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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Stieg Larsson's Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (Blu-ray)
Stieg Larsson's Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (Blu-ray)
Music Box Films Home Entertainment // R // February 22, 2011 // Region A
List Price: $79.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted February 24, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

THE FILM

The first installment in a trilogy of Swedish mysteries based on the novels by Stieg Larsson, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a touch on the lengthy side, but remains a corker of a whodunit. Imposingly violent, tightly plotted, and the superbly acted, the picture is an intriguing introduction to these acidic characters and world of abuse, taking viewers on quite a ride as it establishes an arresting tone of alarm and budding intimacy.

A disgraced journalist, Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) has been sentenced to a short stint in prison for questionably libelous crimes. Left without a job and a life, Mikael is encouraged to take a case brought to him by a wealthy patriarch of a powerful Swedish family. Asked to find a teenage girl who disappeared 40 years ago, Mikael jumps headfirst into the case while stationed in a remote town near the scene of the crime. Tracking his moves is investigator Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), a standoffish, Goth-inspired twentysomething dealing with her own issues of psychological imprisonment. As Mikael inches closer to a potential list of suspects, he finds unexpected help from Lisbeth, who joins the fight at the journalist's urging. The two begin to weed through a pile of clues, a time that allows Lisbeth to develop a rare sense of trust toward Mikael, soon put to the test when the team zeros in on a possible serial killer.

Clocking in at 150 minutes, "Dragon Tattoo" is a marathon motion picture, filling the screen with numerous names, faces, motivations, and suspicions to feed the extensive narrative that twists and turns all over the Swedish landscape. "Dragon Tattoo" is a full-course cinematic meal guided magnificently by director Niels Arden Oplev, who's determined not to allow the delicate mysteries of the piece to slip through his fingers. It's a careful, measured filmmaking effort that invites the viewer to survey the question marks, deploying frigid locations of menace to assist the nasty business of murder.

To its credit, "Dragon Tattoo" never feels weighed down by its source material, and while the script juggles perhaps one too many suspects in the air to comfortably digest, there's never a feeling of confusion to the character arcs or the danger at hand. In fact, the picture is a terribly engrossing affair that offers the patient a sinister mystery of potential ritual murder (complete with biblical quotes), while tightening the screws with scenes of horrific sexual violation, as Lisbeth is subjected to nasty business involving a man assigned to oversee her rehabilitation for past crimes of passion. It's not the easiest film to watch, but the ick is key to processing who these characters are and why they feel compelled to decode a crime with four decades of inactivity preventing easy access.

When the picture gets down to the business of sleuthing, "Dragon Tattoo" becomes a riveting motion picture, burning through blurred photographs, laptop gymnastics, and old-fashioned community questioning to help the tale creep along. The pieces fit nicely, with Oplev preserving the page-turning elements of the story while keeping matters deliciously cinematic through evocative widescreen photography and stellar performances from Nyqvist and Rapace, who capture the thrill of the hunt and the formation of mutual respect in very few moves. The film only grows more bewitching once the pair is targeted for murder, which leads to a wild middle act that pays everything off with satisfying, plot-twisting punch in the gut.

THE BLU-RAY

Visual:

The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) successfully retains the exceedingly cinematic presentation of the film. The clarity here is striking, with extraordinary details on faces and locations, capturing the grit of the moment with rich textures. The viewing experience seizes the intrigue and frosty Swedish environment, with excellent shadow detail sustaining visual information. Colors are bold and appealing, with blues and snowy whites pushing on through. Outdoor events are divine, creative a rightfully evocative experience that allows the setting to become a supporting character.

Audio:

The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix submits a purposeful thriller event, with comfortable intensity guided by strong scoring cues and direct hits of violence. Low-end isn't too intense, but the directionals for city life and computer asides create the proper environments, while dialogue is preserved with a primarily frontal placement, separating the performances without losing the movement of the mix. While it doesn't dig into the possibilities of a true HD representation, the track feels secure, coming to life at all the proper moments without any digital hiccups. An English dubbed track is included.

Subtitles:

English subtitles are offered.

Extras:

"The Vanger Family Tree" is a graphic detailing lineage.

"Interview with Noomi Rapace" (12:31) is a chat taken from the film's British junket experience, sitting down with the lead actress who fields softball questions about Lisbeth's motivations and her own attention to detail. Rapace is a charming woman, happily working through answers she's given hundreds of times before.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Of course, the story of Mikael and Lisbeth doesn't end here. Mercifully, there's no cliffhanger to prod viewers along. Instead, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" establishes a tone and quality of characterization that makes the next two steps in the story a necessity, not an obligation.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

THE FILM

Promising a formidable series of thrillers with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the producers have decided to step up the pace, bringing the next chapter in author Stieg Larsson's celebrated "Millennium Trilogy" to release with alarming speed. "The Girl Who Played with Fire" suffers from the demanding production push, losing the vast talents of director Niels Arden Oplev to settle more directly in the tar of exposition and adaptation with filmmaker Daniel Alfredson. While still engrossing and pleasantly twisted, the second chapter in the Lisbeth Salander saga suffers from a flat storytelling approach, which doesn't encourage the suspense in the same urgent manner as before.

Now on the run, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) has severed all ties with her former sleuthing pal, journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist), looking to set up a fresh life for herself. Trouble comes calling when a young colleague of Mikael's, an ambitious writer named Dag (Hans Christian Thulin), is murdered and Lisbeth is framed for the crime. Believing in her innocence, Mikael takes up Dag's work investigating a sex trafficking ring with ties to powerful men, hoping to learn enough to clear Lisbeth's name. Carrying out her own reconnaissance, Lisbeth finds dark secrets from her scarred past returning to the light, while a hulking blonde killer who cannot feel pain stalks the night, on the hunt for the young girl and the information she's protecting.

Due to Oplev's cinematic touch, "Dragon Tattoo" could be appreciated as a sturdily constructed thriller with bold international flavors, and not just as an adaptation of a best seller. It was violent, sinister, repulsive, and alive with suspense, careening through a maze of characters and motivations while keeping tension its top priority for 150 minutes. "Played with Fire" doesn't retain the same priorities, retreating to more stable ground as a direct projection of the page, holding to the novel's vacillation without much in the way of necessary exaggeration. Alfredson doesn't fumble the material, but he rarely challenges the plotting, keeping steady on the particulars of the tale without kicking anything into overdrive. It's a disappointment, but it doesn't smother the movie's appeal, only decreasing its lasting impact.

With colossal killers brandishing Bondesque attributes, a boomerang tale that returns Lisbeth's haunted past to her front door, and plenty of room made for heated sexual encounters, "Played with Fire" would have to stumble profoundly to spoil Larsson's ingredients. Alfredson dutifully captures the apprehensive mood of the story, positioning the characters carefully as the mystery is gradually unfurled. The coarse edges of the puzzle pieces are felt in the picture, and instead of efficiently snapping together and coming alive, "Played with Fire" is merely serviceable, running through the conflicts with a journeyman touch. It's rarely dull, but it's not nearly as inviting a witch's brew as "Dragon Tattoo."

Maintaining the picture's sour temper is Rapace, who's marvelous in the role of Lisbeth, once again capturing a brooding goth intensity that makes the character a substantial threat, yet sympathetic. Though Lisbeth's unwillingness to endure radical disguises to keep police attention away from her is a touch on the baffling side, the turmoil within the character is felt vividly once again. "Played with Fire" is primarily Lisbeth's story, with the pierced hacker barely sharing any screentime with Mikael. The separation disappoints, but the divide is a compelling tool to bring these characters back to a place of discovery as the onion is peeled, with ghastly encounters waiting to devour Lisbeth as her memory is prodded further.

THE BLU-RAY

Visual:

The AVC encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation benefits from the presence of fine grain, helping the movie to a film-like appearance, greatly improving the dramatic intent. Detail is generally strong, capturing frustrated faces and bloody details, while the production design is also allowed a moment for observation. Colors are hearty, with welcome flashes of hues to cut through the chilly look of the film. Reds are especially pronounced to maintain their shock value. Skintones are natural, while shadow detail is supportive, bringing out necessary textures in fabrics, though the image appears a little murky during evening sequences. Overall, it's a relaxed, occasionally striking viewing experience, preserving the picture's modest visual effort.

Audio:

The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix doesn't exactly have much to do as the film plays out, mostly there to support the dialogue, which retains a hearty frontal push, leaving all the exchanges easy to understand. Scoring is strong, filling out the dimension of the track, feeling directional and prominent. Violent flashes have a tendency to burst forth with some activity, but nothing's shrill. Outdoor atmospherics are interesting, giving life to the locations. There's an English dubbed track here as well.

Subtitles:

English subtitles are included.

Extras:

A Theatrical Trailer is offered.

FINAL THOUGHTS

"The Girl Who Played with Fire" is steady and compelling, but hardly electric. Unfortunately, the next chapter, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" was pieced together just as quickly as the first sequel, dashing hopes for a return to form. However, with the tale now reaching a foul pitch of disease and familial connection, perhaps the story's toxicity is more than enough to provide a rousing final jolt.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

THE FILM

It started with a bang and it ends with a whimper. Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy" comes to a substandard close with "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," a lifeless, talky series wrap up that induces more of a sense of submission than finality, stumbling through a complicated terrain of exposition without a desirable wallop of blistering suspense. Instead, the film naps, leaning on intricate plotting and established characterizations to generate inspiration.

Restricted to a hospital bed after brain surgery to remove a bullet, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is trapped, while the journalistic craftiness of partner Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) has permitted her access to a cell phone to text out her life story as she awaits trial. Looking to mount a devastating cover piece on Lisbeth for the Millennium Magazine, hoping to help in her exoneration, Mikael comes across a secret society known as The Section, a group of powerful men desperate to kill Lisbeth and silence the publication. As her court date approaches, Lisbeth prepares to reveal disturbing secrets to the world, while Mikael digs deeper into a conspiracy that threatens the safety and reputation of his co-workers and loved ones. Also on the loose is brute Neidermann (Micke Spreitz), a blonde hulk making his way across Sweden to kill Lisbeth.

If the last installment, "The Girl Who Played with Fire," suffered from a noticeable lack of directorial stimulation compared to the original film, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Hornet's Nest" drains the creative pool completely. Filmmaker Daniel Alfredson hangs on for dear life with his latest effort (shot back-to-back with "Fire"), seemingly unprepared for the storytelling challenges this final act provides.

With the lead characters confined to hospital beds, offices, and jail cells, there's no kinetic energy to "Hornet's Nest." It's a picture of infinite discussion, where characters gather to mull over threats and suspicions, tossing around last names and enigmatic connections like a tennis match, leaving the viewer to imagine a tension that Alfredson doesn't provide. It's a glacial picture, with the byzantine literary details acting as the star of the show, boiling down a pleasing syrup of troublemaking and heinous acts of violence into a murky slog that bends over backwards to retain Larsson's original scope of violation. The film isn't muscular enough to carry the weight of endless exposition, making the flashes of excitement that are included feel clumsy and calculated rather than explosive.

The performances manage to nudge "Hornet's Nest" along, with Rapace and Nyqvist once again finding a nice read of panic as outside forces close in, looking to remove the meddlesome pair from view. Unfortunately, there's little for the stars to do here besides further the plot, diminishing the gut-rot sensation of disturbance that enhanced the previous features. Here, Lisbeth and Mikael are merely conflicted spokes on a wheel, blandly cooking up a surefire multimedia defense once the wheezy, elderly members of The Section attempt to silence them forever.

THE BLU-RAY

Visual:

The AVC encoded (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation deals with rather flat cinematography, more devoted to securing the unfolding events than making them shine with vivid cinematography. Expectedly, the disc captures the limited visual scope of the piece, delivering stable colors that reinforce the chilly atmosphere, with blue the predominant hue, from city life to humorless interiors. White hospital sequences also look pure. Detail is strong (wounds look particularly realistic), capturing facial dramatics quite well, with a fine grain lending the picture a cinematic feel. Shadow detail is a bit sludgy, with hair and costume textures looking clotted. Some mild contrast issues arise as well.

Audio:

The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix holds to the film's subdued mood of intrigue. Dialogue is key here, with the conversations pushed forward for optimal clarity, with some evocative echo for more cavernous locations. Atmospherics are calm, only really heating up during the action, while soundtrack cues are subtle, keeping to the background until needed. Again, this is a picture of near-constant exposition, leaving the track useful, but uneventful, waiting patiently for something to happen onscreen before it can show its range off. An English dubbed track is also available.

Subtitles:

English subtitles are offered.

Extras:

A Theatrical Trailer is included.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Alfredson handles the cartwheeling acts of daring journalism agreeably and digs into a child pornography subplot with some sense of decorum, but the story eventually heads to court, killing whatever little momentum was building. The film's climax is an extended foray into judicial jousting, more interested in tying up loose ends than sending the viewer off with a dazzling display of cinematic fury, ending the trilogy on a curiously retrained note that doesn't quite pay off all the sickening, torturous acts of instability that preceded it.

THE BONUS DISC

"Millennium: The Story" (48:55) is an impressive, sprawling summarization of the life and times of author Stieg Larsson. Beginning with the literary sensation of his three books and their various translations around the world, the documentary steps back to the writer's origin in Sweden, surveying his relentless passion for literature and politics, exploring how the young man grew to become a major journalistic force in his homeland, fighting to capture various perspectives within his stories. Interviewing friends and family, a compelling portrait of the man is made, helping to understand how the novels were formed from Larsson's own experience as a journalist and Swedish resident. Equally as appealing is the exploration of life after Larsson's death in 2004. Expectedly, focus switches to the creation of the film trilogy, with cast interviews further illuminating Larsson's legacy.

"Interview with Noomi Rapace" (19:36) is a Swedish-language conversation with the lead actress, in the midst of having medical bandages applied to her head on-set. Expectedly, the chat primarily sticks to character motivation and professional preparation, allowing Rapace to articulate her perspective on the novel and its cinematic representation.

"Interview with Michael Nyqvist" (13:06) also captures make-up chair action, this time with the male lead of the trilogy. The Swedish-language chat permits the actor a shot to communicate his feelings about the characters and the challenge of film acting, discussing motivations and his extensive career in front of the camera.

"Interviews with Cast and Crew" (13:59) expands the conversation to various fringe players in the trilogy, again discussing preparation and inspiration. To keep the featurette consistent, actor Georgi Staykov is interviewed in a make-up chair.

"Nidermann vs. Roberto" (9:34) spotlights a key fight scene, displaying the choreography and camaraderie needed to pull off a sequence of brutal violence. It's a fascinating peek at raw filmmaking effort, even showing off the mistakes on the road to a perfect take.

A Poster Gallery is offered, with nine pieces of art.

And Theatrical Trailers for all three movies are included, along with Teaser Trailers for "Dragon Tattoo" and "Hornet's Nest."


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