Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is What’s Wrong with American Remakes

American director David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has received universal acclaim since it hit movie screens last week—across the board, critics and audiences alike have responded favorably, and there’s even been Oscar buzz circulating around the film’s star, Rooney Mara. The story takes us to Sweden, where journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) enlists the help of a young computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Mara), to uncover the truth behind a decades-old family mystery. There’s sex, sadism, revenge, Nazis, and dead women, all set against an icy yet stylish backdrop and with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross supplying the soundtrack.

It’s a good movie—David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) rarely misses—and Mara acts the part of the pierced, tattooed, and complicated Salander well. Yet, I find myself torn.

The movie is a remake—not the first, but the second film adaptation of late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. The first adaptation, a Swedish-produced, Swedish-language film directed by Niels Arden Oplev, came out a mere two years ago and was met with critical success, but less so in the United States, where it enjoyed only a limited release. This tends to be the case with non-English language films—if you saw Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish title: Män som hatar kvinnor) in theaters, I’m going to guess you had to go to some tiny arthouse cinema for it or stream it on Netflix.

Incidentally, Fincher’s version is currently playing at every standard movie theater in America and you can find Rooney Mara—in all her Lisbeth Salander pierced-nipple glory—splashed across the pages of W magazine. Long before the movie ever hit theaters, Mara-as-Salander was gracing billboards across the country and the covers of various fashion and entertainment magazines, seemingly in anticipation of one of the biggest films of the year.

This, to me, is an example of Hollywood-ization at its finest, and represents a lot of what’s wrong with American remakes of foreign films in general. Fincher’s expertise and attention to detail notwithstanding, I can’t help but be ethically opposed to them. The fact that these kinds of movies are created solely for the purpose of reaching as wide an audience as possible (read: as much money as possible) gives me a terrible taste in my mouth.

Every good artist knows that nothing is original. But come on—haven’t we seen enough Hollywood remakes? Why do they even exist in the first place? At the very core of it all, I find myself confused and upset when attempting to fathom the actual point of reworking foreign-language films. “That Swedish movie with the vampire girl was sick! Let’s make it again, but like, we can set it in New Mexico instead. Yeah! And we can get the girl from Kick-Ass to star in it!” is more or less the way I imagine the conversation went when studio execs at Hammer Films decided to re-envision 2008’s Swedish horror-romance hit Let the Right One In (Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in). A few subtitles never hurt anyone, in my opinion, but if the recent surge of American movie remakes is any indication, I’m in the minority here.

Hollywood decided long ago that making oodles of money was the resolute goal of movie-making and although this can’t possibly come as a shock to anyone, it’s still pretty annoying and hard to ignore. I daresay that the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was never meant to be just a movie, but was rather carefully constructed to erupt into a sexy multi-million-dollar franchise for a wide audience that hates subtitles. Consider the fact that Scarlett Johansson, the wet dream of every straight man in America, read for the title role. The girl is about as edgy as a pile of breasts and blonde hair, and that she was ever remotely considered for the role of an anti-social, hostile-yet-vulnerable computer hacker is laughable. What other reason could she have been possibly been considered for the role, other than because she’s hot and would have undoubtedly drawn in thousands to the box office? More so, the girl who was chosen for the role, Rooney Mara, makes a decidedly sexier Lisbeth than Noomi Rapace, who took on the role in the Swedish version. Because after all, everyone knows that if something isn’t sexified as much as possible, Americans won’t be into it.

All in all, I did enjoy the movie, despite everything. I just truly wish this whole remake trend would cease. It’s weird, doesn’t really make sense, and it’s straight-up lazy. Skip the remakes and the adaptations and please, for the love of movies, make something else instead. God forbid I see Elle Fanning or something in a few years “re-interpreting” the title character in Amélie.

Rorie Aondeline Perez Graduating from Emerson in May 2012 with a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing. No idea what’s next, but I’m excited as hell for it. I like sangria, history, short stories, the American West, weirdos, well-written movies, road trips, and Led Zeppelin, and I think Kindles are a disgrace.

View all posts by Rorie Aondeline Perez

7 Responses to “Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is What’s Wrong with American Remakes”

  1. Bill

    This film is not a remake of the Swedish film, it is a new adaptation of the book. Frankly, I think the Swedish version is a really lamentably bad adaptation, entertaining though it may be.

  2. bex

    Yeah, I have to agree with the above comment. This is one case where an American remake makes sense. The books were soooo good and the Swedish version just didn’t do them justice. They were too low budget and I hate to say missed a lot of great moments. There’s no doubt that the first Swedish girl’s performance was outstanding, but the Swedish version made me feel like the books had been reduced to a home move by comparison. I’m sorry to say. Fincher’s opening sequence set to Nine Inch Nails is worth the price of admission alone.

  3. Jason

    I’m entertained by all the bullshit outrage over American remakes of foreign films(or in this case, adaptations of foreign novels), like they’re all directed by Michael Bay and George Lucas. Obviously this movie was a born and bred cash cow. Fincher’s known for his blockbusters, there was that Dragon Tattoo ad campaign with Pizza Hut and Pepsi, and did you catch all the blatant product placement in the film? Shameless!

    The truth is, this film was made for a particular audience: The same folks that saw Fincher’s other dark flicks. Y’know, Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac… not exactly mainstream, Mickey Mouse movies, and we are not the special effects-worshipping, sappy, crappy, PG-13 moviegoers that some film snobs seem to think we are.

    They had Scarlett read, who cares? Give the shitty actress a chance to break out of her shell. Johnny Depp was a teen cop show heartthrob before he was Ed Wood or Donnie Brasco or William Blake or Raoul Duke. Fincher’s gotta work in Hollywood, she’s a big name, he might have a use for her at some point, so why not let her give it her best shot? She wasn’t right for the role, she didn’t get the role, that’s that.

    And who made this ruling that Mara was a sexier Lisbeth than Noomi? Mara came off as pretty androgynous up until the clothes went bye-bye. She didn’t even have visible eyebrows, which is not the best way to pretty yourself up.

    Speaking of sex, I remember numerous internet naysayers going on about how they were going to water down or just not shoot the rape scene because it would offend our repressed, American sensibilities. If anything, it was more graphic. As was Lisbeth’s assault on Bjurman. Fincher showed integrity and stayed true to the novel, because rape and sodomy do not equal box office success.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you on many points-

    The Swedish film was quality work.

    There are more money grubbing whores in Hollywood than Nevada, Bangkok and Amsterdam combined.

    Some of the remakes that have come out have been real shit(2011′s The Thing, I’m looking in your direction).

    And finally, putting a remake(or an adaptation of the same novel) together a few years after the original is obnoxious.

    Unless it’s really good. That’s what this, Let Me In, The Magnificent Seven and many others are. Great movies that drew heavily from those that came not long before.

    Now let’s all join forces and stop the Akira and Oldboy remakes from happening.

  4. Jason

    I know, right. All the product placement for Apple and Coca Cola and company in both the Swedish movie and *gasp* the book itself were all in the name of art. Whereas the English version was just commercial whoring.

  5. Ricardo

    This is what is wrong with anti-capitalism: it is intrinsically elitist. Rorie can’t understand why a remake is made, even when it makes loads of cash, out of loads of *people* paying to see. Roria can’t fathom how so many people may want to do something she doesn’t, so she blames it on “money”. The American formula of movie-making is absolutely succesful. Everybody wants to see how Americans will tackle an adaptation, how it will sound and look with American actors. I personally prefer European movies, but I don’t think everybody else should prefer it too. That’s elitism and arrogance.


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