STIEG LARSSON’S DRAGON TATTOO TRILOGY – Blu-ray review

Like the Harry Potter series, the late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is nothing short of a publishing phenomenon. It sold more than 27 million copies worldwide in 40 countries on five continents. Twenty-seven million. On one of the bonus features we hear someone from his publishers say that it was the first book to outsell the Bible. In that same documentary we see walking tours of Stockholm–where the novels and films are set–and learn that tourism increased by 20 percent because of the trilogy.

Larsson’s first raw and grisly crime thriller, Men Who Hate Women (2005, published in English as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) was followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Air Castle that Blew Up (2007, published in English as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. All three books were made into films and released in 2009, two of them directed by Daniel Alfredson and one by Niels Arden Oplev. The first installment won a BAFTA Award for best non-English language film, and the second is nearly as good. The third, though the weakest, nonetheless provides a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. And this handsome set gives fans something substantial in return for their allegiance.

The box itself is wonderfully put together. A faux-leather clamshell box is inset with a lenticular 3-D hologram, with the spine embossed in silver like a fine old book. Inside are four individual cardboard-and-plastic cases, which securely hold the Blu-ray discs on plastic clasps–three of which house the individual films as they were previously released, and the fourth dedicated to additional bonus features.

DVD Town has complete reviews for all three films, and you can check out each title below for a link to the trailer, followed by a link to our review:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” –Blu-ray review

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” –DVD review

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” –Blu-ray review

A documentary exclusive to this collection focuses on Larsson and similarities/differences between the author and his character. Like Mikael Blomkvist, for example, he was a left-leaning political journalist who ran a magazine. Unlike Blomkvist, he did not have sex with the people he came in contact with during investigations. But he wanted to, one of his colleagues says. It’s what all authors do to some extent: begin with characters and situations based on the world they know, then imagining details and propensities that transcend the limitations of their circumstances or personalities. The combination gives books and films an air of authenticity with an added edge, and that’s certainly the case with this trilogy.

I gave the first two films an 8 out of 10 on the DVD Town scale, and the third a 6 because it didn’t have the mystery of the first film or the action of the second. What the third film does is to tie up all the loose ends–traditionally the job of a third act in a screenplay. That’s the way the trilogy plays out, actually, with the first film taking on the role of Act 1 and introducing the characters and the mystery. The second film, like any respectable Act 2, complicates the situation and throws everything but the kitchen sink at it to push the characters and drive the plot. The third film sags a bit because a trial has to play out en route to a resolution and the arc of the plot had already peaked. Watch all three films together, though, and it all works.

Michael Nyqvist is perfect as Blomkvist, and the trilogy is helped by some strong minor characters as well. But the trilogy is all about Lisbeth Salander, and Noomi Rapace is intense enough to make us believe she’s that girl with the dragon tattoo who carries more baggage than most airlines lose. This kid’s a complicated mess, and even after you learn who she is there’s still the question of who she really is, psychologically speaking. It’s the complexity of character and the extensive visual details of Stockholm and surrounding areas that make this series richer than the usual crime drama.

Video:
Inexplicably, the first film is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, while the second and third are in 1.85:1 widescreen. Because there are fewer dark scenes in the second volume and third, they both have slightly less murkiness of detail and not quite so much grain. Details on each release are in my individual reviews, but I think it’s fair to restate my overall reaction: there may be a little more grain here than many hi-def fans are used to, and in the first film especially there are a lot of dark scenes that sometimes make it difficult to appreciate detail. But there are also plenty of scenes where you can appreciate the 1080p and close-ups tell the whole story.

Audio:
The audio on all three films is a simple Dolby Digital 5.1 in either the original Swedish with English subtitles or in a dubbed English version. I highly recommend the original Swedish. The pacing is never so frenetic that you can’t keep up with the subtitles, even if you’re not normally a fast reader. With Stockholm emerging as a character itself, I can’t imagine not wanting to watch in Swedish. As with the video, the presentation doesn’t blow you away, nor does it disappoint. It falls somewhere in the middle-just a solid soundtrack that’s dialogue-driven, but which still channels enough ambient sounds into the mix to give the audio some weight.

Extras:
The discs in this set are exactly the same as those from the individual releases, with only the first film getting three sparse features, so I’m going to concentrate only on the fourth disc contents exclusive to this release. Included on the disc are nine different poster images, five different trailers, and five “documentaries.” The latter category is really just a single documentary flanked by interviews and behind-the-scenes looks.

When I reviewed the first film I lamented that there wasn’t anything on Larsson and his trilogy to give me some sense of how the books relate to the film and where the journalist-author was coming from. Happily, that’s the focus of the main documentary here, “Millennium: The Story” (49 min.). Larsson’s brother and father even make an appearance, and we begin to understand how deep-seated the left-leaning politics were in the family. In this feature we get more information on Stockholm, too, and I must confess that I didn’t really know that it was composed of different islands. It’s a great feature for fans of the books and films. Apart from that, fans of Rapace will enjoy seeing an interviewer chat with her during a make-up and hair-styling session, where interruptions occur and we get a feeling for what it’s like behind the scenes as she talks about her character and the approach she took to playing her. The 20-minute interview is a good one, because Rapace doesn’t need much prodding to share information.

Bottom Line:
“Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo Trilogy” is a wonderful set, and the films themselves seem destined to last–not only because their complexity and the performances stand up under repeated viewings, but also because the character of Lisbeth Salander is one of the strongest, baddest cinematic heroines I’ve seen. Because she is who she is and because men are what they are, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the other two films seem destined to be taught right alongside “Thelma and Louise” in gender studies classes. As I wrote in an earlier review, Lisbeth is as much of a scourge as Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, and just as mysterious, cool, and resilient.

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