I'm sure that director Stanley Kubrick ran into controversy telling the tale of an older (or should I just say old?) man obsessed with a young girl (in fact, the poster line was "how did they ever make a movie like "Lolita?"). Many thought that since times have changed, the 1997 remake by director Adrian Lyne would be met with somewhat less uproar. Still, it scared away most studios and although it did gross about 1m in theaters, the reportedly 45m budgeted film essentially went directly to video, even after positive reviews praised the cast.
Kubrick's tale is certainly the stronger one though, and although I'm sure everyone is familiar with the story, for review purposes I'll go through it once more. The movie opens with the unfortunately named Humbert Humbert (James Mason) coming to live at Charlotte Haze's house for the Summer. Charlotte has a daughter named Lolita (Sue Lyon), who Humbert instantly falls for with rather dangerous consequences. The two carry on their affair while Humbert pretends to be involved with Charlotte, who desires more attention. All the while, Humbert simply stays linked with her to maintain access to Lolita. There's other problems afoot though, as Humbert has a tormentor in Quilty (Peter Sellers), another man who is equally interested in Lolita.
The acting is superb across the board, especially Mason, who is excellent as Humbert. Lyon as Lolita and Shelly Winters as Charlotte are both very good, although I didn't consider either to be particularly outstanding in any way. The only real problem that I occasionally had with "Lolita" is its length. Although Kubrick's films have never been short, I've also never found myself bored with any of them. At about 2 1/2 hours, there are moments during "Lolita" where I found the picture dragging on a bit, especially during the second. Half. Still, it's a minor complaint for what is otherwise an excellent film, if certainly not the best film from Kubrick.
VIDEO: "Lolita" is presented in it's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio on this dual-layered disc. In a decision (like MGM's non-anamorphic 1.66:1 "Some Like It Hot") that's going to cause some definite dismay on the part of the viewer, the film has not been anamorphically enhanced. Still, as with some of the other titles in the set that have gotten similar treatment (Clockwork Orange, for example), the presentation still looks very good. The black and white picture exhibits good sharpness and detail although nothing that's going to stun anyone. Scenes now and then are rather softly focused, but I was pleased to see that the picture at least still holds upp with good definition.
Flaws are fairly few and far between. The real place I'd expected the image quality to suffer was in terms of print flaws, but I really didn't find that many throughout the film. As this is a "restored" edition, the picture has obviously been cleaned up since the original DVD release. All that's left is the occasional stray speckle or mark. The kind of thing you may catch out of the corner of your vision, but nothing that's going to take you out of the movie. Pixelation and edge enhancement are thankfully nowhere to be found.
Colors? Wait, there are no colors to discuss. Still, the black and white images looked rich, not faded or murky. Overall, I was quite pleased with most of the decisions that were made for this restored version of "Lolita".
SOUND: Although many of the films in this new Kubrick set have been presented with new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks (to mixed success), "Lolita" remains in mono and really remains no better or worse for the decision to present it as such. Obviously, there'd be no real purpose for a new 5.1 presentation and pleasantly, the mono soundtrack reveals itself to still be in pretty good shape. Although fidelity is lacking and the dialogue has an occasional "thin" quality to it, the presentation comes through clearly and cleanly, with no distortion or other such faults.
MENUS:: Although there is no animation for the menus, the main menu for the title is at least a little more lively with the score playing in the background. Film-themed images serve as backgrounds.
EXTRAS: The trailer and awards text. That's it, that's all. No film historian commentary, no documentary, no nothing. Although I've been pleased that Warner Brothers has done a mostly good job going back to re-do the a/v quality for these Kubrick titles, I really question the fact that nothing's improved in terms of features. After seeing nearly nothing after looking through several of these titles, I'm starting to wish that Criterion had gotten the rights to release their version of the Kubrick Collection (they've already got a great new edition of "Spartacus", so they'd be well on their way.
Final Thoughts: Again, you're not going to learn anything new about "Lolita" or its impact on cinema history from the disc (the trailer, being the only extra, wasn't too educational), but the presentation has been improved.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Audio: 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Extras: 70/C- = (210/300 possible points)
Menus: 75/C = (150/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B-