Tuesday, April 17, 2012

the girl with the extraordinary plot hole device fillers, curious character development and the dragon tattoo

hi there

well, the title of this post should give you the short version of the review, really. if you need it hammering out, though, if you've not seen (presumably either version) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and intend to then you may wish to skip this post. that is to say *** SPOILER WARNINGS *** are in place for the whole thing.

what i know of Sweden is perhaps limited. it is by all accounts, and this is very much at odds with what one can see in the most impressive Swedish Erotica films, an exceptionally boring place. i base this on the song Sweden by The Stranglers and the interesting reaction to it. lyrics like "only country where the clouds are interesting" and "too much time to think too little to do" resonated so much with the youth of Sweden that the kids thanked the band for illustrating their plight, a favour if you will returned by The Stranglers then going and recording a version of it in Swedish for them.

there is also of course the legend of Sweden and their hosting of the Euro 1992 Championships. fearful of offending their guests at the high alcohol prices they took the decision - rather unwisely - to set up huge tents giving free beer to English fans. not long after that they were complaining because the English fans got very drunk at these tents. go figure.

beyond that, i seem to think it was Sweden that - and this is genuine - have a very admirable approach to how they censor and award age certificates to films. if i have the right place, in Sweden The Godfather got a lower age restriction than E.T. for the simple reason that the mafia epic shows a strong family unit at Spielberg's unsurpassed masterpiece shows a broken family in a positive light. if the country is as boring as stated, at least they have a set of values one can appreciate.

the other Swedish cultural references come in the forms of the obligatory ABBA reference, along with Ace Of Base and Roxette, both of which i think come from there. and that was about it, really, until someone called Stieg Larsson wrote three books, died and became something of a posthumous international sensation. the first of these, bizarrely translated as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (more on that later), has since been filmed twice. it's the original Swedish version from 2009 that's up for discussion here.

i came to this film with very little knowledge of it beyond the title. Michele had read the books and was most enthusiastic about them and seeing the adaptations, so that's how we got to be watching the first of the three. all three hours of the "extended edition".

i'll do the plot as best i can. it starts off with a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, getting battered in court for printing apparently false stories about some sort of big business in his magazine Millennium. he is convinced that the stories were true, but the sources he had for it fell away not long after publication.

although he retains the support of the staff at the magazine, including one lady in particular, the magazine faces closure due to falling readership and the legal costs from the case.

whilst all of this is going on, Blomkvist is being followed and his every move recorded. it turns out that the person following him is Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. take a good look at the picture below, for this is the only time you see the actual tattoo in the film.

the purpose of him being followed, it transpires, is that Lisbeth works for a security company and she has been hired to compile a full report on him for persons unknown. the reports get handed over, and when her opinion is solicited Lisbeth pronounces that Blomkvist is a clean, decent man who she believes to have been set up in his court case.

around this point the film decides to show off one of many points where the narrative and construction of it all takes a disjointed, "no wait let us do this bit now" approach as we are shown into the unpleasant life Lisbeth endures.

Lisbeth is on parole from either prison or a mental institution for crimes that we are not immediately aware of. it later transpires that this is due to her setting fire to a man in her car, who we are invited to assume is her father. a dislike of men from Lisbeth is illustrated partially by a suggested lesbian scene, but mostly by the harrowing blackmail and abuse she suffers at the hands of her parole officer.

the revenge she extracts against the parole officer ranks as one of the most harrowing i have seen, to be quite frank. i'm not convinced that either character involved in it has any redeeming feature or sympathy from the audience, but perhaps this is how it was intended.

oh, wait, that's right, she compiled a dossier on Blomkvist. best we get back to the why and what for part of that, the film decides. here's where we get to the, if you will, meat of the film and story. an old, weathy businessman called Henrick Vagner requested the report to ensure Blomkvist was "clean". for some reason never quite given, Vagner has decided that the discredited journalist is the ideal person to help him with what is presented as a "pet project", which is to find out exactly which member of his family killed his niece, Harriet Vagner, some 40 years ago.

you who have got this far read the spoiler warning at the top, yeah? just checking. this part is pivotal to the plot, but it is also perhaps the most preposterous part of the whole story. for a start, Vagner has no proof whatsoever that Harriet is dead, let alone murdered. no evidence of foul play and certainly no body. this does not stop him coming to the conclusion that she must have been murdered by a family member, though. the only evidence he has about Harriett is that every year he receives a pressed flower in a frame on his birthday, always in the same style that Harriet gave him on his birthday prior to going missing. is there not a fairly obvious clue right there as to what happened to her?

if that's not silly enough, then there's the matter of how Vagner came to the conclusion that Blomkvist, after all these years, was the ideal candidate to investigate what happened and possibly finger the murderer. why on earth would a clearly intelligent man hire a discredited journalist who - in journalistic terms - was so easily led astray in an investigation to pursue the matter? it transpires later in the film, to clarify, that Blomkvist was working on a smaller story, but was distracted quite deliberately with a much more exciting and fake one, which led to his court case. is that really the best person to entrust to investigate family members about a possible murder? well, Vagner thinks so, hence the story i suppose.

does it get a little bit more silly? oh yes, it does. Lisbeth (remember her?) crops back up. for reasons never made clear, she has apparently become fascinated by Blomkvist and has taken to following him in her spare time, in a most voyeuristic manner, since her investigation ended. she breaks the voyeuristic approach and decides to contact him when she cracks a code written in a Bible that no one has been able to work out for 40 years that might be related to the fate of Harriet.

leaving aside the fact that Lisbeth decides to contact him as one of several unexplained character developments, this code business is a particularly stupid plot device. let's think about this, shall we? a series of letters and number references written inside a Bible and for a number of decades no one thought "maybe these are references to parts of the Bible"?

this code breaking leads the way to another preposterous plot twist. Blomkvist is apparently "cool" with someone hacking his computer and monitoring his every move. most would go to the police, or at the least review and seriously tighten their personal security, you would have thought. not so Blomkvist, who seems delighted by it all and invites Lisbeth to join his investigation.

does the film get any better, accepting these plot holes and moving on? you decide, really. the two, when not engaged in apparently random, seemingly emotion free sex, don't really find out much more on what happened to Harriet (if anything), but they do uncover, well, let me pause here. what they uncover, very easily (as in easier than Tom Hanks unravelled The Da Vinci Code), is evidence of a serial killer who has been at work in Sweden for well over 40 years. Blomkvist was probably wise not going to the police about his computer hacking, really, for in the world of this film the police in Sweden do nothing and are exceptionally stupid. a series of muders have been committed, all featuring similar methods and gruesome deaths, over the years in Sweden and not one person in the whole of the Swedish constabulary thought "perhaps there is a link between them"?

for those who have ignored the spoiler warning i shall try and skirt past the resolution to the whole thing, but it does seem to involve an immense amount of incest, sex crimes and not considering the obvious. in a final "we do not care that our character development is rubbish" move, the film shows Lisbeth upset that Blomkvist has returned to the arms of the lady at the Millennium magazine, whatever the hell her name was. no reason nor hint as to why all of a sudden she feels attached to him is ever given.

even allowing for the fact that this was originally made as a TV mini-series, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is pretty badly made. visually, it is loaded with incredible distractions. the main one of these is easily how, about half way in, you are aware of how simplistic and minimalist Swedish car number plates are.

i have absolutely no idea why the director chose to focus so frequently on number plates, for they offer no clues to anything in the film, but we are treated to close up after close up of them.

another distraction, and this is probably personal although i imagine a good few more noticed the same thing, is Michael Nyqvist being cast as Blomkvist.

i have no doubt that he is a fine, talented and gifted actor. it's hard to tell on the basis of this film, though, as he seems to wrestle with the preposterous turns it takes from time to time. what is not hard to tell, though, is that he is a very, very good lookalike for Shaun Ryder.

he looks so much like him that at times i was say waiting for Bez to turn up with some pills and a set of maracas at key points in the film. as i said, probably a personal thing, but there you go.

if i tell you that i have omitted several other flaws in the narrative and characterizations then i think you can guess i was not too impressed with the film. oddly, that's not strictly true. i was rather engrossed in it whilst watching, but in the days that followed i found myself thinking "hang on a minute" about parts of what i saw. when i mentioned some of the things that bothered me, Michele's response started with "well, in the book....", which is not a good sign. they had three hours of film to tell an interpretation of the book and make it a good deal more convincing. saying that it's a bit clearer in the book, and i really don't see how things like the Vagner parts could be, is cheating.

perhaps in the book there's also more substance, though, as to the how and why this came to be called The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. the original Swedish title of the novel translates as Men Who Hate Women, which is probably more of an appropriate title, but not entirely as the two main male characters certainly do not hate women.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in this version is little more than a below average plot from something like Inspector Morse with a whole lot of dark, vicious sex crimes thrown at it in the hope it will make it seem like a dark horror or, if you will, "gothic work". plenty of people seem happy to have accepted it as such, but i do not. i've been given assurances that the next two are somewhat different, featuring actual journalistic work and a more political slant to them. as i believe i shall be watching them soon, i really, really hope so.

all that said, i am kind of interested in watching the American take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and shall no doubt watch it eventully. although one humour website suggested that the new version of it should rather have been called All Of The Rape, None Of The Subtitles, i'd be interested to see if the very talented David Fincher ironed out a few of the basic plot flaws his version.

further to that, there's also that American car number plates are well known and unlikely to feature, not to mention the fact that Daniel Craig bears no resemblance at all to any Madchester legend. it should, then, be less distracting viewing.

hope this has been of some interest to some of you! thanks for reading!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!
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