Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Quick Thoughts on the "Dragon Tattoo" Teaser

I got a look at that leaked teaser for David Fincher's upcoming take on "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" yesterday. What can I say? It looks stylish, it looks fun, and it also looks depressingly familiar. I liked the 2009 film with Noomi Rapace as the hacker punk heroine, Lisbeth Salander, though I thought it had some major weaknesses. As I watched the teaser for the new version, I recognized familiar scenes and characters and environments. Too many, perhaps. Fincher is clearly a very different director than Niels Arden Oplev, who did the Swedish "Dragon Tattoo," and it was inevitable that some of the imagery would be similar, but I got a distinct sense of deja vu that doesn't bode well. The teaser reiterated for me how unnecessary the remake is, and that the only reason I'm going to see it is because David Fincher is directing it. And frankly, I'd rather he be spending his time on original material, or at least a remake project that has some more distance from the original.

I think the new "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" will be a fine film, but it will inevitably be hurt in comparison to the original, much as "Let Me In," the American remake of another Swedish film, "Let the Right One In," couldn't escape the shadow of its recent predecessor. It's going to be hard to escape the feeling, even with a new director and new actors, that we've already seen this movie before. From the production details we've seen so far, Fincher isn't straying far from the plot of the original, won't be changing many names or settings. There are remakes that have become classics in spite of similar circumstances - George Cukor's "Gaslight" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Man Who Knew Too Much" are the most famous examples - but I highly doubt there was as much awareness of the original films among general audiences back then. Times and tactics have changed so much, that the American studios are now happy to use the familiarity of the property to drive their marketing campaign. The media touted the casting of Rooney Mara as the new Lisbeth Salander, perfectly willing to acknowledge the popularity of her previous incarnation, who arrived on our Blockbuster shelves and in our Netflix accounts barely two years prior.

Fincher, MGM, and Columbia Pictures are falling back on the justification that they're using the popular Stieg Larssen novels as their source material rather than the Swedish film series, but I don't believe for a minute that the success of the films didn't play into the decision to create American versions. The common wisdom is that a significant portion of the American audience will not watch foreign films with subtitles, and it makes sense to remake popular foreign films in English from a business standpoint. We see everything from Japanese horror to French romantic comedies getting repackaged and remade in English with American stars every year, though they're rarely advertised as such. American viewers aren't nearly as recptive toward world cinema as other audiences around the globe, so Hollywood can get away with this regularly. Even when presented with the option of viewing the originals over the remakes, many will still go for the remakes every time. Heck, the current summer movie season, full of sequels and reboots, seems to indicate that moviegoers are perfectly happy to see the same film over and over again. Should we blame American audiences with low standards for helping perpetuate studio laziness?

I guess I can't really fault Fincher for taking signing on to direct material that is right up his alley - a crime story with a unique heroine and a paranoid atmosphere. The anticipation for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is running high and he's potentially looking at another big hit this winter. However, if the film does well, I hope he doesn't stick around for the rest of the trilogy. The material in "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is far weaker than "Dragon Tattoo," and the latter films went downhill quickly. Fincher could probably do a better job with them than Daniel Alfredson did with the Swedish versions, but I'd rather he didn't try. Looking at Fincher's filmography, he's got such a great track record with original projects, that it feels like such a waste of his talents to see him shepherding a series of franchise films that don't need his involvement to be successful.

David Fincher is one of my favorite directors. I thought he should have won the Oscar last year. He has plenty of clout to make whatever he wants right now, after the success of "The Social Network." So what is he doing remaking a two-year-old Swedish action film that doesn't need a remake?

Oh well. I guess we'll find out in December.

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