The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition, at 9 hours, is the most complete film version of Stieg Larsson s international best-selling books available, including over 2 hours of additional, never-before-seen feature content. This unique and extended mix of the original Swedish footage includes additional character development and narrative that more faithfully tracks the books. Previously only available in Europe, this final version is a must-see for Dragon Tattoo and Lisbeth Salander fans in the US.
Based on the worldwide bestseller by Stieg Larsson, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is about a 40-year-old murder mystery surrounding the disappearance of a 16-year-old girl. The deceptively intelligent film with an intricate detective story at its surface follows two polar opposites, middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and intelligent 24-year-old hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), united in a passionate crusade for uncovering the truth. Unraveling the case is only part of this brilliantly-structured crime thriller with engrossing elements of the police procedural. The Swedish film from director Niels Arden Oplev is ultimately concerned with the integrity of investigative journalism and serving as commentary on contemporary capitalism.
Adding nearly 30-minutes to the U.S. theatrical release, this extended version furthers this aspect of the plot with an invested fondness for a methodology of hardnosed research and reporting that almost seems all but lost in today's digital world. Blomkvist's tenacious attitude for unearthing the secrets of the Vanger family and Wennerström's corruption are clear, but of greater interest is seeing the computer-inclined Lisbeth slowly become engrossed in this method of fact-finding. The newly-incorporated scenes of dialogue, particularly a conversation with a church cleric, also make the adaptation feel like it more closely follows the original novel. For fans of both the book and the previous cut, this televised version of the absorbing crime drama will surely be the preferred version to enjoy. (Movie Rating: 4.5/5)
Played with Fire
For the second adaptation in Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, Daniel Alfredson, older brother to Tomas of 'Let the Right One In' fame, takes over as director, delivering a fairly exciting and complex mystery thriller. Though not as engaging as its predecessor, the film is still quite stirring as our heroine returns to Stockholm in order to exonerate herself of triple murder. The plot thickens when the connection is made to a mysterious Zala and journalist Blomkvist (Nyqvist) unearths a terrible government conspiracy. But as before, our attention is rightly focused on Lisbeth, her troubled past and Rapace's remarkable performance. This extended version also corrects some of the weaker narrative aspects of the theatrical cut by adding over 50-minutes of unseen footage.
Somewhat more dense and daunting, this two-part sequel feels better paced. The story patiently reveals each clue and makes the correlations between them much clearer, allowing viewers time to absorb and digest the information as it's unveiled. This alternate take further re-introduces the exhilaration of investigative journalism, the thrill of discovering new and unexpected evidence associated with research techniques. The caring and touching friendship of the two leads feels more genuine than before, as Mikael slowly learns about Lisbeth's history over the course of the movie. The novel's central themes of conspiracy cover-ups and the misogyny often found within government are finally given more prominence and greatly improve upon what was seen theatrically. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
Kicked the Hornet's Nest
The third and final installment in the trilogy brings everything to a close as our heroine confronts all the demons of her past. While Lisbeth recuperates in the hospital from the injuries inflicted in the last film, Mikael works tirelessly to uncover the truth behind a shrouded group of government agents wanting to permanently silence the feisty young woman. In fact, most of the narrative is spent on this aspect of the plot, revealing a decades-old cover-up and turning the last in the film series into a sort of political thriller. Broken into two 90-minute pictures, the story, once again, shows the credibility and necessity of investigative journalism, the benefit it can bring to social justice. Larsson's political philosophies are at last brought to better fruition here.
While saving the best for last as a courtroom procedural with Lisbeth making a dramatic entrance in her punk-rock regalia, much of this extended version is concerned with government overreaching and interfering with the lives of citizens. In some respects, this is the author's way of tackling Sweden's right-wing past much as he did in the first story, even mentioning the switch in politics during the mid-1970s on a few occasions. The filmmakers clearly respect that by focusing greatly on fictional characters of the previous regime secretly active within society. The entire affair makes for a terrifically entertaining political crime thriller that centers on a beloved heroine, and it all ends with a satisfying conclusion that sees those who robbed her of a childhood brought to justice. (Movie Rating: 4.5/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Music Box Films Home Entertainment brings the 'Dragon Tattoo Trilogy' to Blu-ray as a Four-Disc Extended Edition in an attractive black box-set. Inside, we have a large gatefold cardboard box with four discs on opposing plastic panels and brief plot summaries of each 90-minute episode.
The first three are Region A locked, BD25 discs with two episodes on each, and only the first disc contains trailers at startup. The last is another BD25 and contains all the bonus material. Also, in spite of what's printed on the back of the box, only the original Swedish track is presented in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio codec; the English dub is actually a legacy Dolby Digital track.
As with the individual releases, the first in the trilogy looks best, with several demo-worthy moments. The AVC-encoded transfer appears identical to its Blu-ray counterpart, and this extended edition is presented in a 1.78:1 window. The picture is highly-detailed with resolute, distinct lines of various objects. Close-ups of actors' faces are most impressive, exposing well-defined textures. Contrast is pitch-perfect with crisp, clean whites and allowing for excellent visibility in the far distance. Except for a few interior shots, black levels are rich and intense with strong shadow delineation, adding appreciable depth to the photography. The palette is intentionally limited, creating a chilly, ominous atmosphere, but colors are accurate with indoor scenes showing a welcoming warmth, making for a terrific high-def transfer. (Video Rating: 4/5)
Played with Fire
Shot on 16mm and originally intended for a televised presentation, the sequel isn't a huge night-and-day difference from last year's standalone release. But I suspect this is a fresh 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) possibly struck from the original elements because it does appear marginally sharper and cleaner than before. The first Blu-ray was likely made from a blown-up 35mm film print. It still shows a heavy grain structure, but it never intrudes on the picture quality in a wholly negative manner. However, it does come off a bit strong in a few interior scenes and tend to ruin shadow details slightly. Definition and resolution look a bit improved here with better balanced contrast levels. Best moments are during close-ups, but overall, fine objects and textures are fairly distinct. Blacks are generally inky and deep, except for a few nighttime sequences, and the color palette is accurate although noticeably drained. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Much like the above, the final installment in the trilogy was also filmed on 16mm film and arrives on Blu-ray fairly similar to last year's release. But once again, this AVC encode looks like it was struck from a new master because it is marginally better, though not by much. And of the three, this is probably the worst of the bunch. The picture is awash with a fine layer of grain and shows a great deal of clarity throughout, despite lacking the sort of striking definition we've come to expect from a recent movie. Contrast is comfortably bright and consistent while black levels appear true for most the movie's runtime. Poorly-lit interiors, however, fare the worst and tend to ruin some of the details in the deep shadows. Colors are cleanly rendered with strong, bright primaries, and facial complexions are natural and appropriate to the climate. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
The biggest difference in quality from the first Blu-ray release is definitely in the audio department. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is much fuller and vibrant, engaging viewers in a way the previous lossy version could not. Immediately noticeable is the rear activity, full of atmospheric effects that are discrete and much more convincing than before. The back speakers envelop listeners satisfyingly with excellent directionality and ambience, but used also to surround viewers with Jacob Groth's moody musical score. The front soundstage feels wider and spacious with a sharply-rendered and expansive mid-range, displaying the action with good clarity and differentiation. Dialogue is precise and intelligible even amongst the film's loudest moments while channel separation with marvelous, fluid movement and balance. Low-frequency effects don't go beyond what they're meant to do, but add appreciable weight to those scenes requiring it. (Audio Rating: 4.5/5)
Played with Fire
The audio is a definite improvement over its predecessor, providing a wider and more agreeable image across the screen. The DTS-HD MA soundtrack seems more spacious with an excellent sense of presence and fidelity. Off-screen effects and other discrete atmospherics are heard convincingly, occasionally spreading into the back speakers and extending the soundfield satisfyingly. Groth's subtle score makes the best use of the higher resolution, filling the room with moody suspense and drama. Conversations are very well-prioritized in the center and intelligible from beginning to end. Though it doesn't push into the upper frequencies much, dynamic range is still quite detailed and well balanced. The same goes for the low-end since there isn't a great deal of bass involved, but what we do hear is clean and adequate to the action. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Compared to its standalone counterpart, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a significant jump in quality. The lossless mix is far-better balanced with the rest of the design and displays a strong acoustical presence in the soundscape. The soundstage feels more expansive and welcoming with good movement between the front speakers. Being a dialogue-driven film, the center channel pulls most of the weight with intelligible conversations and wide imaging. The mid-range also benefits greatly with added detail in the higher frequencies, which remains sharp and precise during a few, loud action sequences. The low-end still doesn't do much to impress, but there's a bit of bass present when required to add some depth. The rears not only help to spread Groth's score into the back, but extend the soundfield rather effectively with several discrete effects. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
The fourth disc contains all the special features and is the same one found in the boxset released earlier this year.
Based on the Stieg Larsson crime thrillers affectionately known as the Millennium Trilogy, the 'Dragon Tattoo Trilogy' follows investigate journalist Mikael Blomkvist solving difficult cases of human rights violations, in particular the one surrounding the fiery Lisbeth Salander. Presented for the first time in their extended versions, these editions fill out the narrative with a better pace and ample time to digest the information as it is revealed. For devoted fans, this is without a doubt the best way to enjoy these absorbing and thrilling dramas.
The Blu-ray box-set comes with a marginally better video and audio presentation, especially in the audio department which sees lossless tracks of all three films. The supplements are unfortunately nothing terribly exciting, but the hour-long documentary is a recommended highlight. By and large, this is a terrific box-set devoted fans will surely enjoy, but it's also recommended for anyone who enjoys a well-made, complex mystery thriller.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.