Adapting a book into a movie is never an easy process. It’s impossible to include everything written in hundreds of pages into a couple of hours on screen and certainly Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy is not exempt. It’s especially tricky to manage when so much of the audience is already familiar with and invested in the story.
Adding to the difficult nature of these adaptations is the difference in director from film to film. Niels Arden Oplev directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the first and third films in the trilogy, while the second film, The Girl Who Played With Fire, was directed by Daniel Alfredson and while the transition between films is fairly seamless, there are some differences.
There’s no doubt that a great deal of what has made the book series as successful as it is, is due to the singular character of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Salander is the atypical heroine in a story of institutional corruption, crimes perpetrated against women, and societal expectations. The complex plot that extends throughout the three books is filled with a growing cast of characters and conflicting interests making for a challenging adaption.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the most successful of the three films precisely because it is our introduction to Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). It’s a more manageable translation from page to screen and Oplev’s commitment to the material is evident. Not only does the first film introduce our protagonists, but it also involves the mystery of Harriet Vanger, who has been missing since she was a girl. Vanger’s disappearance serves as a bridge between Salander and Blomkvist and they are initially brought together in solving the mystery. Some of the most harrowing and disturbing moments in the trilogy occur in this first film and Oplev manages to present these scenes in a straightforward, non gratuitous manner making them dark and affecting.
The Girl Who Played With Fire may not be as consistent or as adept at balancing the various complicated threads that run through a large gamut of characters as the other films. However, it is still an admirable and engaging adaptation that plays to the strengths of the lead performances by Rapace and Nyqvist. The second film does away with many of the characters in the corresponding book, police mainly. Despite some missing elements the film still manages to infuse tension and suspense, particularly in the moments when it seems as if Salander’s in as dangerous a situation as possible. Here is when Alfredson’s direction comes together to create a thrilling conclusion to the second chapter of this series.
Oplev’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has the unique challenge of a story that keeps Salander almost completely isolated from those we’ve already come to know. In addition, she is in an especially vulnerable position as she is confined to a hospital for the majority of the film. It’s not easy to imbue such a circumstance with ongoing tension, yet the film succeeds in doing just that. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest also benefits from the addition of Blomkvists’s sister as Salander’s legal representation and Dr. Jonasson , the kind and capable doctor in charge of Salander’s recovery. These two add to the support system that has built over the course of the three films and they serve to emphasize the progress, small though it may seem, made by Salander herself in interpersonal interactions, as well as present sympathetic allies that may not fully understand her but still feel an affinity for or protectiveness toward her.
At the culmination of the three films there is a well earned feeling of justice. While those that have wronged Salander can never truly be punished equally for what she has had to endure, there is still a sense of real victory as the series ends. While in some ways it may seem unfair to compare the books to the movies, it is not a stretch to assume that much of the films’ audience would also already be familiar with them. It is a credit to both Oplev and Alfredson that they are as good as they are. Smart story choices and excellent casting were integral to a successful adaption because in some ways it is a series that seems tailor-made to the screen, daunting though the task may be. Fortunately, fans of the books will be rewarded with an overall successful adaptation, as well as a set of films that stand on their own.
This collection contains an extra disc of bonus features that includes several documentaries and interviews. The documentaries extend to one on Larsson himself and the phenomenon of the trilogy, as well as a ‘making o’f featurette on the fight scene between Niederman and Paulo Roberto. The Larsson documentary offers an illuminating view into Larsson’s background (including even some bits of Swedish history) and his interest in the subject matter. The interviews provide serious, thoughtful insight into the characters, particularly Rapace’s and Nyqvist’s, and some revealing moments from Roberto.