The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Book vs. Movies

After seeing both the American and Swedish film of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I finally decided to read the book.  I know what you are all thinking, “Wow welcome to the rest of the world.”  Normally when a movie comes out that is based on a book I am everything shy of compelled to read the book.  Even some of my all time favorites such as Jaws and Jurassic Park where everyone said, “the book was better” I could have cared less about read it.  But here are two films that tell a meticulous story with the most captivating heroine I have ever seen in a film.  Though the two films have a lot in common, there are noticeable differences which fueled my interest to answer the question:  Which of the two adaptations of the book is more accurate.

Now before I proceed further I must mention this does contain spoilers and that the Swedish version I saw was the extended cut with around 30 minutes more footage than the original which may hinder my comparison.  When analyzing it I am going to break it into three categories: (1) the story, (2) Mikael Blomkvist, and (3) the most commonly debated topic Lisbeth Salander.

The Story

As usual it is impossible for the movie to contain everything that is in the novel.  The interesting thing, however, is that each film chose to include details that may have been left out in the other.  They both play down what exactly it was that went wrong with Blomkvist’s investigation into the Wennerstrom  Corporation because , let’s be honest, it is a dry topic full of legal mumbo-jumbo that is very detailed in Stieg Larsson’s novel.  I am not sure how much of the legal lingo even makes sense or is accurate along with all the technological discussion but Larsson sounded convincing.

Anyway, what the American version included I thought was important was the cat, the letters/numbers of Harriet’s diary, and the ending.  The cat may not seem important but it kind of was.  The cat was Blomkvist’s only companion for a lot of his early research.  Then when its decapitated carcass shows up it both shows someone was on to what Blomkvist was researching and hints at the source of who could have done it.  In this version, Blomkvist daughter is the one who reveals to him that the letters and numbers are out of the bible which implicate Harriet was on to something.  This was not left out of the Swedish film but rather he discovered their meanings in a different way.  As for the ending, Salander disguises as the complete opposite of how she normally looks to rob Wennerstrom and prove Blomkvist’s innocence which is covered more in the Swedish film version of The Girl Who Played With Fire.

The Swedish extended version includes a lot!  It includes the fact that Blomkvist has to serve jail time for an invalid source (if that is what you want to call it) in his article investigating Wennerstrom, which is an important piece of the story.  However the film did place it at the end of Blomkvist’s contract with Henrik Vanger rather than in the middle but they manage to still make it work without interruption.  Next is the inclusion of Salander’s mother.  The American version shows Salander and her relationship with long-time guardian, Palmgren, but does not touch on her mother who is institutionalized and confuses Salander with her sister.  Then there is the climax where Salander rescues Blomkvist and sees the injured Martin Vanger crash into an oncoming truck; not the chase shown in the David Fincher version.  Final difference is where Blomkvist ultimately finds Harriet in Australia with all the sheep under Anita’s name, in Fincher’s she is found in London assuming Anita’s identity following Anita’s death in a car crash.

In terms of following the novel, I give the nod to the Swedish but the American version is very tight and has the budget that allowed it a tone that suited the dark subject matter.

Mikael Blomkvist

Put simply, Blomkvist is a hard working, professional, and intelligent journalist with morals and is good with the ladies.  So who pulls this off better, Michael Nyqvist or Daniel Craig?  To me it can be looked in two ways: which is closer to the novel and which is a better performance?  I feel Nyqvist stuck closer to the book.  He was arrogant, professional, and visibly tight lipped about anything that he did not want to discuss with others while investigating.  You could argue that Craig did the same thing but he made Blomkvist come off as condescending which he was not in the book.  He may have been arrogant but not condescending.  But his performance was unmatchable especially when confronted by Martin Vanger at the climax of the story.  You could see the fear in his eyes while his face attempted to put on a false front of composure.

Nypvist on Left & Craig on Right

Lisbeth Salander

Now the most controversial topic since both actresses put so much effort in preparation for the role.  From the piercings to the tattoos to her messy, short hair to smoking to riding a motorcycle, the list goes on.  I think we are all familiar with how much Salander isolates herself from human connections of any sort.  But the key was that she is also in some ways vulnerable, she has feelings for Blomkvist but does not know how to go about trusting him or opening up to him.  As the events unfold there are just so many points where if Salander were a real person all you would want to do is give her a hug for all the shit she goes through; but she would never allow it, that’s how she is.

When reading the book I imaged she looked more along the lines of Noomi Rapace with her high cheek-bones, piercing eyes, and studded-leather attire.  And Rapace nailed the awkward, vulnerable, and subdued hostility of the character described in the book.  But Rooney Mara took this to the next level.  Her tight-knit walk and blank yet hostile stare added such intimidation that brought more depth and complexity to the character.  Again looking at which one follows the book I would go with Rapace but overall performance (even though it is very very very close) I have to go with Mara.

Rapace on Left & Mara on Right


To sum up everything, the extended Swedish version closer follows the events of the novel but the American version has that Hollywood budget that gave it an atmosphere and depth that is truly unique.  Personally I preferred the Swedish version but still loved Fincher’s adaptation.  My stance will not line up with everyone else’s opinion I am sure so post your thoughts in the comments below!  I am interested to hear what others think.

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  1. #1 by citychickcountrylife on May 30, 2012 - 3:57 PM

    I found the book a bit boring and did not finish it, but I loveddd the movies! At first I thought there was no way that the American version could compare with the original but I found myself liking it just as much. I’m really looking forward to seeing the others!

    • #2 by rochpikey on May 30, 2012 - 6:21 PM

      I completely understand. I will be honest, I cheated a tad. I had a 16 hour drive a ahead of me so I listened to it on audiobook which softened the boring parts for me. But I 100% agree that the movies are great (even though I favor the Swedish one). Definitely interested to see what the the American takes on the other books will be like. Hopefully David Fincher sticks with the series.

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