The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009, directed by Niels Arden Oplev) is based on the book of the same name which is the first in Stieg Larsson’s international best-selling Millennium trilogy, followed by The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.
Being a fan of the trilogy, I was, as I’m sure many others were, excited to see the film but also curious to see how they would handle such a challenging story. Many aspects of the book would not lend well to visual depiction, and if attempted, would likely result in a film something around 10 hours long. But this film is just over two and a half hours long and so one would expect a great deal of the book to be missing, which indeed is the case.
What the film does accomplish well is presenting the viewer with the information that is needed to progress the basic plot of the story involving the 40 year old mystery as well as the events that are requisite for the next two books. What is sacrificed is a great deal: the staff of the Millennium are met only in passing, and Mikael’s relationships are almost entirely absent.
As a result, those who have not read the book will have a very different impression of Mikael than those who have, but it is hard to imagine how the film could have captured his character anything like the real Mikael of the novels. His character would probably necessitate a separate movie all of its own. Thankfully his character is not altered greatly, he is just not developed to the same degree as in the books.
Lisbeth is likewise glossed over in many respects. Events that are important to the development of the plot are presented, but we really don’t get to know her as we do in the book which is not especially surprising given that Lisbeth is, for the most part, silent through out the book. So how else can we reasonably expect her character to be portrayed?
The film sticks very closely to the plot of the book, with a few exceptions which largely don’t affect the plot to any great degree. One exception to this is a certain car accident towards the end of the story, which I feel is actually changed for the better. What was in the book a somewhat unsatisfying end was transformed into a meaningful incident in itself, serving to increase our insight into Lisbeth’s character as well as set up a parallel that will pay off in the second film.
The score of the film is amazingly well done and in its own right demands a viewing. The music captures the scenes and moods so well that I found myself wishing the score could have accompanied the book. This is one way the film was able to add to the story and the experience.
For those who read and loved the book, the film is an enjoyable experience. It is difficult to judge the film on its own and this is likely not appropriate anyways: the film seems largely to be for the book lovers. It is a companion to the book, meant to provide the visual and auditory experience that the book obviously cannot. And so it is satisfying, even if you are unable to share in the suspense and mystery of the plot that the newcomer will experience.
It is definitely recommended, however, and should be watched after reading the book but before reading the second book of the series, for the added visual and auditory experience will add to the experience of the reading. That is, of course, if you were able to restrain yourself from immediately reading The Girl Who Played With Fire immediately after finishing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
If you were not, that is understandable because not many readers were able to stop with just the first one.