Whenever a good (or just really popular) idea is put to screen or page in another country, there is a good chance that it will be adapted for an American audience.  Quite often, these adaptations go further and become full-fledged remakes.  Most of these are pure rubbish, but some of them work out, not necessarily exceeding the source material, but occasionally equaling it.  Sweden’s most popular export besides meatballs, is ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.’

For the plot synopsis of this film, please consider referring to my review of the original film.  They are almost identical.  Mikael Blomkvist is played by Daniel Craig, Lisbeth Salander is played by Rooney Mara, and Henrik Vanger is played by Christopher Plummer (who else?).

Under the guidance of an accomplished director like David Fincher, you would be inclined to believe that he will leave his stamp on the story in some way.  One interesting choice that he makes is to include a deliriously strange title sequence that seems like it would be more at home in a lesser James Bond film.  Strange images attempt to entertain your eyes while the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O howls a new interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song.’  Talk about an odd start.  After this, the story moves right along as expected.

Aside from the intro, it’s a little surprising how conservatively Fincher plays this.  Most of his work is very distinct, yet this never really feels it’s entirely his project.  Since millions of people read the book and/or saw the other film before this, he is only introducing it to a relative handful of holdouts.  Think of it as an established story in the very capable hands of one of the our best directors who fears being torn to pieces by rabid fans.

The climax establishes suspense much more effectively than the Swedish version did.  This makes up for the fact that the film’s beginning seems very rushed and glossed over.  Even that is a mixed blessing because it feels hasty, but it doesn’t wallow in boring details like exploring the staff of The Millennium, details of Mikael’s conviction and removes the detail of his impending jail sentence.  It also breezes through much of Mikael and Lisbeth’s investigation of certain crime scenes by allowing Lisbeth to do them on her own in little more than an extended montage.  The end is also tweaked a bit to both differ from and to be closer to the book.  Too bad this incarnation does away with any moral ambiguities in one particularly important scene toward the end.  That’s a difference between American storytelling and that in foreign films.

One scene that doesn’t really jive is when Lisbeth is at a nightclub and meets a companion.  She seems entirely out of place in this setting and it was more satisfying in the Swedish version when Miriam Wu  appears in her bed out of nowhere.  It implies that the relationship could be more than a fleeting one.  Perhaps they have a history?

Mara’s version of Lisbeth is less aggressively anti-social and is much more vulnerable than Rapace ever allowed the character to be.  She also fits the description in the novel a bit closer, looking younger than her years and a little sickly.  The Oscar nomination is well deserved because the performance is a real stretch.  Still, Rapace’s interpretation came across like she could legitimately take care of herself.  They are both great, though, and you might wildly vacillate between liking one Lisbeth in a particular scene and the other in a different scene.  As before, and as with the book, whenever Lisbeth is the focus, the story is riveting.  That’s how you know that you are dealing with an iconic character that transcends mediums.

Special features include: only commentary.

At the end of the day, both versions of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ are very well done.  For the most part, they are the exact same story with minor differences here and there.  Personal taste will be the deciding factor as far as which one you prefer.

It’s a rare remake that, while still not technically necessary, absolutely does justice to the original.

Rated R                158 minutes                    2012

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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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