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‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ sparks controversy, but buzz may boost box office numbers

The American movie adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has sparked controversy from casting to fashion to merchandising. Anne Hornaday wrote a review of the movie. Here is a selection:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is one of this season's buzziest movies, as hotly anticipated by its partisans as any installment of "Harry Potter" or "Twilight." Like Harry and "Twilight's" Bella Swan, the title character of Stieg Larsson's best-selling novels has grown into a literary cult figure of freakish devotion.

Admittedly, Rooney Mara's portrayal of the punked-out cyber-genius Lisbeth Salander does much to advance the appeal of this spiky heroine, whose victimization at the hands of piggish men and her subsequent avenging fury have made her a feminist avatar for the WikiLeaks era.

More profitably, at least where Hollywood is concerned, she allows "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and director David Fincher to indulge in the kind of lurid, pulp violence and sadistic rituals that make torture-porn such a reliable genre, while flattering the intellectual and artistic pretensions of the audience by draping them in high-minded themes having to do with buried history, bourgeois hypocrisy and sexism. Handsomely filmed and impeccably acted, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is at once satisfying and underwhelming, a pristine, cooly atmospheric procedural thriller that comes to the party a tad overdressed in inexplicably breathless hype.

Fans of Larsson's book and Danish director Niels Arden Oplev's 2009 adaptation will no doubt be gratified by Fincher's treatment of the text, his tweaks to the ending notwithstanding (not surprisingly, this bigger-budgeted version is more polished, although there are passages where it's almost note-for-note identical to its Swedish-language counterpart). Those viewers who never caught "Dragon" fever might continue to wonder what all the fuss is about, while harboring doubts about Larsson and his cinematic interpreters having their politically enlightened cake while eating their exploitative thrills, too.

Clothes retailer H&M, which created a fashion line in the style of Lisbeth Salander, a haunted but talented character in the movie, was criticized as commercializing the character’s history as a victim of sexual abuse. As Cara Kelly explained:

Fashion retailer H&M is experiencing a backlash against its much-anticipated line based on the grunge style of heroine Lisbeth Salander from Steig Larsson’s “millennium trilogy.” The 30-piece collection debuted in stores last week ahead of the opening of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” in the United States.

Among some complaints that the line is the antithesis of Steig’s protagonist — a severely introverted abuse victim and computer hacker — more serious arguments about the issue of rape have emerged.

Blogger Natalie Karneef wrote a post entitled “An open Letter to H&M From a Rape Survivor,” in which she says the retailer has “created a line of clothing based on her character: a woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse, who is violently raped, and who is hunting down a man who violently rapes and kills other women.

“Lisbeth has been through hell, and her clothing is her armor. That's her choice, and it's an understandable choice,” Karneef says. “But you glamorize it, putting a glossy, trendy finish on the face of sexual violence and the rage and fear it leaves behind.”

In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, a spokesperson for H&M apologized to anyone offended by the line, saying: “The collection is based on and inspired by the film and character Lisbeth Salander and though we think Lisbeth is a strong woman who stands up for her ideal, we are not trying to represent her specifically. Our goal is to rather offer a collection that we see in today’s trend picture that will appeal to many customers.”

Some have asked whether the movie should have been made at all, given that the Swedish version, with English subtitles, was released in the U.S. two years ago. As Jen Chaney reported:

Is David Fincher’s adaptation a good film? Yes, it is, although purists may quibble over some modifications to the narrative and the way the romance between Mikael (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) develops. (Reviews so far have been slightly mixed, but mostly positive. The Post’s Ann Hornaday calls it “at once satisfying and underwhelming, a pristine, coolly atmospheric procedural thriller that comes to the party a tad overdressed in inexplicably breathless hype.”)

Does Rooney Mara make a convincing Lisbeth Salander? She does, albeit an arguably more inscrutable and slightly more vulnerable one that Noomi Rapace did in the Swedish version that preceded this one. (Or as vulnerable as one can be when she’s willing to enact diabolical revenge on an abuser.)

And then there’s this question: did Fincher need to make this film at all when that perfectly fine Swedish subtitled version was released in the U.S. just two years ago?

“Need” may be a strong word in this context. It was inevitable that Hollywood would eventually try to tackle the Millennium trilogy for one basic and obvious reason: money. Larsson’s books stand as one of the most successful publishing phenomena of this, well, millennium so far. Millions of people have read these stories. That provides enough brand recognition and built-in curiosity for a studio like Sony to build upon.

Also, as silly as it might sound, there are still lots of Americans who will not go to see a film if it has subtitles; reading during a movie is too much of a distraction for them.

But apart from box office dollars, what is there to be gained from redoing a film that so recently made its mark and launched the career of Rapace (who, for the record, is competing against “Tattoo” this season as one of the stars of “Sherlock Holmes: Games of Shadows”)?

More from The Washington Post

Trent Raznor’s novel approach to ‘Dragon Tattoo’ is rewarded with Golden Globe nod

Steig Larsson’s longtime partner says he wouldn’t have approved of film merchandising

‘Sherlock Holmes’ tops box office

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