Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon-Sized Hype

Anyone who really knows me knows that I don't generally go for anything with a lot of hype. One of my best friends in college loved to call me Miss Anti-Mainstream, and I don't think he meant it as a compliment.  I've been known to despise things on principle alone, and to feel like snubbing an excellent work of art simply because the rest of the world discovered it (yes, I know, a despicable trait). Twilight, (which is pretty much YA required reading these days) sat front-and-center in every bookstore I passed for years before I ever picked it up--and I've been a fan of vamp fiction since Anne Rice. I was that predisposed against that bright red apple.

(Okay, so I saw Titanic in the theaters 7 times the first go-round, but I assure you, that was a one-off. And I was 16. Sue me.)

I felt the same way about the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (see Larsson's website).  It, too, monopolized prominent bookstore displays for ages, and I would look at the covers with their screaming titles and bright colors, then turn up my snooty nose and think, That looks way too generic for me.


A few months ago I saw the trailer for David Fincher's film version of the first book, and being a David Fincher fan (see Welcome to Fictiffous), my interest was piqued.  I downloaded the audiobook, which is what I do when my interest is half-mast, and listened to it over a week or so on my 45-minute commute.

The book breaks a lot of fiction laws.  There are long, complicated passages of backstory, unbroken by anything actually happening in real time.  There are named characters who get five seconds of fame and then drop off the face of the planet.  There are long stretches of writing where almost nothing happens. And there's one particularly long section of who-begat-who's that would rival the Book of Genesis.

Despite all that, I was hooked from the first scene.  The opening is so strong that I didn't mind wading through the backstory, just to get an answer to the question raised in the first scene of the book.  These books are an example of the rare occasion in which you can roll so many supposedly crappy moves into a beautiful (in its dark and violent way) piece of art.

I'm about halfway through the last book now, and Larsson still has my rapt attention.

Yesterday, I took my husband to see the film.  We went to the matinee and there were about ten other people in the theater.  One man chomped popcorn throughout most of the film and laughed nervously at all the uncomfortable parts. A group of old ladies sitting two rows down alternated between bouts of silence and shocked fits of giggling. Before we even got to the first scene, when the opening credits were still rolling, I sat forward in my seat staring with wide eyes at the screen, and my husband leaned over and whispered, "This is creepy." (Don't worry--if you're familiar with the books you'll think the opening's amazing, not creepy.  My darling husband didn't know what he was in for.)

I think at this point it's needless to say that the film was great, but I'll say it anyway, just so we're clear. The film was great.  It stayed true to the essence of the book, but just cut out all the slow parts. And I'm not surprised at all that Rooney Mara got an Oscar nod for her performance.  She is so much the badass Lisbeth Salander that she ceases being herself, and fans will not even recognize her in the film. I barely did, and I already thought she was fantastic before the film. She made me believe she was Lisbeth. She made me wish I were Lisbeth's very best friend.

The film is not for the weak of heart.  It's a dark tale, and Fincher's a dark director, and the score's deliciously dark (created by the composers of the superb The Social Network score), so don't be fooled into thinking it's your typical mystery, because there's some disturbing stuff sprinkled all throughout. (Parents, don't take your kiddies to this one!)  And I might've been disturbed too, had I not known it was coming. But the characters are so real, so visceral--especially Lisbeth Salander--that in the near-empty theater, I could literally hear people rooting for them.  Even my creeped-out husband was eventually won over. Halfway through, he sat forward and said something like, "Way to go!"

Go see the film before it leaves theaters, if for no other reason than to experience the mind-boggling opening credits. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Rooney Mara on Oscar night.

Check out more about the film and see the trailer at IMDb.

TJ