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Director David Fincher explains his thought process in the making of Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' starring Daniel Craig

Recently David Fincher was where no director with a $100 million movie coming out should be:

Somewhere basking in the Caribbean while others handled details for Tuesday's release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher's take on Stieg Larsson's lurid and wildly popular novel. A few days of calm before rejoining the storm of anticipation and, for some readers, doubt.

"I thought I would relax," Fincher said by telephone, after making this film and his Oscar-nominated The Social Network back to back. "In the last 2 1/2 years I really haven't made much room for that. It's nice to sleep every two or three years, whether one needs to or not."

In sleep Fincher can't hear suspicions that his English language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is tamer than 2009's subtitled Swedish version, or perhaps too much for American audiences to bear. That he miscast Rooney Mara as damaged-goods computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, after Noomi Rapace memorably played the role. Or that another movie adaptation is simply unnecessary in any language.

Wide awake, Fincher, 49, repeatedly asserts that the previous film has no place in the discussion. Larsson's book was the sole source he and screenwriter Steven Zaillian relied upon. Any similarities to the Swedish movie, Fincher insists, are purely coincidental.

"It's like the line they say in driver's education class: Don't let the car behind you drive your car," he said. "You don't want to be reactive to the person in your rearview mirror."

Besides, Fincher already has plenty of Larsson's fans to satisfy. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and two sequels sold more than 30 million copies worldwide in print and electronic formats. Readers already have their mind's-eye expectations of Lisbeth, the sexual exploits of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and the kinky horrors they encounter.

"It's kind of like Batman or Superman," Fincher said. "People have very specific ideas about what a character looks like, and who they are . . . preconceived notions about what they're wearing, what their hair is like . . . We were looking for the pearls that must remain."

Fincher expects readers to disagree with what he and Zaillian discarded.

"When you're reading a book to appreciate it, that's far different than reading to adapt it into a movie," Fincher said. "(It is) a different relationship to the characters than people sitting in a darkened movie theater who are wondering if the parking garage is going to close before the movie's done. You're juggling different expectations."

Not the least of which is just how far viewers are willing to go. Larsson created sexually voracious and sadistic characters that even the Swedish version toned down. Some things have been excised as a page count issue, Blomkvist's frequent sexual encounters among them. ("It's not that Daniel wasn't game," Fincher said, laughing.) Other material was too strong even for the filmmaker who crafted gruesome depictions of biblical deadly sins in Se7en.

"There's a massive rethinking of (Lisbeth's rapist) forcing himself on her that's nowhere near the kind of physical assault that is in the book," Fincher said. "I mean, the rape in the book goes on all night. He burns her, he pierces her. It's really hellish. And we had to decide the degree to which she suffers.

"Is it going to make our case better if we put an audience through this, if we make them aware of what Stieg Larsson wrote? Or do we cut it back to only what it needs to be, then move on? Any time you do an adaptation you're trying to make your point and not overstay your welcome."

And if the movie is a hit and Fincher gets invited back? He already likes the screenplay draft for Lisbeth and Mikael's next adventure, The Girl Who Played With Fire.

"I'd love there to be a need to make a second one," Fincher said, "but, you know, last night I slept for nine hours for the first time in 2 1/2 years. Don't ask me that question now."

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365.

Director David Fincher explains his thought process in the making of Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' starring Daniel Craig 12/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:30am]

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