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Can Hollywood's 'Tattoo' capture Sweden's dark side?

Geoff Mortimore · 16 Dec 2011, 14:20

Published: 16 Dec 2011 14:20 GMT+01:00

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There are few places in the world where a 7-Eleven store counts as a tourist attraction.

However, in Stockholm, on any given day you are likely to see a group of people staring upwards at a sign in Södermalm, Stockholm.

With the Hollywood version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” about to be released, the “Millennium Fever” spawned by Stieg Larsson's crime trilogy that has gripped Stockholm and much of the rest of the world over the last two years shows no sign of letting up.

There is no doubting the benefits to Stockholm in terms of tourism income, but whether the continuing global fascination with Sweden's dark side is only a good thing, is still a prickly subject that has even drawn comment from the Swedish Royal Family.

It is fair to say that until recently, the general attitude towards Sweden from outsiders has been almost overwhelmingly favourable.

But Larsson’s trilogy, as well as news events over the past year or so, have painted Sweden in a different, darker light than before, which for many has been a disorientating experience for some.

However Jan-Erik Pettersson, author of “Stieg Larsson: Jornalist, Author, Idealist”, explains Larsson is hardly alone in acknowledging Sweden isn't free from scandal, conspiracy, and crime.

“I think that although, Sweden is generally seen in a positive light, Stieg wasn’t the first or only person to point out that another side exists. Much is made in the press about the right-wing here, as well as the high suicide rate, so it is not always positive. Whether the movie will change attitudes though, is hard to say," says Pettersson.

“I think a lot would depend on what your political beliefs are in the first place."

The girl with the 'dragon tattoo' herself, Lisbeth Salander, and the rest of the cast of characters from Larsson's books have hardly hurt Swedish GDP though.

The brooding hacker heroine has inspired an clothing collection from H&M, while tourist brochures hail the "Millennium Effect”, and Swedish PR agency Cloudberry Communications has estimated that the Hollywood film alone will increase Stockholm's tourism by 3 to 4 percent.

It is also interesting that the dark side, not just of Sweden, but also Scandinavian neighbour Denmark is becoming so “hot” in culture circles.

The Danish thriller “The Killing,” now in its second series, has been a big hit with British UK audiences, while stoic Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, protagonist in a continuing series of crime thrillers by Henning Menkel, has also struck a note with audiences much further afield than Sweden.

Kenneth Branagh’s English version of Wallander may have received more publicity, but the original Swedish films based on Menkel's books, shown subtitled, have gained cult status after being aired on the BBC.

And when it comes to The Killing, perhaps the highest possible praise came when it was remade for an American TV audience, and the brief was to keep it “as dark and brooding as the original.”

The initial reaction to Hollywood's “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which had its gala premiere in Stockholm last week and stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, has been positive.

Even Stieg Larsson’s father, who has generated so many headlines himself since his son’s death, was there at the opening, giving it the tacit approval of the family.

The elephant in the room of course, was the author himself.

“I am sure Stieg would have been delighted to see his films picked up by Hollywood,” says Jan-Erik Pettersson, author of “Stieg Larsson: Jornalist, Author, Idealist”.

“Stieg was always deeply fascinated and enamoured with American culture in general so he would have seen this a high form of compliment.”

Whether the movie will have a profound effect on people’s perception of Sweden is a different matter.

”Overall I would imagine that rather than seeing it as a commentary on Swedish society, it is more likely that most people will treat it as a classic Hollywood thriller,” says Pettersson.

For those tasked with marketing the image of Sweden, the movie is another chance to capitalize on the “Millennium Effect.”

“The Swedish books and the movies have generated a lot of interest from tourists already and we expect this interest to increase by the Hollywood version as it will reach new audiences,” Maria Ziv, marketing director at VisitSweden tells The Local.

Ziv explains that her organization, which focuses on promoting the brand of Sweden and Sweden as a travel destination, hopes the Hollywood films will raise awareness about Stockholm as a place to visit.

”The movie has strong ties to Stockholm so we would like to take advantage of that," she says.

Story continues below…

"In the US market, we are creating a campaign that highlights the country behind the Millennium trilogy. We want to contrast the darkness of the movie with the Stockholm you meet when you come to visit."

According to Ziv, VisitSweden is also planning a series of press trips for American journalists in January, and is planning similar junkets for journalists from the UK and Germany.

As her organisation deals specifically with foreigners, Ziv lays great importance on anything that effects the perception of Sweden abroad.

”The image of Sweden abroad is a very positive one. A nations' brand is something quite stable and deeply rooted in peoples' perceptions. It is not something that changes quickly,” says Ziv.

”The dark and perhaps unexpected image of Sweden portrayed in Kenneth Branagh's ”Wallander,” might also spark interest just because it is so different from the Sweden known internationally for being very safe, open and friendly.

"However, there are many aspects of the new movie that go hand in hand with the perceptions that are out there today: Lisbeth Salander for example could be viewed as a modern Pippi Longstocking, a strong, modern woman who goes her own way."

In reality, even if the view of Salander gravitates more to the psychopathic side, it is unlikely to hurt H&M, Stockholm’s museums, or the ever-swelling numbers on the walking tours.

"Millennium" translates into big business for Sweden, and whether the Swedish Royals like it or not, Hollywood's Millennium-film remakes will likely ensure that more people than ever see there is a sinister to side to Sweden, even if it's only on the big screen.

Geoff Mortimore (mortimore.geoff@gmail.com)

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Your comments about this article

14:52 December 16, 2011 by jvtx3232
I will go see the American version of "TGWTDT" but only because it was filmed mostly in Sweden. That way I get to see more scenery from Sweden which will be the film's only redeeming quality I'm sure.

If they had chosen to set & film the American version in the U.S. itself I wouldn't bother. At best I might have waited to rent it on DVD or even until somebody uploaded it to YouTube or something lol.
16:22 December 16, 2011 by Mb 65
I have the Swedish version dubbed in English. it is so true to the books and very well made, loved it. I had not seen any of the actors before so it made it a lot more believable. the dubbing was really good i didn't notice the difference. I like Daniel Craig but i don't think he will beat this version.
16:49 December 16, 2011 by Roy E
The Swedish movies were done very well. I don't see how Hollywood will be able to improve on them. In fact , it's silly to even try. I've no plans to to see the new versions.
16:50 December 16, 2011 by spo10
I hope the American version won't disappoint because the original movies were really great imo. I can't wait to see it!
18:04 December 16, 2011 by befree
Interesting article...thank you.

BTW, did you mean to say: "As her organisation deals specifically with foreigners, Ziv lays great importance on anything that AFFECTS the perception of Sweden abroad." ??
18:47 December 16, 2011 by mikewhite
It's possible that you could just take both films as separate works, with a different cultural take.

Although I prefer the Krister Henriksson version of Wallander, as long as it's not back-to-back I can also enjoy the Branagh episodes (if _only_ he would say 'Nyberg' properly !!!).

Much the same as David Suchet can appear as Poirot but Peter Ustinov's performance can also be enjoyed.
20:37 December 16, 2011 by mbss
I guess Joakim and Erland Larsson will do well. I hope they continue to share some of the wealth with Eva. The saga, both fictional and non-fictional, always serves as a reminder to those of us who have sambos in our lives to make sure that we've written proper wills.
08:41 December 17, 2011 by Grokh
I doubt hollywood will make anywhere near the same brutal rape scene from the original so i dont think they will come even close to the brutality of the original.
14:21 December 17, 2011 by jvtx3232
@Grokh: I saw an interview with David Letterman and Ronney Mara the other day where they talked about that scene. It does sound pretty brutal.
17:04 December 17, 2011 by mafketis
Why was this movie even made?

I haven't seen the Swedish version but I might well want to some day. A hollywood version is high on my 'avoid at all costs' list.

All hollywood knows how to do know with this kind of story is to cast more conventionally attractive (and more boring) actors, ramp up the unbelievable violence (and minimizing its effects) and smooth out the rough edges.
12:51 December 18, 2011 by cogito

Please do not let your opinion be influenced by actually seeing either version of the movie or reading the trilogy.

Why is it the strongest opinions are always based on the deepest ignorance?
13:30 December 18, 2011 by mafketis
I'll admit I'm going by precedent. There was no need whatsoever forHollywood to remake Let the right one in or [rec] and the originals were not in the slightest improved on. Why should I believe anything will be different with this?

Having suffered thru a few bland hollywood remakes of original interesting european movies I'm done with them.
18:02 December 18, 2011 by Kaethar
Meh, can't share the outrage for this remake to be honest. Hollywood has messed up a lot of storylines but some they do right (like The Departed) and I think this will be the same since Fincher is at the helm.

Of course the remake is "pointless" in the sense that it's so soon after the first version but I still support it since people who don't watch foreign films were not going to watch the Swedish version in the first place and this way the story might be able to reach a wider audience.

Plus a big Hollywood blockbuster actually set in Sweden = awesome. The first US film has 10 times the budget of all 3 Swedish films so I hope it shows.
19:52 December 18, 2011 by Gustav Jung
People who "can't" watch foreign films don't deserve to see them at all - this means YOU - US citizen!
13:33 December 19, 2011 by Earandur Lissesul
I shall watch the Hollywood remake just for the Swedish scenery. and the views around Stockholm. I didn't particularly enjoy the remake of "Let The Right One In", the two original stars in that one were excellent. I have watched the Danish crime series "Forbrydelsen" Series I and II and I don't see the problem with sub-titles. Scandinavia to me seems to be putting out some great TV at the moment. Now awaiting "Borgen" the Danish political drama.
18:27 December 20, 2011 by larsonczoty
Loved the Danish THE KILLING and am looking forward to next season. Was hooked on Mankell after seeing the Swedish version of a few of his books, which began my obsession to read them all (two to go). Thought the Swedish version of TGWTDT was done very well. As a Swedish American I can only imagine that Hollywood will make it even darker by a bit more sensationalizing although Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer are fabulous actors. As stated by others, I am looking forward primarily to seeing the landscape scenes shot in Sweden - the short time I spent there (both parents were born there) made me fall in love with her. God Jul all.
14:36 December 22, 2011 by skogsbo
it's probably shot like Brannagh's version of Wallander, through a dark filter making it seem like it's never light properly even in the middle of summer, then pick the most depressing interiors of peoples houses to film in. If Brannagh can get awards for just sulking his way around Sweden, I'm sure millenium will do the same.
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