Newly arrived in Ramsdale, New Hampshire, European émigré Humbert Humbert is smitten. He plans to marry Charlotte Haze. That way he’ll always be close to his dear one – Charlotte’s precocious daughter! Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick explores the theme of sexual obsession (a subject he would revisit 37 years later in Eyes Wide Shut) with this darkly comic and deeply moving version of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. James Mason plays devious, deluded Humbert: wedded to needy Charlotte (Shelley Winters); rivaled by the ubiquitous Clare Quilty (chameleonlike Peter Sellers); and enraptured to his gelatinous core by the blithe teen (Sue Lyon) with that “lovely, lyrical, lilting name” – Lolita.
It's amazing to me how a story like 'Lolita' was ever made into a film. Not only that, but it has been remade over and over again, with audiences still loving it. Don't get me wrong, I'm one of those audience members who loves 'Lolita', both the novel by Vladimir Nabokov and Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film version. Hell, I even own one of the original French movie posters of the film, which is displayed in my house. But to make a film back in the early 60s with such a controversial taboo subject as 'Lolita' has, somebody somewhere had to make a lot of changes to get past the MPAA.
Before 1962, Kubrick had already made a name for himself in film, with movies like 'The Killing', 'Paths of Glory', 'Fear and Desire', and 'Spartacus'. But 'Lolita' is usually the first film from Kubrick to appear in the never-ending box sets since the first one came out on DVD more than fifteen years ago. The main reason for this is that this is where Kubrick started to become bigger than life and able to take total creative control of his films. Something that Kubrick was a stickler about and usually turned out that his adaptation of whatever novel he was making, turned out better than the book itself. And that is something very rare.
But with 1962's 'Lolita', Kubrick still had to fight and work around studio execs, actors, and producers to get this movie made, because of the intense subject matter. Kubrick went on to say that if he had to do it over, he probably wouldn't have made the film since he had to constantly jump over obstacles and change his vision to make the censors and executives happy. The result is surprisingly still an excellent film, but is far different from Nabokov's novel from 1955. Kubrick even had to change actors, because the actors he had asked were too scared to take on the roles, because of the controversial subject, which was basically pedophilia.
So Kubrick had to re-work and re-write the script, which is much more comical than the book, but left the sexual innuendos and sex scenes to the viewer's minds and thoughts, rather than show anything remotely of the sorts. Needless to say, Kubrick was very cautious with making 'Lolita'. The film starts out with the end of the movie as we see a man kill another man in cold blood. We flash back several years before this incident where we meet the killer, who is Professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) who teaches at the local college. He is looking to take in a vacation before he heads back up to the university for the school year and comes across a woman named Charlotte Haze-Humbert (Shelley Winters), who owns a big house where she rents out rooms.
This pushy woman entices Humbert to come stay at the house where he is reluctant to do so until he sees Charlotte's young daughter Dolores or 'Lolita' (Sue Lyon) for short. Humbert immediately falls for the very young Lolita and decides to stay in the house. In Kubrick's film version, we see the Humbert is simply a man in love, but it is a forbidden love since the girl is so young, but in the novel, Humbert has a wide variety of problems, which give way to his creepy and unnatural infatuation with Lolita. A couple of mishaps and accidents happen, leaving Humbert and Lolita together as they travel across country from hotel to hotel where they pose as father-daughter by day and lovers by night. Meanwhile, someone keeps popping up wherever they go, usually in different disguises.
This person is Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers), who usually throws a nail into Humbert's plans for Lolita. But this all builds and shows us what led Humbert, a man of questionable morals, but respected by everyone to kill a man. Kubrick, in order to appease the execs and producers, as well as make an excellent film took away the aspect of Humbert's motives for loving a much younger woman and instead put that focus on Lolita.
What is supposed to shock us, never ultimately does, and instead things play out comically with excellent performances by everyone involved. Still, it would have been interesting to see if Kubrick were to make this in the late 70s or 80s, if it would have been a much different and more disturbing picture than it was back in 1962. Perhaps we will never know.
'Lolita' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which was what Mr. Kubrick would have wanted. This transfer is leaps and bounds better than the previous DVD releases and looks simply amazing. There is a very organic and filmic look still to the picture, as there is a very nice layer of gran that never distracts. Detail is sharp and vivid. So much so that we can finally see individual hairs stand out and stitching in clothing during closeups.
Wider shots are a tiny bit softer, but it is never a big issue. It just feels like there is so much depth, visually speaking to this film now. The black and white color scheme looks excellent. The contrast is perfect with the whites looking crisp, the grays looking excellent the black levels running deep and inky. There is a hint of some crush, but it is very minor and doesn't last long. There are no instances of any banding, aliasing or video noise, let alone any dirt or debris to speak of, leaving this video presentation with top marks and the best this film has ever looked.
This release comes with a variety of lossless DTS-HD 1.0 Mono mixes in several different languages. I'm sure we will all pick the English one, but the others sound just as good too with great and easy to follow subtitles if you need them. This sounds excellent for being a mono mix, but can be a little to overcrowded at some points with sound effects, ambient noises, dialogue, and the score all coming in at once. That being said, it still sounds very good.
I just wish there was an option for at least a stereo or 5.1 mix as well. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. It's free of any pops, cracks or hissing. The score is fantastic and always adds to each comical and taboo scene perfectly, while not drowning out any dialogue to much. Ambient noises and sound effects are lively as well. This is a great audio mix, but the video presentation is where people will notice the upgrade.
Trailer (SD, 2 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
'Lolita' is one hell of a film from Mr. Kubrick and so early in his career. The performances alone are outstanding, but it's how Kubrick portrayed the taboo subject matter here that has resonated with audiences since the early 60s. After all these years, the film is still funny yet controversial to a certain degree. The video and audio presentations are top notch, but the lack of extras is sickening. That being said, 'Lolita' comes highly recommended.