The stage seemed set for nothing short of triumph and celebration when the new film based on wildly popular Norwegian crime author Jo Nesbø’s Snømannen (The Snowman) premieres in Nesbø’s homeland this week. Norwegian film reviewers were instead left deeply disappointed, with several panning it and giving the film a score of just two on a scale of one to six.
The local film critics, well-acquainted with Nesbø’s books about the unorthodox Norwegian detective Harry Hole, had been waiting almost breathlessly for the film’s release themselves. It’s not often that a film shot entirely on location in Norway and inspired by a Norwegian is about to be distributed internationally, and expectations were skyhigh. When they finally got to see it, just prior to its festive premiere in Oslo on Tuesday, many were all but stunned.
READ MORE: The Snowman meltdown spreads
“What in the world has happened here?” read the headline on the review published by newspaper VG, Norway’s largest tabloid distributed nationwide. It went on to complain that the “thriller” was anything but, that it lacked the “page-turning” characteristics of the book and contained so many “dramatic” changes in the plot of Nesbøs Snowman that fans of Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh in Nowegian) are likely to sound off in online commentary fields around world.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s reviewer was just as unimpressed. Marte Hedenstad, part of the so-called “film police” at NRK, was most disappointed that the depth and personality of the Harry Hole character “disappeared” during the transition from book to screen. She claimed that also removed the intensity that made The Snowman an international best-seller.
“What’s left is a standard and quite boring crime story, that never got me to feel my heart in my throat,” Hedenstad wrote. She conceded on national radio in Norway Tuesday morning that film versions of books often disappoint fans of the books who think they’re much better, but in this case, she and other reviewers believe director Tomas Alfredson made some major mistakes. “This is not my Harry Hole,” she wrote, making it clear that in her opinion, the film does not do justice to the hero of Nesbø’s books who’s brilliant but struggles with alcohol abuse and self-destructive behaviour.
It wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the actor playing Harry Hole, Michael Fassbender. He told Oslo newspaper Aftenposten that he worked hard to “get into Harry Hole’s head and soul.” Fassbender candidly admitted he’d never heard of Jo Nesbø when he got the offer to play the lead role in the film, but he quickly read all of Nesbø’s books featuring Harry Hole with the exception of Snowman, “because I wanted to know where he came from and where he was going.”
Fassbender noted that the script was also “somewhat different” from the book. He said he liked how Hole used his brain more than his body. Norwegian reviewers, meanwhile, criticized how the film nonetheless featured Fassbender’s own well-exercised body, given how unfit Hole’s must be given his unhealthy lifestyle.
“I was surprised the film wasn’t better,” said Terje Eidsvåg of newspaper Adresseavisen, based in Trondheim where the film was shown for critics before its Oslo premiere. He doesn’t think The Snowman film is either exciting, frightening or engaging either, “and that’s a big problem with this type of film,” he told VG, which published a separate story on the stream of unexpectedly bad reviews. Adresseavisen’s reviewer branded the film as “a bloody unattractive and embarrassingly uneven blend of thriller and horror movie. The international film version of Jo Nesbøs Snowman is just not good.”
‘Not my story’
Nesbø himself had already warned in newspaper VG over the weekend that The Snowman film “is not my story.” It’s one of his most highly acclaimed, prize-winning and best-selling books for the Norwegian author who’s sold 36 million books in total. The film takes liberties that changes Snowman’s story.
“When I first sold the rights (for the film, to production company Working Title), I was a bit worried,” Nesbø told VG. “Film is a strong medium, and I was afraid that it would take over the universe and my characters.
“But now I think that the book series is strong enough that the film can just be another telling of the story. I view my book as input to the director, Tomas Alfredson. Now it’s his story. Snowman as a film is not my story.”
Alfredson seems to agree. “The Snowman I’ve made is not 600 pages on paper, it’s 120 minutes on film,” he told Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday. Asked whether he felt any responsibility to Nesbø, he noted how “perversely costly” it is to make a film, “to put so much money into something that lasts an hour-and-a-half to two hours is a huge responsibility in itself. It’s something you’re aware of all the time, but it’s not especially constructive to go around and think about it all the time.
“I read (Nesbø’s) book independently of the process of making the film, and tried to create something new. If I’ve ended up making a bad film out of a fantastic book, the book will still be fantastic. The film can’t destroy it. But I hope of course that the film functions.”
Alfredson was arriving in Oslo on Tuesday along with actress Rebeca Ferguson, who plays Hole’s colleague Katrine Bratt. They’ll stroll up a red carpet placed outside Oslo’s large Colosseum cinema along with Jakob Oftebro, the only Norwegian actor with a key role in the film. Fassbender would not be attending, but has told reporters he enjoyed filming in Norway and would like to return. That, however, was before all the Norwegian reviews came out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Norwegian critics’ ice-cold reception of “The Snowman” expanded on Wednesday – see the latest reviews, and the director’s response, here.