Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in 2009's Män som hatar kvinnor, Rooney Mara as Salander in 2011's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I have noticed that many reviews of the U.S. film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo questioned whether the film was necessary, considering there was already a very good Swedish adaptation of the book released in 2009. Even reviewers who enjoyed the movie raised this question, and some fans of the Swedish film were already criticizing the U.S. film before it was released, simply because the movie had been made. Because this argument was such a huge part of the discussion surrounding the new movie, I’d like to offer my own opinion.

One could argue that no film adaptation of a book is ever “necessary.” The story has already been told, and readers have already formed in their minds a picture of what the characters look like, how they say the things they say, what the setting is like, and so forth. However, I see nothing wrong with filmmakers offering their take on the story and bringing it to life on the screen—or with more than one filmmaker doing so. Many famous books have been adapted for the TV or the movies more than once without anyone arguing that the adaptations that came after the first one were “unnecessary.”

Considering that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an international bestseller, it’s not at all surprising that more than one director would want to present their take on it, or that more than one studio would want to profit from the book’s success. It’s also not surprising that anyone would see an opportunity in making a movie of the book in English; such a movie would be more accessible to English-speaking audiences, especially in America, who may have difficulty enjoying a movie with subtitles and enjoy seeing (somewhat) familiar faces as the book’s characters. Necessary or not, the English-language version of the film isn’t a remake of the Swedish film, as some have called it, but another adaptation of the book. To say that it shouldn’t have been made or didn’t need to be made is, in my mind, rather narrow-minded and unfair.

Now, with that out of the way, I’ll let you know what I thought of the movies themselves.

I saw the U.S. film this past Friday, and while I’d say the book is better (as the book usually is in these cases), the movie was very good. I can’t say it was terribly exciting since I already knew what was going to happen, but I enjoyed the opportunity to see the story brought to life. The movie plays more like a bleak yet sophisticated mystery story rather than an edge-of-your-seat thriller—though, really, you could argue that the original book is both. I was especially impressed with Rooney Mara’s portrayal of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, which I’d say is the movie’s strongest point. She portrays Salander as a haunted and haunting figure; she remains fairly steady and calm throughout most of the film, yet it’s a sort of unsettling calm that lets you know there are things troubling her beneath the surface. Mara does a surprisingly good Swedish accent and totally inhabits the clothing and physical appearance of her character, despite how different it is from her own. I expect more than a few award nominations for her in the upcoming awards season, and maybe even a few wins.

I watched the Swedish movie, with the book’s original title of Män som hatar kvinnor (“Men Who Hate Women”) on Sunday. The differences between the two movies aren’t huge, but I thought that the Swedish movie felt like more of a tense thriller than the American one did. Again, the book is better, but I thought Män som hatar kvinnor maintained more of the original book’s feel than the American movie did.  Both are violent and graphic, but the Swedish movie is somewhat more so. While Rooney Mara’s Salander is thin and almost frail looking, Noomi Rapace has a stronger build and looks tougher in the role. Rapace’s take on Salander was also very good, but I found her more openly angry and volatile. This may have been a result of what the Swedish filmmakers chose to include about Salander in the movie more than anything else. Either way, Rapace is very haunting as Salander and has incredibly strong presence on screen. While the men portraying Mikael Blomkvist in both films do respectable jobs, when either Mara or Rapace is onscreen, that’s who you notice, and certainly who you’ll remember afterward.

Each of these films is a very good adaptation of a very good book. Language aside, I didn’t find them overwhelming different from one another. Each is bleak and troublingly violent, yet captivating, and features a very talented lead actress. In both cases, the filmmakers and editors did an excellent job of deciding what details, relationships and so forth were most important to included or emphasize, and which ones could be set aside somewhat or even excluded entirely. Nothing is done in either film to change the story or its point drastically. Necessary or not, these movies are both worth watching if you enjoyed Larsson’s novel.

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