If you think you know all there is to know about everyone’s favorite misanthropic anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander, think again. While David Fincher’s badass film version of the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is in theatres, the book’s original publisher, Sweden’s Norstedts is adding a new layer to author Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy with its "Chasing Salander" mobile app.
Neither prequel nor sequel, Chasing Salander combines many of the rich details in Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with a new character to create a parallel narrative. Told from the perspective of an unnamed hit man out to assassinate Salander, the story takes place in 14 scenes in locations across Sweden that mirror the plot of the novel. Hacker/investigator Salander becomes the hunted as, in this version of Dragon Tattoo, the hit man is always one step behind her.
The story is driven by 3-minute segments narrated by Swedish actor Shanti Roney as the hit man hired by a special police department called "The Section," the only detail taken from the third book, who’s following central character Mikael Blomkvist in the hopes of finding Salander. Peppered throughout are over 100 facts and details about the book’s characters, specific locations, or relevant Swedish customs. Each scene is set against moody photography from Pieter ten Hoopen of the real-life locations noted in the book; moving the phone gives a slight panorama of the setting.
With over 60 million copies sold worldwide, interest in the Millennium Trilogy has been feverish, and the release of the latest film adaptation (there’s already a trio of Swedish films based on the books) made the timing right for this app, says Norstedts project manager Klas Fjärstedt.
"We thought that this is the time to do something more. Of course we can’t do another book because, sadly, Steig Larsson died, so we started thinking about all the information and locations that we had," says Fjärstedt, noting that interest around the trilogy’s specific locations has sparked literary tourism in Sweden. "First we were thinking of just showing the places, but then we thought that’s not enough. So we added a new story to these locations."
With such a rabid fan base, any interpretation of the original story is met with great scrutiny, but Fjärstedt says unlike Fincher or any other actor or director, as the original publishers if the book, Norstedts is in the best position to augment the author’s original vision.
"Everyone else has their own picture of what Lisbeth Salander looks like or how Mikael Blomkvist’s apartment looks, but we have the authority; everyone copied us," says Fjärstedt. "We are the publishing company that Steig Larsson came to, we took the books and made them readable to the world. And now we’re doing the app to share the locations and the metadata with the world."
As with apps supporting existing entertainment properties, it’s easy to assume Chasing Salander is a game or an interactive book, but Fjärstedt says it’s neither: "It’s important not to think of it as an app but as a new story. In this case, the app is just a great way to package it."
Swedish production companies Aleino and Sparkling Zoo produced the $0.99 iPhone app in just three months, impressive considering the number of elements involved. Smoothly looping the app’s three soundtracks (narration, ambient and atmospheric) was the greatest challenge in an otherwise routine development process, says Sparkling Zoo executive producer Kathrin Spaak. Most unique, however, was the narrative quality of the content. "This kind of high quality experience is mainly produced for iPad and Smartphone games," adds creative director Karin Ernerot, "so an 'iPhone dramatization’ is something very unique."
Chasing Salander represents an evolution for mobile content in that it provides a pure narrative experience that both enhances a well-loved story and stands alone for those unfamiliar with it. And while the story comes to a satisfying end, it leaves room for further extensions of and additions to Larsson’s mysterious and macabre world.
Says Fjärstedt: "We didn’t want to do an app that was only for people who’ve read it. If you’ve read the books you will find you will learn more about what you have read. If you haven’t read it, you have a new story to enjoy."