The Girl Who Played With Fire

I have always had the problem of preconceived notions when seeing a film shortly after reading the book from which it was adapted.  This doesn’t historically apply to expectations about the look of the characters as many fans typically do.  If the character is blond but played by a brunette, or white and then played by a black man, as long as it doesn't change the character or plot of the film, I'm fine with creative casting.
A couple of examples of this jump to mind.  The first is the most recent -- Daniel Craig's casting as James Bond.  Bond, you see, it traditionally dark-haired, and Daniel Craig is not.  There was an incredible uproar the likes have seldom ever been seen – notably from danielcraigisnotbond.com – about a literary character when Craig was announced as the sixth (discounting Woody Allen) James Bond.  As much as I grew up loving James Bond, I was not in the group that thought hair color was central to the character.  (I admit, if someone had cast a red-head, that would be a little tough to digest, but not unthinkable.)  I thought Craig was much more in line with the literary description of Bond, who was attractive but not incredibly handsome, than Pierce Brosnan, who was too pretty for the role, although he did have a great shock of black hair.  Craig’s performance and tone of Casino Royale (did I like it?  So much I reviewed it twice – here and here) hit the nail on the character’s head, something that hadn’t been done properly since Timothy Dalton (gasp!).
A second example is Wesley Snipes’ casting in Rising Sun, which I talked about at length here.  The short of it is, Snipes (for those of you who aren’t familiar – is black) had the challenge of playing a character that was written as a white man and changed to a black man to water-down the film.  The ultimate effect was only disconcerting in one subplot that didn’t ring true, but otherwise it wasn’t distracting – only if Snipes had also colored his hair blonde.

So anyway, that’s not that type of preconceived notions I have problems with.  My problem is with overall familiarity.  If I'm very familiar with the book and plot, I find myself bored if the film is faithfully adapted.  It is akin to marking off a checklist of events that you expect to see.  The effect is to remove all anticipation, wonder, excitement, and suspense.  You know what is going to happen to the characters, and are actually disappointed when it happens exactly as scripted.

High Fidelity was the first time I remember the effect crippling to my enjoyment of the movie.  I had finished Nick Horby's excellent novel about two weeks before I went to see the film adaptation starring John Cusack.  Critics and audiences lauded the movie for its brilliance, and my expectations were high going in.  Unfortunately, I found myself unable to get out of checklist-mode; the screenplay was so loyal to the book (and why wouldn't it be -- it was a great read and easily adaptable to film) that it felt like reading the book again, this time visually.  I do enjoy rereading books from time to time, but I don't ever reread them back-to-back.

Direct "loyal" adaptations from books are usually much worse than "loosely adapted" or "based on" or even reboot concept for my interest level.  It doesn't matter how much I enjoyed the book, the film just plays out as somewhat tired.

I have found that time heals all wounds.  The cure for this problem has demonstrated to be either (1) don’t read the book before seeing the film – although the desire to read the book after seeing a film is not equal to the reverse instinct, or (2) read the book well in advance of seeing the film.  And by well, I mean at least six months, the longer the better.  This actually worked wonderfully for me for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where it had been so long since the book that I had totally forgotten that Harry was his own “father’s” patronus.  Because I had forgotten many of the important details of the book, I was able to have suspense again, and I was able in that case to successfully enjoy both book and film on the levels they were intended.
All this preface is to explain my one sentence review of The Girl Who Played With Fire, where both the character problems as well as familiarity issues were in full force: I'm not sure if the movie was good or not.

(Slight follow: Lisbeth Salander is already an iconic character, so if you are casting someone who is not a small, slight girl, you are making a mistake.)


Hackett said...
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Hackett said...

Without having read any of the books, i was let down by TGWPWF. Though TGWTDT was the first of a trilogy, it was completely self-sustaining. TGWPWF, however, definitely felt like a "middle" movie. There were leaps in the storyline that i just played along with. I wanted to enjoy the movie, so my brain didn't feel like protesting. There wasn't enough "room" to be lead intelligently to the character relations at the end of the film. I felt like i was just being shoved down a path rather than being guided. I can't say whether i would have liked it better had i read the book - that's like trying to UNsee something or not think about pink elephants (PINK ELEPHANTS! PINK ELEPHANTS!). But i suspect i would have enjoyed the film more if i knew where it was going (never thought i'd say that). I could have spent more time enjoying the acting, production, and the tiny hotness that is Noomi Rapace.