See The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before Hollywood ruins it
If you love Stieg Larsson’s crime novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, then run to catch the Swedish movie version, opening in limited U.S. release March 19. Do you really want to see Kristen Stewart moping around as Lisbeth Salander in the Hollywood remake? God, me neither.
According to a recent story in Newsweek, Stewart (best known as Twilight‘s Bella), is the leading candidate to play Larsson’s fierce young heroine in the American version. The Swedish movie, which has earned more than $100 million in Europe since its initial release last February, has made a star out of the little-known Swedish acrtress Noomi Rapace.
In a notice posted just today, the Miami Herald‘s Rene Rodriguez (for my money one of the most reliable film critics in the country), gives the picture three-and-a-half stars. Rapace’s Lisbeth, he writes, “is unlike any troubled bad girl you’ve encountered,” “haunting, enigmatic,” and: “She’s fantastic, and so is the movie.”
Do you really think anyone will be saying that kind of thing a year or two from now about an American version, starring, say, Stewart and Johnny Depp, or Russell Crowe, or (shudder!) Al Pacino as the discredited journalist who needs her help solving a decades-old murder?
It’s not only the virtual certainty Hollywood will get the casting wrong. I don’t mean to beat up on poor Kristin Stewart (well– maybe bit: why does this girl always look sleepy?). More important — why make a new version of a perfectly excellent movie only a year old?
One reason to embrace a foreign movie or book is its very foreignness. Even books or movies influenced by Hollywood, or by American genre literature, are enlivened by having been processed through an Asian or European sensibility. Really, I cannot think of a single American remake that is not worse than the original. Usually much worse.
Wait, I did think of one: The Ring, starring Naomi Watts, based on Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film, Ringu. Other than that, nothing. Nada. Al Pacino’s Insomnia, a 2002 remake of the 1997 Norwegian original isn’t an embarrassment, it just isn’t very good. The Magnificent Seven is much loved by little boys of all ages, but it’s quite pallid compared to Kurosawa’s original, Seven Samurai.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, French cinema was briefly in vogue here in the U.S., as Scandinavian pictures are right now. And so we got lame remakes of Francophone hits like Three Men and a Baby (the American version starred, I kid you not, Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and the immortal Steve Guttenberg) or Cousin Cuisine, made into a great big glop of pablum titled Cousins, with Ted Danson, Sean Young and William Petersen.
Americans are really good at making movies. Heck, we invented the art form, and continue to dominate world cinema. But we’re best when we make our own movies, with our own stories, and show everyone else how it’s done. We don’t need to swoop in and take over every time someone else makes money on an interesting picture. It’s unseemly, it’s bullying, and it almost never works.
Oh, and it doesn’t seem to help when we bring the foreign creative team to Hollywood.
Consider The Vanishing (1993), an unbelievably cheesy thriller that tacks on a happy ending to the terrific and unsettling Dutch original, Spooloos (1988). Both are written by Tim Krabbe and directed by George Sluizer. So don’t expect much even if the writers and directors of the Swedish version of TGWTDT migrate to L.A.
Instead, seek out the Swedish-language version. Go. Now.
Meanwhile, can anyone else think of a good American remake of a foreign film, especially one based on a book?