Sweden or US: Which ‘Dragon Tattoo’ Is Better?

By Alex Vidiani

Elm Staff Writer

Having read the thrilling series that begain with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” by Stieg Larsson, it came as no surprise that it should eventually appear on the big screen–first in Sweden, then recently in the U.S. Both the Swedish version, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, and the U.S. version, directed by David Fincher, received very positive reviews both by critics and audiences. This comparison won’t dwell on the different directing styles or acting skills, but will focus mainly on how well the films embody the dark, foreboding tension of the book, and how effectively that tension captures the viewers’ attention.

Both films do a worthy job at retaining the blunt, unwaveringly brutal nature of the original story. The main difference, in this sense, is the type of tension, as well as how dark the films’ producers let the script be, or rather were allowed by the censors. However, the U.S. version definitely draws in the viewers’ attention easier, and holds it longer. To avoid an old cliché, your attention will surely be focused on the screen throughout the entire 2+ hour film. The Swedish version, while sticking to the basics of the story, does not quite possess the same subtle tension as its Western counterpart. It is slightly more “in-your-face,” meaning it gives away too much at times. In the U.S. version, the viewers interpret the story at the same pace as the characters. Therefore, when there is a revelation in the film, the “a-ha!” moment is synced with the audience–and is therefore more powerful and gripping. Besides this, the pacing is much smoother and transitions between the scenes flawlessly.

One thing the Swedish version does do better than its U.S. friend is add in a few more layers to the story, remaining a  bit more faithful to the book. For example, a layer which is glossed over in the U.S. film is the character of Mikael Blomkvist’s relationship with the murder victim, whom he knew in his youth. Unfortunately for the Swedish version, the writers often over-emphasized this relationship to the point of, well not to say being contrived, but disbelief.

Traveling back to similarities, both films effectively capture the desolate overtones of the book, especially in the setting, the small wintry town of Hedestad. Both are extremely brutal and unforgiving with showing events that are horrific even when printed in the book. And last, but not least, both  films grab your attention and refuse to let go even after the credits start to roll.

Ultimately both versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are great films, and reflect the brilliance of the original story. I would have to say though, that the US version is more appealing, in terms of actors, directing, and most of all tension. It grabs you with its iron, Swedish fist and refuses to let go, and you honestly don’t even want it to.


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