Thursday, June 10, 2010

Swedish Author To Own the Box Office From The Grave; Bleak Visions From Larsson to Fincher to Haneke

Stieg Larsson is a worldwide phenomena.  Curiously, he has long gone since before the his series of books were even published in his native Sweden. His weird violent world of espionage, filled with masochistic characters skirting the laws of land with idealistic focused views of their world-altering conspiracies through mainstream journalism.  This is most often embodied by his two main alter egos in crime fighting, investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist & petite, revenge happy, calculated, ass kicking hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander.

Ever since reading the first in the series on a trip to Iceland, you could call me hooked.  Big time best selling book series are not usually my cup of tea.  They are usually full of blandish recognizable characters, obvious plot ploys, and while many would call that beach reading, I call that the absence of desire to be surprised.  People like to know what's coming and feel they are just as smart as the character they are vicariously through.

While Larsson's writing is often choppy (possibly due to the translation), somewhat repetitive and often times overwrought with systemic details and thinly veiled tirades against government malfeasance, the tales conquer the mind with continual intrigue, convoluted plots, a large array of characters from all walks of life, conspiracies abound with mysteries that hold your attention and keep you guessing at most turns.  In fact, like many others I'm sure, even preordered the latest installment; although I didn't go as far as some and pay to have copies shipped in from England.

Within a week of receiving the 550+ page tome (about average for the series), it had been blitzed through like nothing.  It really is the definition of a page turner series (at least until the last 100 or so pages of this volume which is predictable and kinda lame).

The published trilogy was quickly fast-tracked into a completed film series in his native Sweden that are have been completed and released.  The first of three quickly came and went in theaters earlier this year in the US, most likely because a 2 plus hour action thriller full of reading subtitles is not for the average viewer even if they love the series of books.  They loved the series because they read it in English, if they had to learn Swedish first, it wouldn't have happened.  Luckily, that patience is looking like it will pay off in a pretty big way. 

The studios looking for the next big film series with a built in captive audience (see Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code) to give them a tent-pole cash-cow has led to the series being Americanized.  The length of the books will probably allow then to chop some of them up and turn the trilogy into maybe a five part series, like they did with Harry Potter and are doing with Twilight (ugh).

Looks to be getting off to a good start from reports, as the creative team as of now includes writer Steve Zallian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York, and the underrated Searching For Bobby Fischer) under the guidance of director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac).  According to casting rumors, the two leads are under discussion but both at the moment seem to be headed toward good choices.  EW along with other sources is reporting Daniel Craig as the frontrunner for Blomqvist with Brad Pitt in the running.  Even though Craig is already Bond, his European look fits the part as well as the charm & handsomeness that would justify the sometimes utter-ridiculous irresitability in the eyes of just about every man & woman that crosses his path.

The harder part to cast by far is Salander.  The Swedish film version of Salander is played by Noomi Rapace who did an more than admirable job in the task in, at least in the first film.  But with the big US budget, a name must come along as well.  Originally, with the petite size yet the violent nature of the semidisturbed tortured character, the vision of Natalie Portman came to mind, primarily the harshness of the head shaving scene & anarchistic ideals of V For Vendetta as well as her toughness from the get-go debut performance in The Professional.  A National Swedish Film poll agreed with me.  But an interesting alternate choice seems to stepped forward in Carey Mulligan, a young British actress best known for her Oscar nominated role in An Education.

Carey Mulligan = Future Salander?

Mulligan has the Euro feel, along with a perceivable grit & toughness in a small package that is mandatory for the part.  She might gain some notoriety from an upcoming role in the Wall Street sequel, Money Never Sleeps (a title that is leading for film title of the year in my book).  Her one flaw and sign of weakness, a fondness for Shia Labeouf, the king of the stupid face in big time action films.  Whatever you do Fincher, keep Lebouf away.  I know you're smarter than to cause a Gigli-like catastrophe Bennifer style.

Fincher is an superb director selection for many reasons.  Most notably for his expertise handling dark, violence heavy material. He does not shy away from it as seen from his filmography but meets it head on with intensity but also an undercurrent of disdain.  That is the essence of the trilogy (which the first book's original title in Swedish was Men Who Hate Women).

There are an array of queas-tastic moments in each book that I don't want to spoil, lots of deep dark secrets unearthed and assorted underground proclivities that are acted upon by just about every villain in the books.  Depending on how you perceive Fight Club and the like, this could be scene as Fincher continuing to meet with the escalation of violence and mistreatment in our society.

Comparatively Michael Haneke has filled his career with similarly themed works meant to espouse his theories on the effect of brutality of the Hollywoodization of violence on the world.  A filmmaker with a teachers background, this European auteur has a career littered with filmmaking awards but his lifelong motivation seems to stem from the overall effect of violence, most often on women & children (very similar to Larsson in this way). 

Infamous for some of the more brutal pieces of cinema in recent memory like the extended physical torment of abductors in Funny Games, the cruelty of young children in a restive cruelty of pre-WWI Austria in his most recent work The White Ribbon along with the utter psychotic demented youth of a boy who films himself killing an assortment of mammals in Benny's Video.

Although unlike Fincher, Haneke does his best to avoid the violence on screen, focusing on the after-effects of the devastation and leaving the incident to be played out in your mind.  Haneke has given many interviews and written many articles on the topic.  Here is an excerpt of an extensive, career retrospective article by Mattias Frey from the Senses of Cinema regarding violence representation:

Haneke's views on representing violence and his concomitant spectatorship theory are well documented in numerous interviews as well as his own essays (“Film als Katharsis”, “Violence and Media”, “Schrecken und Utopie der Form: Bressons Au hasard Balthazar”). There are striking parallels in Haneke's logic in reference to his favourite themes of violence, media and spectatorship, with argumentation in history/memory/trauma theory. For example, Haneke's philosophy draws on Holocaust depiction theory (such as that formulated by Claude Lanzmann) in that he makes films about violence without showing it (i.e. Bilderverbot), or more precisely, Haneke thematises the representation of violence in the way that he denies the spectator his/her presumed visual access to the violence. Similar to Lanzmann, Haneke's provocative filmic program is an attempt at corrective to Hollywood's glorified treatment of violence (or in Lanzmann's case, the sentimentalised and psychologised version of the Holocaust as found in the mini-series Holocaust or later in Schindler's List): Haneke concentrates on the suffering of victims, rather than allowing the spectator to identify with any pseudopsychological motivation of the perpetrator; he uses a slow tempo in montage and camera to allow audience a distanced “thinking space”; he challenges the action film's practice of selling violence as a consumer good (i.e. violence as spectacle, dramaturgy); and again finally, Haneke resists visually depicting acts of physical violence. In this way, Haneke attempts to discuss violence without inciting fascination or titillation for his subject. Whether Haneke succeeds in this last crucial point has filled the feuilleton pages of newspapers across Europe and abroad. Some have praised Haneke in his formal daring; others have scathingly criticised him for excessive didacticism and depicting violence in essence no differently than in action films."

But back to the beginning.  Thanks to Fincher and Co., it looks like the Larsson's vision of the Millennium Trilogy will have stay in view for a long time with the first of trilogy's American installment release date tentatively set for release May 2012.

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