If you’re REALLY into Steig Larson, and who, if you’re reading this blog, ISN’T, I guess I do have to recommend the 18 hour marathon I just experienced with the Audio Books version of “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” It’s the second book in his monumental Millenium Trilogy. A world-wide publishing success with film versions in Swedish and in English, and more on the way. We HOPE.
But in the meantime there’s this massive, and I mean MASSIVE 18 hour immersion into Larson and Sweden and most of all Lisbeth Salander available on Audio Books, read by one man and one man alone, the vocally versatile(he has to be) Simon Vance.He voices something like 100 different characters in the modern Swedish noir “War and Peace.”
Vance, a British actor who clearly speaks Swedish, pronounces the many, many location names in Larson’s fictional Sweden very lovingly. He’s British, so he choses to give Lisbeth Salander, a Cockney accent. Mikael Blomkvist,Larson’s hero,the intrepid, indefatigable Vance choose to speak with a British voice closer to his own.
His the Cockney Salander really floored me. Then I grew to like her, which is crucial for staying tuned for the full 18 hour version, which I unbelievably did.
It’s begun to be another frighteningly hot summer in New York and I have to think twice, if not three times about venturing out in this heat. It was better today, but by that time I’d finished the whole damn thing. It IS an endurance test for the reader, to be sure. It’s a dense book, and it’s an intense listen.
Noomi Rapace’s indelible Salander is impossible to put out of your mind when listening to this. She, of course, starred in of all three films of the Swedish cinema trilogy-to-end-all-trilogies, launching an international career in the process. Thank god! I was worried that she was going to get stuck with Lisbeth for the rest of her life, but she seems to have successfully dodged that bullet. She did get a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress, for the last of the three films, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” But she didn’t win.
Rooney Mara got an Oscar nomination to prove that she was just as good if not better in David Fincher’s film version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” two years ago.But she didn’t win either. So the Americans not having filmed the second book, one still pictures Noomi Rapace going through Lisbeth’s harrowing paces in listening to “The Girl Who Played With Fire.”
But a lot of the book is very different from the movie, and this is the book that is the best of the three, IMHO. Because Salander is in it the most. In fact, she’s front and center in the story of “The Girl Who Played with Fire.’
Listening to the bare bones of it, just as an audio experience, I was very conscious of parts of the book that I didn’t remember. In fact, the whole opening section in the Caribbean, where we find Lisbeth hiding out for chapters and chapters, ending in a climatic hurricane/tornado named Matilda, is not in the film at all.
Enough time had gone by so that I didn’t remember it clearly.But it’s there, and it grips you. Then there is a whole chapter section given almost entirely over to Furman’s theory of algebra, which I also didn’t remember, and clearly must’ve skipped over, as I had skipped over it on the disc.
But it does begin to build and it keeps you listening through all the dull police procedural details, and there are many. Mostly of course, as always, you care about Salander and want her to vanquish her various dastardly villains, like lawyer Nils Bjurman, who she was famously rapes and tattoos in Book One.
Well, he’s back, but not for long. Larsson had a real, solid, slimy villain in Advocat Bjurrman, the ultimate repulsive civil servant, who is really, as Salander tattoos on his quivering abdomen in Book,” I Am a Sadistic Pig and a Rapist.”
“The Girl Who Played with Fire”is concerned with an expose of the Russian sex/slave trade in young Slavic girls. Some of it is so sickening in its’ details that you do just want to turn off the DVD player. But I didn’t. And I had no intention of writing about it, but here I am telling all this to you.
It picks up tremendously in the second part. And of course the semi-tiresome Erika Berger, Salander’s rival for Blomkvist’s affections, and the editor of Millennium magazine, has so much more to do in book, it’s ridiculous.
In the American film, she was played by Robin Wright, and in the Swedish version by the great Lena Endre. Her flirtation with another publishing job in the middle of the whole Salander case remains a weird sub-plot.
It’s Larson straining to make that character of Erika Berger interesting, I suspect.
But she isn’t, much. Lisbeth Salander just towers over all the other characters. And try as he might, Larson couldn’t stop writing about her, and writing about her SO WELL that she jumps off the discs, as she jumped off the page and the films, into history.
I bet Larson, when he was writing the first book, did not expect or plan, for Lisbeth to so engulf him, and all his writing. She seems like a character that just took on a life of her own. She overwhelmed him, and us, and there was nothing he could do to stop her fascination to the reader and so he just went with it. Mikael Blomkvist was clearly meant to be the central character when the first book “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” started, but that soon changed. And the world is so glad it did. Mikael Blomkvist is a bit of a bore.
And I had forgotten details like her interest in micro-wave pizzas. And did not remember McDonald’s popping up so frequently in Stockholm.
And Blomkvist’s not having a car and relying on public transportation in Stockholm and in Sweden in general is an endearing trait.
And Larson’s having to introduce EVERY SINGLE ONE of Millenia magazine’s staff AND Dragan Armansky’s office staff, as well as all the police investigators is almost Tolstoyian in its’ mound of character details. But not many of them pop out as clearly defined.
The reader, the amazing Simon Vance, does very well with Dragan Armansky, Lisbeth’s loyal employer and also Office Bubble, or Bublansky, the Jewish cop who is heading the police here. Though admittedly they do sound similar. And when he gets to the aged Palmer Holgren, the former guardian of Salander, who is now in a nursing home and a recovering stroke victim, Vance really outdoes himself. Having to be intelligible and unintelligible at the same time.
My unexpected favorite scene in the Audio Book, was the fight between “The Blond Giant” Ronald Neiderman, the Brazilian celebrity/prize-fighter Paulo Roberto(who is evidently a real person!) and Miriam Wu, Salander’s half-Asian girl friend, who gets drawn into the police web, and ends up being kidnapped and mistaken for Salander. That chapter(or disc, in this case) seemed to me to contain Larson’s best, most gripping non-stop writing. I was frozen in place as I listened to it, and to Simon Vance’s terrific vocal acting out of all the parts.
It’s quite a time intensive endeavor. And I think the 18 hours I spent on listening to all 15 of the discs is longer than it took me to read the book in the first place. But it’s worth it.
It’s staying with me. And I can recommend to all you Steig/Salander-o-philes out there. Make the time and you’ll be surprised how intense and compelling it is all over again.
Posts tagged ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’
I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful experience it was to be soooo totally surprised, stupefied and blind-sided, and deee-lighted to be so, by David Fincher’s re-do of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” I’m kinda hog-wild about it. I think it’s an instant classic.
Shocked that material I knew so well ~ I saw all three Swedish movies and read all three blockbuster books and was totally entranced by all of them, and I could not BELIEVE that a director whose work has been so notoriously uneven, really could re-invent, in a completely NEW, a startling way, a movie we’ve actually already seen. As recently as last year. Which is when I caught up with it.
I mean, really! Quelle shock! Quelle surprise! And how wonderful to suddenly see David Fincher turn into Alfred Hitchcock, in all of the best possible ways. I mean, Fincher has really done the IMPOSSIBLE. He re-thought and re-shot a re-make and made it all utterly, entirely entertaining.engrossing and WATCHABLE. All nearly three hours of it! Yes, it’s that long, dear readers, dear cineastes.
Fincher wants you to go through an epic, an ORDEAL, as his Viking goddess, Lisbeth Salander, becomes a true immortal Norse Mythological Heroine in his hands, and in Rooney Mara’s equally stunning performance ~ It’s a SAGA! An Icelandic SAGA! Or in this case Swedish.
Lisbeth Salander is on par with Brunnhilde, these days. But, oh wait! That’s German! But yes, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has that on its’ mind, too. Nazis. And there’s a lot of them. And they populate Sweden and esp. this film (and the book, too. No Fincher didn’t ADD them. But he did ad a cat… )
And there’s a LOT of Swedish politics and rage against the supposedly perfect Swedish social machine. Where corruption exists on all levels, mostly high, but mid-range, too, as exemplified by the beaurocrat Bjurman(a really slimy pig of a politico played here Yorick Van Wageningen.) His rape of Salander jump-starts the film into hyper-space, if the film’s opening five minutes of INCREDIBLY dark and oily, inky black titles with pounding music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, that turn into blood and then into fire, didn’t already blow you there. I don’t ever remember Opening titles getting applause!
How DID he do this???
Welllll, there is a biiiiiig difference between a $15 million budget which is what all THREE Swedish films had, and the something upwards of $150 milllion that this “Tattoo” was inked with.
Quelle difference! But it’s not just the money. It’s how Fincher USED the money, wisely. It’s superbly shot in a de-saturated, almost black and white tone, by his great cinematographer, who makes Sweden look black and BLUE. There are snowscapes upon snowscapes of incredible beauty. Some thing the original Swedish version directed by Niels Arden Oplev did NOT do.
Oplev’s Stockholm looked glamorous, beautiful, colorful, intriguing, inviting. It made you want to go there. It was a celebration of Stockholm. It was if we’d never seen it before. Oplev WANTED you to go there.
There is no color whatsoever in Fincher’s version. It’s all chilly, foreboding, FREEZING. Everything seems like it’s happening in a new Ice Age. And he’s more interested in frightening the living daylights out of you by the winter gloom. It’s as though the two “Tattoos” were filmed in two totally different cities. One you’d want to go to and one you wanted to run from.
And there is a LOT of darkness in Lisbeth Salander’s world, the world that Steig Larsson created for her. It’s a Nordic vision of hell, and it’s so rotten you can also smell the stench of decaying souls. Lisbeth’s last scene takes place, metaphorically, next to a dumpster, as once again, it’s snowing.
And the suspense! Not since Hitchcock, as I said. My hero. He was the greatest of great filmmakers IMHO. And that Fincher is able to sustain this for NEARLY three hours is absolutely astonishing.
There are SOME bright lights shining in this land of the midnight sun, and it’s all in the casting. The excellent ensemble boasts a rubicund Christopher Plummer as the rich guy who hires the down-on-his-luck Blomkvist. And Blomkvist is magnificently played by none-other than James Bond himself, Daniel Craig. He’s the hero and we all know it. And a helluva nice guy. A journalist who’s a crusader against corruption in all forms, Henrik Vanger (no, not WAGNER, but you get the drift) hires the hapless Blomkvist to track down the disappearance many years prior of a beloved neice, Harriet.
Add a perfectly cast Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard and Joely Richardson, who’s never been better and you’ve yourself got a superb group of players. Down to the smallest bit part, Fincher has assembled a great, an historic ensemble of actor’s actors. One of the best ever for his kind of thriller-diller shockeroo. But that’s what Hitchcock did, too. He always had THE BEST actors, and by doing so elevated the genre.
That’s ONE plot, the Harriet plot. Then there’s an Agatha Christie-esque mystery-within-the-mystery, which is the real core of the story. THEN there’s the great love story that develops between Blomkvist and Salander and SHE’S definitely the one on top here.
One of the great successes of Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy is his reversal, his up-ending of the usual sexual expectations in a genre like this. And both Mara and Craig are totally up to and under it. They were hot together when their relationship starts to turn carnal. And it does! We suddenly see what is keeping all those Swedish nights so warm! And like in Ingmar Bergman’s great cinematic ouevre, it was always about the women.
And Lisbeth Salander is one of the great fictional heroines of our time, and Noomi Rapace in the Swedish films did a beautiful, mystifying job. She was as glamorous and intriguing and complicated as the Sweden that was depicted in the previous films.
Rooney Mara has large, almost gigantic blue eyes, They seem to dwarf her completely. Noomi had dark, impenetrable, almost black eyes. What WAS going on behind them in all those intense close-ups of her throughout the first three films?
With Mara’s enormous orbs, we SEE what is going on inside her much, much more clearly, and yes, there is ultimately a vulnerability that Fincher finally reveals in the film’s last scene which was like a cinematic sucker punch.
And Rooney and Oscar? Well, I’ll write more about that tomorrow!