When a movie is remade I usually look for something different from the original, something new brought to the screen. Lolita is such a remake. The late, great director, Stanley Kubrick, did the original film treatment of this movie, based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, in 1962. Back then, the restrictions on films were much more severe. The moral climate less tolerant than found today. As such, Kubrick was force to make certain concessions to the movie industry and other watchdog groups. He did, however, have the advantage of the books author writing the screenplay. Still, some portions of the books intensity were reduced to almost a slapstick demeanor. The 1997 remake had a greater freedom to present the novel in a light much closer to the power and disturbing nature of the Nabokov novel. Yet even in the freer climate of the late nineties, the films release was marred by controversy and shown only in a very limited release. Then, a slightly edited version was shown on cables Showtime network. Now, the full movie with many extras is out on DVD. The movie remains disturbing, upsetting and unsettling. One reason for this is the main character, Humbert Humbert, while in love with a fourteen year old girl is presented as an almost likeable character. Humbert is a typical man of some genteel upbringing that is doomed by his morally wrong obsession.
The cast that was assembled for this movie fits like a hand in a custom made glove. Melanie Griffin as Charlotte Haze, the mother of Lolita. She is a small town woman that tries to act sophisticated and worldly. Actually, the small town affectations are all too obvious. Humbert Humbert is incredibly played by Jeremy Irons. This actor as constantly displayed a wide scope to his talent and this film is no exception. His rendition of Humbert is of a man knowing something is wrong with how he feels and yet trapped by this awful obsession. You try to see Humbert as a monster but Irons gives him such a human side you almost pity him, almost. Next there is Claire Quinty, another pedophile but much darker than Humbert. Played by Frank Langella in the style subtle evil, quiet and waiting, Quinty is the dark side of Humbert, a figure in the shadows always a step behind. The crowning jewel of this cast is without a doubt Lolita, played by Dominique Swain. She was only fourteen when filming this movie so her mother and a team of lawyers had to be on the set. Swains portrayal of Lolita is a mixture of innocence and sexually awakening. She tests the waters with Humbert, seeing how far she can push him. Every move, every gesture is a reminder of how dangerous the situation has become.
The director, Adrian Lyne is no stranger to either hit or controversial movies. His previous films include Flashdance, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, Jacobs Ladder and Nine and a half Weeks. This list of credits demonstrates this director is willing to take a chance and push the envelope. In Lolita, Lyne is a master of contrast. The sexual tensions of the Haze home in stark contrast to the beautiful and serene countryside. The light surrounding Lolita as counterpoint to the murky darkness of Quinty. The sum effect is a tapestry that is woven from the widest range of man and nature. Lyne also let Swain play with the role a lot. This permitted her natural youthful qualities shine through this film.
The DVD itself is carefully crafted. The animated menus lead you though the disc and its many added features. One of the best extra is the actual screen test used for Swain. Her playfulness and reaction to the role was apparent even that early in the filming process. There is also an excellent commentary and a Showtime featurette. The film is in 1:85 aspect ratio with Dolby 5.1 sound. The topic of the film is heinous; the treatment is well worth the view.