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Remember- it's a three-part series, people!
Each time I read another review that began with, "I have not read the books..." I despair. This is the signal for another review that does not understand the most critical point of all. You cannot ignore the fact that this story sets up a series; therefore a lot of exposition occurs that does not pay off until the later books. That's just how it is.
This movie is a film adaptation of the first part of a three-part series. Part 2 picks up immediately where Part 1 leaves off, and so on. It's one long story that just happens to be presented in 3 individual books (actually, the full scope was purported to be 10 books; interrupted, tragically, by the sudden death by heart attack of author Stieg Larsson).
You may think a scene or character or other part is "contrived" or whatever, but MANY aspects of "Dragon Tattoo" exist only to connect to or set up things that are explained in the later books. It cannot- and should not- be expected to exist solely as a stand-alone movie. The characters live on, and a whole lot more happens to them as the books progress.
"The rape scene is too violent!" everyone's screeching. Yes, it's violent. THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT. The entire series predicates on the violence and injustice perpetrated on Lisbeth, from her childhood forward. The Swedish title of the book is "Men Who Hate Women" and the books are strongly colored by that throughout. Before writing these books, Larsson witnessed a brutal gang rape, and did not step in to prevent it. That event changed his life- it drove him to tell a deeply complex story of a world and culture where men are free to abuse women in a myriad of ways to further their own ends. Lisbeth's character is the focal point of that message. She endures- survives- such an unspeakable spectrum of abuse it's heartbreaking. But there are also good people, those who try to do something about it. And ultimately the message is one of hope, because despite all her "disadvantages" Lisbeth manages to triumph despite her past. Her past drives her to help solve a series of horribly violent murders because she, more than anyone, knows what men are capable of when they choose to hate- and hurt- women.
I have read all 3 books and seen all 3 Swedish versions. I prefer Fincher's "Dragon Tattoo" as it much more effectively represents what I imagined when I read the book. That's my personal barometer. Compared to the book, some things were left out and some things were changed. It was a very long book and I know better than to expect an exact representation. The same thing happened in the Swedish version. But the changes were not the same. I think the new version made better choices in terms of the things they chose to leave out/modify, and the end product was improved.
What I missed most in both movies is the inner narrative. Being inside the characters' minds, and hearing their inner voices, reasons etc., is such a key part of the books. This delivers so much insight and depth and is not able to be communicated in the movies. So you rely on the actors to deliver that "inner voice" via their performances. I though Mara succeeded much more than Craig in achieving this. To me, overall his Mikael did not deliver much beyond the surface. As Lisbeth, I felt Mara much more effectively embodies Larsson's character as the books portray her. Rapace, in the original, was too tough. Mara is almost a perfect match for how I envisioned Lisbeth when I read the books. So if the defining criteria for "which movie is best" = which actress was a better Lisbeth, then Fincher's wins as far as I am concerned. If you've read the book, I think you will like this movie. If you have not, I recommend you read it. Not just to make the movie better-but because it's a great book. Then read the next two.
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
We loved it- great family fun!
My son (age 10) liked Jumanji and is an avid reader. When he learned "Zathura" would be the next Van Allsburg book to come to the screen, he made me promise we'd see it.
We nearly missed our chance (it was at the second-run theater) but I am glad we made it. "Zathura" was excellent- we were riveted the entire time and my son THEN made me promise we'd buy the DVD when it was released! Since one of the main characters was a 10-year old boy like him, naturally I knew he'd like it. But I really liked it too and thought that every actor's performance was exactly right. Not cutesy in that "movie kid" kind of way, but very real. I flinched at some of the older brother's dialogue- it was so mean and angry toward the little brother. But that's how it is!! Kids are so mean. This movie did not shy away from it (OK, that set up the ending, but still).
Even the teen sister was great. Tim Robbins, as the harried dad (little screen time) was spot-on. Families of divorce have a whole separate set of behavioral rules to learn and live by, and this movie nailed it.
Thumbs-up from all of us!