'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo': Steven Zaillian on changing the story and ending

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Image Credit: Anders Linden/Columbia Pictures

[Spoiler Alert: Plot points for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, book and movie, are discussed here.]

Fans of Stieg Larsson’s original novel may have noticed that David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo made a few changes to the story, although more in terms of what was left out than what was stuck in. That’s because any adaptation of a book of this length is going to need a bit of streamlining unless you want to opt for the recent trend of Hollywood mitosis that’s splitting everything up into an infinite series of Part 1s and Part 2s.

Fincher estimates that about 350 pages had to go in order to get the story down to watchable movie length, and according to screenwriter Steven Zaillian, much of that was in the very beginning. “I think there were probably about a hundred pages setting everything up,” Zaillian tells EW, “in terms of Blomkvist and his situation. There’s probably another 50 or 60 pages of [Larsson] doing the same thing with Salander. Those things obviously had to go.” One of the few subplots to get dropped entirely was Blomkvist’s romantic liaison with Cecilia Vanger, one of the more amiable of the clan he is investigating, which the filmmakers skipped for both time and to tone down the emphasis on the protagonist’s philandering. “Mikael had a relationship with her that went on for a lot of pages,” laughs Zaillian. “I’m a fan of the book—I like it very much—but when I was reading it at a certain point I thought, am I reading Shampoo? Is this Warren Beatty or is this Mikael Blomkvist? I didn’t drop those things in order to make him more sympathetic. It was really just that they were unnecessary to the story.”

But probably the biggest change that readers will pick up on is in the ending, where two strands of the narrative have been fused into one. It’s nothing too major, but when you’re working with a novel as popular as this, everything becomes sacred text. “I wasn’t trying to do something different or trying to fix something,” says Zaillian. “I just thought it was a good idea. when I read the book, I thought, ‘Why are we going so far afield for this mystery to be resolved? Might it be a little more interesting if it’s solved a little closer to home?’ That’s all there was to it. I kind of felt it was right for the character.”


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