Music Box Films // 2009 // 540 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // December 2nd, 2011
"Everyone has secrets."
Anyone with even a passing interest in popular culture should at least be aware of Swedish author Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. Whether it be the novels themselves, which have had a ubiquitous presence on the shelves of bookstores or anywhere else printed media can be purchased since their release, or the film adaptations, which having proven a decent draw at the world box office have already been released on DVD in single film and box set form, it's probably safe to assume Larsson's creation has achieved a level of recognition second only to Justin Bieber. Furthermore, there is the imminent release of David Fincher's (Fight Club) American remake of the trilogy, in what must surely be the final stage of world domination for the franchise.
Before Fincher's version is released, Music Box is offering American audiences the chance to see Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition, a collection of the original Swedish films in their extended cuts. Adding more depth to characters and storylines, these extended cuts were originally shown in Sweden as a TV miniseries, and for fans of the books in particular, may just prove to be essential viewing.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is called upon by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the disappearance of his niece, Harriet, some forty years ago. Despite Harriet's body having never been found, Henrik is sure she was murdered, and suspects a member of his own family as the killer.
Beginning his investigation, Mikael is unable to penetrate the secretive Vanger clan, until Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a professional hacker hired to investigate him, spots something in his files that he has missed. Holding no personal grudge against Mikael, Lisbeth forwards him the information that will lead to him unlocking the case. Though upset that he has been hacked, Mikael also realizes that he requires Lisbeth's skills to really crack the case, and so tracks her down. Together, the two uncover a terrifying family history that the Vangers will go to great lengths to keep secret.
The Girl who Played with Fire
Picking up twelve months after the events of the first film, The Girl who Played with Fire sees Lisbeth returning to Sweden following a year abroad. No sooner has she returned, than Lisbeth is implicated in three murders. Unable to locate his friend, Mikael nevertheless sets out to prove her innocence.
As the two desperately search to discover who is behind framing her, they are drawn into a world of sex trafficking that, much to their surprise, leads them to a shocking revelation about Lisbeth's past.
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest
With the truth about Lisbeth's past now out in the open, Mikael finds himself racing against time to prove his friend's innocence before she is put on trial for murder. As his investigation progresses, Mikael comes to learn of a secretive organization with links to Lisbeth's past that seem intent on destroying any future she might otherwise enjoy.
As the full extent of the conspiracy to silence Lisbeth is exposed, Mikael, Lisbeth, and anyone close to them finds they are in great danger from an organization that operates outside of the law, and is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve its goals.
Now this is certainly different. When one hears that a film clocking in at 152 minutes is getting an additional 30 minutes added to its runtime, it can be off-putting, no matter how good the original may have been. When that same extension is applied to an entire trilogy, it can become a somewhat daunting task. The simple fact is that most people just don't have three hours to sit and watch a movie all that often. So with that in mind, it is both refreshing and reassuring to find The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy reconfigured as a TV miniseries, with each film broken into two 90-minute episodes.
First of all, this change of format not only doesn't harm the material, it actually enhances it. Given the extra room to breathe, the films are both richer and a much more palatable proposition. Whether by chance or design, each of the films also has a natural break-off point, where each episode can draw to a close; this allows the viewer to take in each story in easily digestible chunks whilst ensuring they are left desperate to find out what happens next. It's also important to stress that the story still maintains its cinematic feel.
Presented as one long six-part series, the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition is broken down into three distinct sections, thus allowing the viewer to watch each film independently of the rest. As such, and though this review will discuss each film separately, the final judgment is based on the strengths of the series as a whole.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the opening chapter in the trilogy, is a perfect introduction to the series, setting up the main protagonists and the tone that will drive the subsequent films. Built around a missing persons case dating back some forty years, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would most likely be a fairly run-of-the-mill procedural, were it not for the characters of Mikael and Lisbeth. Lisbeth, in particular, is fascinating, being a strong woman, but open to abuse at the hands of opportunistic men due to her past. The things that define Lisbeth -- her computer hacking skills, investigative know-how, and street smarts -- are in no way defined by her gender. Likewise, her appearance, which suggests little to no interest in popular conventions on how a young woman should look, ensures the character of Lisbeth feels unique and contemporary. Yet, for all this, the men who inhabit Lisbeth's world, with rare exception, struggle to see beyond her being a woman. Be it the gang of street thugs who see her as an easy target or the disgusting parole officer who rapes her in exchange for access to her own finances, the role of Lisbeth highlights the lack of progress in the way in which large chunks of society still perceive women.
To call The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo dark would be an understatement. The violent acts committed in this film, most notably those suffered by Lisbeth, are depicted in an unflinching manner, and make for uncomfortable viewing. Whether a woman can ever truly gain revenge on a man who has raped her is debatable -- the crime can never be undone -- but Lisbeth's response to her attackers is often to mimic their actions, ensuring that, if justice hasn't necessarily been served, there has at least been some kind of equilibrium brought to both victim and attacker.
Beyond the exploration of violence toward women, the plot of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo offers a dense mystery. What at first appears to be a simple missing persons case goes on to encompass everything, from Nazis to the corruption of large corporations to create a potent mix. The way in which the film's two leads are brought together is certainly novel, and if Mikael and Lisbeth are an unlikely team, they certainly form an effective unit. As the film progresses, director Niels Arden Opley keeps his card close to his chest, so that each and every revelation takes the viewer by surprise, and thus maintains a vice like grip.
Having ended The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by delivering a very definite conclusion to the mystery at the heart of its story, it is not immediately clear where The Girl who Played with Fire will take the returning characters.
Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire takes its time bringing Lisbeth and Mikael together, and opens with the two leads working the same case from different angles -- much like before -- with their inevitable reunion tantalizing us. Until then, it is made abundantly clear that we are going to be spending a lot of time getting to know several new characters, while previously incidental roles, such as Lisbeth's friend and lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi), are expanded upon. In fact, when considering the way in which the film introduces a new mystery and puts the emphasis on these new characters, it's hard not to draw comparisons to HBO's The Wire. Trust me, that is high praise indeed.
There are, however, a number of problems that mean The Girl who Played with Fire doesn't quite reach the heights of its illustrious predecessor. Even in this extended form, certain plot elements -- mostly those revolving around the police investigation into the murders in which Lisbeth is implicated -- feel rushed. Some have also argued that this sequel lacks the spark of its predecessor. While it is true that we are a little wiser to the rules of Larsson's world -- and thus slightly less susceptible to being blindsided by its twists and turns -- the depth of the mystery, coupled with some thrilling action scenes, makes up for any lack of originality. More worrying is the way Lisbeth becomes a suspect in the murders. The setup is reliant on an act of utter stupidity and an amazingly unlikely coincidence that subsequently occurs. Were I to throw one more criticism at this sequel (and, in turn the final part of the trilogy), I would have to argue that things do get a little implausible, especially in regard to how Mikael and Lisbeth find themselves drawn into one mystery after another. Certain characters, mainly the mysterious Zalachenko and his goon (referred to as a "Blonde Tank") whom much of the film revolves around, veer dangerously close to Bond villain territory. In many ways this goes against the grain of the first movie, which felt amazingly grounded. Oh, and Mikael's ringtone, which seems to go off every 10 minutes, really starts to grate after only a short while.
Before that last paragraph gives you the wrong impression, I offer a rebuttal to my own argument: forget plausibility. This is a movie, a work of fiction. In Mikael and Lisbeth we have two of the best characters to grace our screens in quite some time. The fact that we get to spend more time with them, especially as it's in such a well-rounded and captivating story, should be your chief concern here. The shift towards a (slightly) more action-orientated film ensures the series remains fresh, and the insight we are given to Lisbeth's past provides additional depth and understanding of her complex character, and guarantees you'll be diving straight into the final part of the trilogy once the final credits roll.
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is less a sequel, and more a continuation of The Girl who Played with Fire, picking up right where the last film ended. Before this final installment in the trilogy can draw events to a close, it must first reveal just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Once again, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest takes on a style that differentiates itself from its predecessors, yet still feels part of the same whole.
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest feels very much like a race against time, but not just for Lisbeth and Mikael. Right from the start, the film introduces us to the secretive society that has been controlling events from the very beginning. This sinister addition to the series really works, and actually causes one to reevaluate some of the more suspect developments in The Girl who Played with Fire. Led by the brutally cold and seemingly unshakable Fredrik Clinton (Lennart Hjulstrom), "The Section," as they come to be known, set about cleaning up the mess that Lisbeth and Mikael have left them. This old white man cabal has a reach that suggests even the "invincible" Lisbeth may not succeed against them. In fact, the more we learn of them, the more we come to fear for Mikael, Lisbeth, and Company. In turn, this adds a sense of paranoia to proceedings, as we are never truly sure whom we can trust.
Bearing in mind that Lisbeth is subjected to far less violence this time out, it may sound odd that this final chapter actually forces the viewer to see Lisbeth as a victim far more effectively than the previous two parts of the trilogy. Perhaps the lack of a totally physical threat is the reason for this, but it's more likely due to the way in which the full extent of Lisbeth's manipulation is revealed.
Despite the darkness that hangs over this trilogy, there is at least something of a respite offered in this final chapter. Lisbeth is, to all intents and purposes, a loner; she has few friends, and even those are dispensable to her. Due to the awful abuse she has suffered since childhood, Lisbeth has learnt to rely on herself to get by. It becomes massively evident here that, for the first time, Lisbeth is not alone. For the first time, Lisbeth has people fighting her corner. Whether they win or lose, they are at least together in their fight. Lisbeth understands this, too, and in a small moment where she allows her guard to drop, it is impossible not to feel the slightest bit elated. Having seen her go through absolute hell, you want Lisbeth to be okay, and having spent nine hours in her company, you feel personally invested in her well-being.
Throughout the entire series of films, the cast is, without exception, excellent; but it is hard not to single out Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth. During The Girl who Played with Fire, one character refers to Lisbeth as "Invincible," and thanks to Rapace's performance, they're not far wrong. Even when confronted by seemingly insurmountable odds, Rapace brings such confidence and determination to the role that you fully believe Lisbeth will overcome anything sent her way -- despite frequently suffering the most awful abuse. What really impresses, and ensures Lisbeth isn't a one-note character, are the small, but no less poignant moments where Rapace offers a glimpse at Lisbeth's soft side. A scene shared between Lisbeth and her mother provides a hint at the guilt felt by Lisbeth, and is in sharp contrast to the popular opinion that Lisbeth is emotionless. Sharing top billing with Rapace is Michael Nyqvist, as Mikael Blomkvist. Nyqvist's role is more grounded than that of Rapace's, and as such is the more easy to emphasize with. Whereas Lisbeth seems to be able to brush off the violent acts committed during the trilogy, Mikael is not accustomed to such things, and is clearly distressed by several of the events that take place. There's also a palpable concern for Lisbeth's well-being that Nyqvist conveys. The two share a complex relationship; at times it is almost a father/daughter relationship, yet they also share intimate moments that betray their mutual attraction. Although the sequels rarely see the two together, they seem totally inseparable. It is to the credit of both actors that this relationship, and thus much of what makes this trilogy great, works.
Each film in the trilogy is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which obviously means the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been cropped to fit with the aspect ratio of its sequels. This really makes little difference, however, and still delivers a fine-looking picture, with natural colors, high levels of detail, and solid blacks. The viewer has the choice of playing the movie in either its native Swedish, or, for those with an aversion to subtitles, English. Both options provide a clean, nicely balanced 5.1 mix.
This four-DVD set contains each film on separate discs, with the fourth disc reserved for supplemental materials. The bonus disc delivers two hours of features, and begins with "Millennium: The Story." Clocking in at 48 minutes, this documentary actually focuses on author Steig Larsson, and is an excellent insight into his work. Both Noomi Rapace, and her co-star Michael Nyqvist are each interviewed in separate featurettes, whilst notable members of the cast and crew also get to discuss the film in a further set of interviews. "Nidermann vs. Roberto" focuses on a fight scene from The Girl who Played with Fire. Finally there is a selection of trailers for each of the films.
The original title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was "Men who Hate Women," and in many ways it is a more fitting moniker. If they're not raping or mercilessly beating women, the men who inhabit this trilogy are most likely selling them for sex or calling them whores. I almost feel I should apologize myself, simply for being a man.
Beyond that, and despite some unlikely twists and turns, Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition delivers nine hours of top-quality entertainment. Things do get dark at times, and I really don't want to understate that -- particularly due to some sickening acts of violence committed against women -- but if you can handle that, this set demands to be in your DVD collection.
Review content copyright © 2011 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Box Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Swedish)
Running Time: 540 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
* IMDb: The Girl Who Played with Fire
* IMDb: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest