously convoluted backstory. I saw the movie a few weeks ago but can barely recall what happened. (This time, my view in the same screening room was totally unobstructed.) The movie was directed by Daniel Alfredson, whose brother Tomas directed ‘Let the Right One In.’ It’s proof positive that talent doesn’t run in the family. The movie is a jumbled mess, mixing some of that extreme sexual violence stuff with cartoon-y stock characters such as a mountainous thug who I half expected to grumble, “Where’s the Rocket?” The tonal inconsistencies are staggering and do a lot to take you out of the movie.
I was handed a copy of the book as I walked into the theater, which was very generous. About halfway through, I thought that maybe if I stopped watching the movie and started reading the book I would probably have a better chance of understanding what exactly was going on. Apparently, the book was massive, and the filmmakers had to whittle away a lot of important plot stuff. But that excuse only goes so far. Another problem is that the last two chapters in the ‘Millennium Trilogy’ are more like one story. (Alfredson also directed the third movie, ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,’ which has already played in Europe but hasn’t been scheduled for release here yet.) Each film has to stand on its own. If it doesn’t, then that movie has failed.
And this movie has failed, big time. While the first film was fairly dull on a visual level, I found myself longing for the small flourishes that enlivened it, like Blomkvist flipping through a series of old photos in his computer, creating a makeshift animation. Here, there’s nothing. The palette is muddy and borderline unwatchable, which only emphasizes the movie’s lack of focus. Maybe I need to read the books. Whatever the reason, this particular zeitgeist-y cultural moment is completely beyond me. If you need me, I’ll be playing with fire.