Missing Heads, Strange Tweets, and Other Questions about the ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ Leak

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in the new version of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

What began as news of a leaked trailer for David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has turned into an Internet-wide debate over movie-marketing gimmicks.

Uploaded to YouTube on Saturday by a European user identified only as “dobvlvstiuwir,” the allegedly bootlegged trailer was at first taken at face value, its appearance breathlessly reported by the media’s most reliable sources.

But by Sunday, after random oddities and inconsistencies led The Hollywood Reporter and CNN.com to suggest that the “leak” was actually a Millenium Triology-inspired publicity effort by the film’s creators, Columbia Pictures/Sony Films, those same sources jumped on the bandwagon. Throwing around words like “conspiracy” and “hoax” — to describe a movie-marketing campaign — even those questioning Sony’s black-hat promotional methods were at the same time fueling its movie tie-in concept.

*Update! The official trailer is now available and it’s after the jump!

Apparently recorded in a theater by handheld camera, the trailer does feel like an authentic bootleg — for about 6 seconds. After some initial shakiness, however, perhaps done intentionally at first, to establish amateur status, the preview’s video and sound quality are perfectly fine. (All sites that posted the trailer now have a message saying it has has been removed due to copyright claims by Sony Pictures.)

Of more interest to doubters is the preview’s MPAA red-band advisory: If the trailer was really taped in Europe, they asked, why would it include a U.S.-ratings board warning?

More tellingly, Sony Films didn’t respond right away. When a rep finally did comment late Monday, he explained that the trailer had in fact played in the U.S., ahead of The Hangover Part II, and that’s where the studio believes the “leak” originated.

That would explain the MPAA banner. But considering the popularity of The Hangover Part II, it’s hard to believe not a single fellow moviegoer’s head — not a cough, even — made it onto the video. A private Sony screening room seems more likely.

Looking back at Sony Pictures’ Friday tweets makes it all even harder. One linked to a breaking news item in Pitchfork, which announced Dragon Tattoo‘s soon-to-be-released trailer would feature a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Trent Reznor and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. As a Movieline tweet pointed out, that’s the song in the so-called “leaked” preview — and amazingly, it’s playing in stereo.

The same afternoon, Sony’s Twitter feed linked to a Rope of Silicon post confirming that an all-audiences preview would launch Thursday, June 2 — a post which itself linked to a suspiciously timed Deadline Hollywood entry babbling about how the red-band trailer was already playing in Europe but had yet to hit the Internet.

While dobvlvstiuwir’s original post was removed from YouTube on Tuesday — reportedly at Sony’s request — it had already exceeded 1,066,583 views. And the four-day delay, in which neither Sony nor YouTube made any effort to take down the highly trafficked but illegal trailer, allowed ample time for what appears to be every other site on the Web to repost the video.

The pseudo-leaked trailer not only plays on elements of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo storyline via its method of distribution, but also relies fast-cut, overexposed film footage to establish the U.S. version’s chilly,  Fincher-pre-Social Network atmosphere. Those familiar with the late Stieg Larsson’s novels will find the red-band preview captures their essence well — and with fewer consonants to wade through.

Excepting the possibility of a lone Dragon Tattoo enthusiast, it’s fairly obvious this an intentional buzz-building move by Sony Films. And the bottom line is, it absolutely served its purpose, hundreds of times over: Media outlets from Entertainment Weekly to IndieWire, Mashable to msnbc.com, covered the “leak” and ensuing drama. The same outlets will likely follow up when the next “clue” is discovered.

There is one major problem with all this, and it’s not easy to ignore. Whether it cleverly complements a movie plot or not, it’s borderline baffling that a studio would essentially endorse piracy to market a movie. As much as it may have been effective in this instance, it seems a little like, well, playing with fire.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is due in theaters December 21.