Yes, Screenwriting Makes a Difference

I’ve been toying around with the screenplay versions of my books for some time. The first one is out, the second one will probably be my de-stressing mechanism for tax season. (When the numbers make my eyes blur, I have to change things up for like 10mins). But I saw not long ago that the last Lisbeth Salander novel has been released, and I’ve been catching myself up by re-watching both the American and the Swedish versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

And I find that the American version did the characterizations a fair disservice.

Here’s the thing: when Stieg Larsson wrote the Millennium series, he characterized Lisbeth Salander as the perfect anti-hero. She’s talented but unapproachable, her past is horrifying, her present is questionable, and through the series, she has to battle it out for what she feels is the right thing to do. Her methods are unorthodox at best, but if there’s one thing that Larsson makes clear – and it’s captured amazingly well in the Swedish films by Noomi Rapace – is that Lisbeth Salander is her own woman. She takes orders from absolutely nobody at all.

I prefer the Daniel Craig version of Mikael Blomkvist. That was well done, but Daniel Craig is yet to be a bad actor in any role that he takes on. That that Mikael Nyqvist is a bad actor by any means, but I do like Craig better for the role.

But I want to know: why, why in the hell would the screenwriter for the American film input the line for Lisbeth of asking the beaten-up Mikael in the basement of Martin Vanger’s house, “May I kill him?”

Jeez Louise, why the hell would you spoil a perfectly written character like that?!?!!!

The novel-trilogy Lisbeth Salander was written in such a way, and with such a personality, that her asking anyone for permission, especially permission to kill a villain, is pretty much unheard of. WHY! insert that into a screenplay? And Rooney Mara did a great job of the role, but that one sentence, that one question pretty much kills the entire character altogether. If you’re going to argue that this gives the character a little bit of “human dimension” – please consider that a lot of that happens already in Books 2 and 3. A lot of it happens in 2, when Lisbeth is feeling remorse over having dragged her friend Miriam Wu into the mess her past catching up with her has created. (For reference…please read the books).

Again: None of that was evident in the Swedish films, even though their adaptation was also altered from the book version.

But that’s also something that comes with the territory. Having re-worked my own novel as a screenplay, I too had to make the same choices: what to trim, what to add, how to smooth over this transition from the last one… The Swedish trilogy never touched on Erika Berger going to Svenska Morgon-Posten, nor did it show the resolution of “Poison Pen” as Book 3 has shown. But the one thing that the Swedish version has going for it is that at no point did the characters as set in the screenplay deviate from the novel’s characterization. I cannot imagine Stieg Larsson’s or Noomi Rapace’s Salander ever asking, “May I kill him?” when it comes to taking out a bad guy. She would do it without thinking twice.

I’m kind of worrying just what sort of a screenplay the American version of The Girl who Played with Fire will have, but it makes me kind of concerned. Just…come on. Please, please don’t kill the characterization.

It also makes me wonder just what the fourth book, The Girl Caught in the Spider’s Web, will entail. It was Larsson’s unfinished novel; he handed in the original Millennium Trilogy to the publishers before he passed, but then he started Spider’s Web and…I guess someone picked it up? The reviews are mixed. So I’m not yet sure what to expect.

The more present concern I have is the Played with Fire script. The film is going to go ahead, even though the box office response to the Dragon Tattoo film was a bit lackluster. I’m not sure what this will mean for the second script, but good gods, I hope that they do a better job of it than with its predecessor. That one line just completely spoiled the character for me. I mean… you already established that she’s a hacking genius, you established perfectly that she’s capable of a violent and very precise revenge…why spoil all of that by having someone whom you’ve established as the ultimate hardass suddenly ask permission to do something that she has no problem doing in the first place?!

And revealing what happened in the past… yeah, that should’ve been cut. Mikael Blomkvist finds all of that out anyway in the second book. Why. Spoil. It. In. The first. Film.

Really, kids, it is like that: one line makes the difference between good characterization and tossing the entire concept of a character by the wayside. The American script was…honestly, still not exactly as good as the Swedish, but it had its great moments. Salander pulling the coup with Wennerstrom was perfectly done, and this is something I would’ve loved to see expanded in the Swedish movie. The flashback scenes to Hedestad in 1966 were excellent in the American film as well; for the purposes of the storyline, they were great, and should not have been omitted/truncated from the Swedish movie.

And yes, it teaches me a few things about screenwriting as well.

Which means…back to the drawing boards! or…the storyboards.