A Smörgåsbord of Bridges, Tunnels and Dragon Tattoos
As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of Scandinavian TV dramas.
My first foray into this specialised genre was the English produced adaptation of Wallander, starring the Shakespearean great, Kenneth Branagh. I enjoyed them, and hungry for more, I turned to the original Swedish productions, which started life as full length feature films and were later made for the TV screen.
Apart from one or two exceptions through the years, Wallander was my first stab at watching TV drama in a foreign language and with sub-titles. I soon discovered that after a few minutes you really forget you are reading sub-titles and if the drama is good enough, you become immersed in the story every bit as much as if they were speaking English.
I have to say that as good as the English adaptations of Wallander were, the original Swedish productions were definitely superior and I very much preferred them. Fortunately there was a huge back catalogue of Wallanders, (including a change of Swedish actor in the title role), that I could feed on, and I spent many months enjoying, these dark, melancholy, often very bloodthirsty but always highly original police dramas.
Then came The Killing, (a Danish production), and for some reason, as with Wallander, I first opted for the American adaptation. It was very good and I was hooked. The story was based in Seattle and the scenes were always dark and brooding, (physically as well as metaphorically), and it never seemed to stop raining – just like Denmark, I guess.
I really enjoyed the American version of Killing, even though I was pretty upset that at the end of season one,(12 episodes I think),the running story of a single murder story didn’t wrap up, as expected, but was extended into season two with another 12 episodes before we finally got to know who the killer was. The casting was pretty good, but Yanks being Yanks, they insisted in ‘milking’ what they thought was a riveting story-line and by extending the story and widening the search for possible suspects for another 12 episodes. They effectively ruined it, as by the end of series two, we had become pretty tired of the whole affair.
Like Wallander, I then turned my attention to the original Danish version, especially as I had already learned that in the Danish version, they wrapped up the story at the end of the first series and series two contained there was a completely new story-line.
The original Danish version was even better than its American copy, and I thoroughly enjoyed not only a re-play of the original ‘Killing’ story, but a very good, new story in series two.
Pity the Yanks were so blinkered and scared of their own ratings tail.
Next, came The Bridge – a Danish/Swedish co-production. In my view, this took Scandinavian drama to a whole new level, and I cannot speak highly enough of the superlative acting, the drama, the humour, (yes, even in Scandinavia they can laugh at themselves), and the wonderfully original and nail-biting, grizzly story lines.
Predictably, non-Scandinavian producers started sniffing around, and this time it was an English-French co-production, and instead of using the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, (The Öresund Bridge), as the location for the first murder, they used the Channel Tunnel and renamed the programme ‘The Tunnel’.
The Öresund Bridge is a towering structure of awe and beauty; The Tunnel is just a hole in the ground. The lead actors in The Tunnel were very good, but they really didn’t capture the smouldering Scandinavian angst and even the off-beat humour of the quite brilliant male and female lead actors in The Bridge, set as it was against a background of the mighty bridge, as opposed to being set in and around an ugly hole in the ground.
I would give The Tunnel, 8 out of ten, and The Bridge a 10+ out of ten.
Then came The Bridge – second series.
What can I say? If possible, the second series was even better than the first series. The interaction between the middle-aged, crusty, much married Danish detective and his hauntingly beautiful, but socially challenged Swedish female counterpart was one of the dramatic feasts of the year.
A no lesser personage than the legendary Australian critic, Clive James, recently commented, “After Bridge (series 2) there is nothing left to watch and we are all suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms.”
Thirsty for more Scandinavian fayre, (and yes I did watch Borgen – which was also pretty good), I recently turned my attention to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Swedish writer Stieg Larsson wrote a trilogy of books in the early 2,000’s about a very unusual and unique heroine, called Lisbeth Salander, and as at the summer of 2009, his books had sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. This was before the first English-language movie adaptation was released, so presumably the number of books sold must have increased quite substantially since then.
For some reason, I was not expecting too much from the English translation of the book, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It is a well written story, full of unexpected twists and turns and jam-packed with absorbing, intricate, some might say irrelevant details, which – unusually for me – I couldn’t seem to get enough of. Like many, I would imagine, I fell hopelessly in love with the seriously disturbed but totally heroic and captivating Lisbeth.
I have also read the second story in the trilogy – The Girl Who Played With Fire – which by his own high standards, was not quite as riveting as the first, but was still a very enjoyable and exciting read.
I have decided to wait a while before reading the last one, (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest), as I can have too much of a good thing.
Then I turned my attention to the film versions. ‘Dragon Tattoo’ was firstly made in Swedish and not surprisingly, it did very well at the box office. The English version was then made, starring Daniel Craig, and it too did quite well, (more on this below), and garnered a number of awards including some Oscar nominations.
I was going to watch the Swedish version first, but on discovering the version I downloaded contained voice dubbing into English, I decided to watch the Daniel Craig version instead.
It wasn’t bad – without in any way being a show-stopper – and was reasonably faithful to the original story, although some of the story details were changed, in particular, one of the main points of the story, namely what happened to a missing woman.
Most of the changes didn’t really matter, but one which did mater, and a change that greatly surprised me was the revelation of a very crucial, ‘mind-blowing’ fact which, in the trilogy, was not revealed until the latter part of the second book in the trilogy, (The Girl Who Played With Fire).
Knowing this fact wouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the film, Dragon Tattoo, but it might well greatly reduce the dramatic impact of the second film, The Girl who Played with Fire, as this fact is so integral to the plot.
I am not alone in being surprised by this, as I found that others have also made a similar point on IDMB. Anyway, I will see for myself when I see the second movie, which this time will be the Swedish version. This time, I have made sure that it hasn’t been dubbed into English.
In my opinion, although the English version of Dragon Tattoo was by no means bad effort, and well worth a couple of hours of anyone’s viewing time, it was not in the same league as the Scandinavian TV films of Wallander, The Killing and especially The Bridge.
It’s a bit like how the Americans always screw up English TV dramas when they try to adapt them for American audiences.
Maybe the Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo is better – one day I’ll find out, but in the meantime I’ll give the Swedish version of The Girl Who Played with Fire a go, and report back.
My final thoughts on this relate to my old hobby-horse relating to ridiculous productions costs and box office receipts.
The Swedish version of Dragon cost a mere $13 million to make and so far has grossed over $104 million worldwide. With the much lower roll-out ‘overheads’ (i.e publicity etc) attached to the Swedish version, the Swedes have made themselves an extremely healthy profit.
Contrast this with the American version, which cost over $100 million to make and worldwide has taken $233 million at the box office. Despite this apparently healthy state of affairs, believe it or not, Sony are complaining that the film ‘barely made a profit’ and the go ahead for the sequel seems to have indefinitely put on hold.They are worried about the huge fees they will have to pay the male star, Daniel Craig. to reprise his role.
Never could my point about spiralling movie costs have been better made, yet the movie moguls refuse to see it. If it is going to cost them umpteen millions to secure the services of a single actor – then dump him and find a better actor who will do the film for a fraction of the cost.
I know it’s a shame to change actors in mid-franchise, but if Craig’s fees are preventing us from ever seeing the sequel, then change the actor, and stop these so-called box office draws from holding the entire industry to ransom. And anyway – he wasn’t that good.
More than one commentator has pointed out that the success of Dragon had nothing to do with its so-called star actor, but purely because it is a rattling good story, with loads of sex, violence, and unexpected twists and turns.
100 million dollars to make a film like Dragon Tattoo is totally obscene. For God sake, someone out there in Hollywood-land get a grip and say ‘enough is enough’, and start making movies with good, but lesser-name actors, and cut back on production costs and see what happens.
It really isn’t necessary to spend days on end filming a two minute sequence at enormous cost. Stop indulging these megalomaniacal directors, and self -absorbed superstars and find some new blood which is abundantly available in the vibrant US and UK TV industry.
In 2004, soon after delivering the trilogy masterpiece to his publishers, Dragon author, Stieg Larsson very sadly passed away at the young age of 50, so he never enjoyed the enormous success that his efforts created.