The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) -vs- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Eric Volkman - Contributing Writer

The Smackdown

Leave it to Movie Smackdown to throw two mythical film beasts at each other. The Dragons in this tale are the mighty Scandinavian monsters that have dominated the world of fiction for nearly a decade. Metaphors aside, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the first in a series of three mystery novels by the late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. Dragon and its two siblings became best-sellers throughout the world quickly after publication. So it wasn’t surprising when the movie people showed up for an adaptation.

Fittingly, the Swedes got there first with a 2009 version of the first book; two years later, we have Hollywood heavyweight director David Fincher doing a big-budget reworking of same. So the claws are out, and the air will reek of sulfur from the fire-breath of our monsters. But only one Dragon will prevail.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)The Challenger

Stockholm journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) loses a high-profile libel case and subsequently finds himself out of work and nearly broke. Luckily, retired businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) has a sweet job waiting for him in the remote north of the country, far away from the troubles and controversy of Blomkvist’s life in the big city. Vanger needs the journalist’s investigative skills to help him solve a decades-old family mystery: Who killed his favorite niece, the pretty teenager, Harriet? Although the death occurred more than forty years previously, Henrik knows the killer is still alive and knew Harriet well—he (or she) taunts Henrik by sending him a “gift” of a pressed, dried plant once every year, a reference to the victim’s favorite hobby.

Only the Vangers knew Harriet so intimately, meaning that almost certainly the killer was a family member. This isn’t hard to believe as, save for Henrik, the Vangers are generally reclusive, violent alcoholics, serial child abusers and even ex-Nazis, most of whom despise each other.

Blomkvist is a decent investigator but the answers to his questions always seem to lie just barely out of reach. Help comes from an unlikely source—the title character, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Despite her youth, extreme antisocial tendencies and that crazy skin art, she’s a bright and successful detective and hacker (she comes recommended by Vanger’s assistant who, it turns out, engaged her services to run a background check on Blomkvist). The dark Lisbeth and the straightforward, almost nerdy Blomkvist make a very odd team, but they’re good at what they do and are easily underestimated by the bad guys. They’re also the last, best hope for finding out what happened to Harriet and nailing the guilty party.

The Defending Champion

The earlier version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, like its Hollywood rival, sticks fairly close to the story and plot of the book. Subtitles and stylistic touches aside, it’s essentially the same movie. This time, Blomkvist is played not by the current James Bond but by Swedish character actor Michael Nykvist, who’s currently building a career in Hollywood by appearing as the bad guy in the James Bond-ish Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The central role of Lisbeth is assayed by Noomi Rapace (also currently making her mark in big-budget American movies, including the current Sherlock Holmes sequel), whose naturally dark, haunted look is a good fit for her character. The action plays out similarly to Fincher’s higher-profile effort, with Blomkvist and eventually Lisbeth getting drawn into the very creepy world of the Vangers and unearthing the family’s ugly secrets (such as a bothersome habit of serial killing, for  example).

The Scorecard

Both Fincher and the 2009 version’s director, Niels Arden Oplev, do a fine job of adapting the novel. Oplev’s attempt (scripted by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg) is the more traditional of the two, and as such plays more like a classic crime procedural. Watched strictly as a crime thriller, the Swedish film has the edge, as the pacing is more even and the clues are revealed and analyzed clearly. This is not necessarily so with the American version, which places the emphasis more on tone and mood. Fincher’s movie delivers its procedure in big clods of exposition, as opposed to Oplev’s method of uncovering the mystery more evenly.

But in Dragon 2011 that tone and mood, as well as just the right touch of humor (with the help of star screenwriter Steven Zaillian), are what give the movie its flavor. Fincher may be overrated as a director, but he can sure build suspense and dread. Witness the fine job he does near the end of the film with Lisbeth combing through the archives of the Vangers’ company. Not every director can wring tension from such an innocuous setting.

Hollywood’s Dragon also scores more points with its casting of the title character. Although Rapace-as-Lisbeth has a rabid fan base (which lobbied, unsuccessfully, for her to reprise her role in the new version), Mara is more affecting in the role. Pale and gaunt, she cuts a very striking figure while her almost wispy look gets her vulnerability across. This combination is difficult to act convincingly; Mara pulls it off well. Rapace also does excellent work but, although “uglied” for the role, we can’t escape the fact that she’s a beautiful actress playing a role. She’s also physically strong and although this fits the character, it takes away from that vulnerability so crucial to the character.

Dragon is a strange beast; although Lisbeth is not the lead investigator or even the main player in the drama, really, she’s the heart of the story and easily the most riveting personality in it.

She’s what elevates the books and the films, making them something special. So the success of any adaptation depends on her portrayal, and on that basis, Dragon ’11 scores more points.

The Decision

Both of our films are very good, audience-pleasing Dragons. The current version features a more memorable Lisbeth and has a tastier atmosphere of gloom and trepidation. While the earlier film delivers a cleaner story, the more important elements in this tale are mood and, especially, its central character. Since Fincher more memorably and effectively delivers both, it’s his adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoothat wins this monster battle.

29 Comments on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) -vs- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)


  1. I have read all three novels and just watched the Swedish version of Dragoon Tattoo. The settings and characters were weirdly almost identical to how I pictured them in my mind’s eye when reading the novel, even down to her guardian’s apartment and the cottage on the island. I will try and get hold of the 2011 version but I feel pretty sure I won’t like it as much.


  2. I have Not seen the 2011 American version of this movie as of 04/15/2015. To even think that anyone in Hollywood could somehow eclipse a perfect film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2009”, one of three absolutely perfect movies, is ludicrous. Not possible. American directors always pander to Hollywood’s politically correctness which ultimately removes truth in film making. Any attempt to surpass Noomi Rapace’s 2009 version of Lisbeth Salander will be in vain. She was and is sheer perfection. She is Lisbeth Salander! Perfect movies, perfect acting by all. Three of the very best movies ever made and I’ve watched thousands.


  3. Although I liked the Swedish films more than the Hollywood remake, I did notice that the remake does stick more to the original plot of the book, for example on how Salander and Blomkvist become associated with each other, and the end, when Lisbeth buys the Elvis things for Blomkvist. But I do like Oplev’s original crime/mystery approach to the story. (I also have to admit that Rooney Mara looks better naked than Noomi Rapace. Everybody was thinking it, I just stated it…)


  4. The Swedish, especially the original extended version, blows the American totally out of the water. The Swedish also had something going for it that the American didn’t – the proper version of the novel; Steig Larsson’s actual writing.

    What most people don’t realize is that Fincher’s version is adapted from the English translation of the novel. The English translation has been heavily edited; so much so that the translator removed his name because he was embarassed by the final product after editors had their way with it – the pseudonym “Reg Keeland” was used instead.

    The original Swedish is VERY faithful to the novel. Even little things: the size of the actual tattoo (which the real title, Men Who Hate Women, has no bearing on), the placing and look of all of Lisbeth’s tattoos and piercings, her clothing and makeup choices, etc. Also Blomqvist is supposed to be a shlubby, middle-aged man (hence why Daniel Craig was miscast). Check out The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Steig Larsson. It’s an excellent book of essays that go over virtually every facet of the Millennium series.

    Noomi Rapace IS Lisbeth as far as I’m concerned. RooneyMara looked like an anorexic, hurt little puppy most of the time who tried to be some kind of weirdo fashionista, which Lisbeth mosty certainly is not.


  5. After reading the book I was so disappointed in Hollywood’s attempt of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” For some reason people seem to think that ‘big money’ necessarily means the movie will blow smaller productions out of the water. In this case it was vice-versa. The Hollywood production had a HORRIBLE cast. I like Daniel Craig; he’s amazing as Bond but he really doesn’t suit Blomkvist at all…at least IMO. I liked Rapaces performance much more than Maras. The Hollywood production cut way too much out from the original plot… which made it pretty unbearable. Also, the long, poorly done scene in Martin Vangers house was awkwardly thought-out. Why not cut some of that boring waiting game and have a scene of Harriet in Australia…because that’s what actually happened… Also why did Craig have a British accent when the rest of the cast had a Swedish accent. eek. Not well done. Over-all I give the Hollywood production 3/10. And the Swedish production 8/10. The Hollywood production did not have the necessary character depth and that family vibe. Why even introduce Cecilia if you aren’t even going to mention that Blomkvist targeted her as a prime suspect?? The Swedish production felt more real and believable, followed much closer to the plot, great casting and over-all much more enjoyable to watch.


  6. Can someone tell me the reason for the Dragon Tattoo? in the Swedish film,when asked, the answer Lisbeth gives is that it was personnal…any idea why a Dragon Tattoo, I’v not read the book…yet


  7. Yo, I really would like to see the right the girl with the dragon tattoo. I got the wroung 1 but i think that if i saw the real the girl with the dragon tattoo it would be way better and intertaining. But i think i’m going to go on a website that shows it for free and that when i will enjoy it……………………. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


  8. I preferred the original Swedish version too, but I think Fincher and Zaillian did a fine job with the adaptation. Some excellent comments here, though. You guys ought to come post on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/moviesmackdown). We talk a lot of good Smack there too!
    –ed.


    • I agree because i think if it was the real one then i think it would have been more interesting and enjoyable mainly more action


  9. The Swedish film is far superior to the Hollywood remake in many ways. Better Actress and actors, more involved with the characters, the original script is dynamite compared to a cheap firecracker. Too many changed in the remake that made it a cheap and thin movie. Lisbeth was awesome in the original!! Also the hollywood remake made the movie focus around the man and not the woman (the movie is the GIRL not man with the tattoo)…so it made it male dominance and protrayed women as inferior and the victim. I was actually disgusted with the remake…typical American Hollywood crap!


    • Hollywood crap??? Hollywood has made MOST of the best movies in the history of filmmaking. I’ve seen the original version, and it WAS very good, but not superior. American movies know how to turn it into pure poetry of emotions and action, while foreign films lack the ability to set the moods in which they strive to create. Honestly, a lot of foreign films fall completely flat. Just terrible. That is why Hollywood is the way it is today, due to WORLDWIDE ratings. And for your theory about the movie not being completely based on Salander, (have you even read the books?)you are wrong. The movie designed viewers to fall in love with her through a “men-hating-women” world, in which they have succeeded. Clearly you havent followed the awards…. It was incredible. Your comment ended up being about bashing America’s talents altogether. Completely biased and idiotic.
      Sincerly,
      AMERICAN GIRL


      • Spoken like a true flag-waving American…it wouldn’t have mattered if the Fincher version was a turd in a bottle, you would have sided with it.
        Yes, Hollywood has produced some amazing movies, but that doesn’t mean everything that comes out of it as good. Nowadays most Hollywood movies are unimaginative and over the top and have to rely on special effects.

        Start watching some European movies and you will see true art like the early days of Hollywood. Making a fantastic movie with a huge budget is hard to fuck up – But take the smaller productions with very limited funding…then you will see creativity and ingenuity.


        • I’m not sure it makes sense to accuse the reviewer of bias this way, ruiner54. Isn’t it just possible that he liked the second film better? Isn’t that okay?


  10. Both versions were good but the Swedish Version is the superior one, and Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth perfectly I don’t believe anyone else could pull that role off like she did. Also if you read the novels you’d realize that Noomi’s Lisbeth was much closer to the Lisbeth of the Novels, disconnect independet cold as compared Lisbeth was made to seem more vulnerable. The Character Mikael is also played more accurate in the Swedish version. The American version wasn’t bad but its emphasis was changed to please a typical American audience instead of staying true to the tone of the novel


  11. I like 2009 version. Acting is better that I don’t feel like I am watching them act. it’s so natural.
    2011 looks like I am watching movie. Actors are acting. look fake


  12. wow, I didn’t think anybody actually liked the american version better. to me, there’s no competition. American version is all style and no substance. I watched them back to back and the storytelling in the swedish version is way superior. not to mention the performances and overall feel of the movie


    • Thanks for the advice. I have not seen the American version, but was browsing to see if it was worth watching. I saw the Swedish version 2yrs ago when it first came out. And I am unashamedly partial towards foreign films. So I guess its a no-watch for me. 🙂


  13. as someone who hasnt read the book, i think your preference will also depend on wich one you saw first, your always going to feel closer to the first one you saw if that makes sense. i saw the 2011 one before the origional i prefer the 2011 and feel a sense of loyalty to it. i also felt more for the 2011 lisbeth. such a close poll tho!


  14. I watched both twice and the American version takes the cake. Horrible acting in the swedish version. Too much hesitating with the words by noomi which comes off as horrible lying instead of acting. The actors in the American version are consistent with the words… especially Rooney Mara.


  15. I forgot it! It was the end of Fincher’s that really bothered me!!! Hahaha, although, if you’ve read the novel, which ending was more accurate? Swedish or american one?


    • Hey Andres;

      I didn’t read the original novel, but for the most part the endings of the two films were similar. Fincher obviously had a bigger special effects budget, though – that was a hell of an explosion!

      Cheers,
      EV


    • Andres,
      The Fincher version invented that switcheroo ending in Australia. The Swedish film’s ending was more like the book’s.


  16. If Fincher’s adaptation is going to be more memorable is more because of the exposure the movie had, something the Swedish film didn’t. I like more Rapace too. I agree with the out of character lines. Mara didn’t make it bad of course, but that vulnerability you say is what was wrong for me (that should’ve remained innerly).


  17. Swedish movie version of GIRL W/DRAGON TATTOO is much better than the American one. Rooney Mara can’t complete w/Noomi Rapace’s perf.


    • I totally agree with you…. I liked Noomi Rapace much more.
      and even hot D.Craig performance wasn’t so good
      P.S just my opinion 😀


  18. I watched both movies last night; and although I think Hollywood did a great job (thankfully!), I still prefer the 2009 version. I liked that it stuck more firmly to the book, and I especially liked Noomi’s portrail of Lisbeth Salander. She more clearly showed the social ineptitude and disconnect that are part of Lisbeth’s character; as well, there were lines in the 2011 movie that never would have come out of Lisbeth’s mouth.

    But well done Fincher. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll get back to rewatching the 2nd and 3rd movies.


    • That’s all true. If Fincher’s version had come out and there was no earlier version, it would be great.

      It only suffers, from time to time, in comparison.

      But both are very, very good.


      • F.O.S. – tell me about it! This was a hard one to pick, especially for two movie adaptations that had to be very faithful to the source material.


    • Sandy, you have an interesting take on Rapace’s approach to Lisbeth. I do take your point that there were a few scraps of dialogue in the Hollywood version that were out of character… but I still hold that the shiny new DRAGON has the better atmosphere and stronger suspense.

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