‘Remake’ is such a dirty word, but one that many feel defines a large portion of Hollywood releases these days. I’ve seen comments on film review blogs castigating the reviewer for calling a particular film a remake because it was in fact a re-envisioning based on the same material, or in the case of 2011’s The Thing, a prequel. Perhaps these comments are ‘technically’ correct, and some of these films that feel like remakes do not fit the definition; however, language is not perfect. When I hear the word ‘remake’, I do not think of a rigid definition that only encompasses films that are strict recreations of previous films. No, I think of films that draw heavily on previous material, often trying to revive the soul of exciting stories that used to light up dark theatres to the applause of excited viewers, but have since been relegated to the shelves of DVD collections.
For a film to be a remake in my opinion, the filmmakers need not take much: a name, Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street), a situation, living next-door to a homicidal neighbour in Disturbia (Rear Window); or even just some thing (The Thing). Borrowing from a movie or paying homage is commonplace in original screenplays, but utilizing a critical aspect (call it the soul or the backbone) of a previous work will forever be what remakes are made of in my eyes. As I have said, language is not perfect, and at the moment we don’t have a better or more commonly used word to describe the type of films I’m speaking about. That said, on to my review of the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
This time around director David Fincher deals with the same material that Niels Arden Oplev worked with for Sweeden’s 2009 version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (TGWTDT). Based on the book of the same name by Stieg Larsson, TGWTDT tells the story of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who it seems has just been unceremoniously sued for libel by a powerful businessman as a result of one of Blomkvist’s investigative articles. In turn, the suit has completely emptied Blomkvist’s savings account. However, ss luck would have it, it is only a matter of days before Blomkvist is offered a lucrative job to solve a 40-year old murder. Aided by Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a troubled, anti-social, and brilliant computer hacker, Blomkvist sets out to solve the mysterious murder, encountering plenty of resistance at every turn from the pack of vipers that make up the murdered girl’s extended family.
The remake of TGWTDT is really quite a solid movie. The acting was fairly good across the board with Mara and Craig turning in great lead performances. Although there were a few awkward moments in which Craig would yell, one particular bellowing of the word ‘cat!’ sticks in my mind and struck me as quite odd. I don’t really remember Mara from The Social Network, but her performance in TGWTDT will stick with me for all the right reasons. She was not quite as effectively withdrawn and robotic as Noomi Rapace in the original film, but did a great job as Salander, and brought more sex appeal to the role (not that this was necessary, but it worked).
Not surprisingly, Fincher puts his talent to work and manages to make some of the more darker and grisly parts of the original even more so. Although it should be said that this was by no means a weakness of the original, Fincher just does it better.
Finally, the relationship between Fincher and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails continues in TGWTDT, a la Seven, with an uncomfortable opening sequence depicting human bodies, made of some black liquid, interacting with and assimilating each other, while computer cables and cords protrude from and intertwine with the bodies. This imagery is accompanied by a Nine Inch Nails cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on vocals. The bizarre imagery and hard acoustics may not be the most appropriate for TGWTDT, it’s not as dark as Seven, but openings of this quality are always enjoyable.
Having now seen both versions of TGWTDT (the original when it was out in theatres), I think it would be nitpicking to say one version is superior to the other. The stories are nearly identical as far as I can tell. The acting is quite good in both versions. The run times are both very lengthy, the original was 152 minutes while the Fincher version is 158. Not considering the context of the why the Fincher version was made, I have to say that it is quite a good film. TGWTDT is suspenseful, intriguing, visually gorgeous, and at times horrifying. New viewers should most certainly make it out to the theatres for this one. For those who have seen the original, I would only recommend a viewing if you are particularly fond of TGWTDT or the work of Fincher. In the end I still have to wonder, with the release of the original just a couple of years behind us, why was the Fincher version was even made? For money I suppose.
That always seems to be the answer.