First of all the movie itself is outstanding. Unlike the Kubrick version that focuses more on the comic aspects of the story, this film attempts to capture the original essence of Nabokov's novel. Lolita is one of Nabokov's best and arguably one of the top ten best novels of the 20th century. Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain deliver incredibly rich performances as characters you desperately want to loath but that wring out your sympathy none the less. The strength of Nabokov's novel is his deep, subtle and multi-faceted characterizations and these actors (in combination with a tight script that sticks to the book's dialogue) do a fine job of bringing them to life on the screen.
The film itself is beautiful. It's one of the most unabashed cinematographic movies I've seen in some time. The carefully calculated compositions, camera angles and rich set dressings remind me of Hitchcock in that the craft of filmmaking is evident in every shot but comes off with an almost simplistic ease. Unlike Hitch, many of the scenes involve dozens of complex camera setups and were shot with lots of extra coverage.
The Picture and Sound:
The transfer is well done with no edge shimmer and very little grain. The colors are fully (but not over) saturated with very lifelike flesh tones. I was particularly impressed with the 5.1 audio track, which exhibits thoughtful and subtle use of the surrounds. For a dialogue driven movie the quality is a welcome surprise with many interesting and moody uses of the 3D soundfield. It won't rock your sub but you will get more than a few artfully placed thumps.
This disc includes a number of interesting extras. First off is a nice audio commentary by director Adrian Lyne. He has a soft, melodic voice that's easy on the ear and his comments shed a great deal of light on his thought process, the film's production, his directorial style and his relationship with the cast and crew.
In addition there are two screen tests showing Lyne, Swain and Irons at work. They're a cool glimpse of the kind of on the fly creativity that would eventually make this movie so entertaining. The half-hour behind the scenes featurette is passable if a little slow. Too bad they didn't put the Charlie Rose interview with Jeremy Irons on. The eight deleted scenes included are just that: deleted scenes, not just longer or alternative versions of the existing shots. For the most part it's apparent why these scenes were dropped but one or two add depth to the characters and could easily have been kept in the final product.
Other extras include the obligatory cast and crew bios (in text that's more than a little difficult to read) and a lame script presentation that shows only three pages (you can jump to the three scenes in the film though which is nice. Too bad they didn't give the entire script this treatment). The animated menus are silent and moody, featuring gorgeous, dreamlike graphic designs.
As with Nabokov's original novel and Kubrick's film version this is a very controversial story. On the surface it seems to be about a sick pedophile but that read fails to give credit to one of the most thought provoking and challenging set of characters ever to come out of the western literary tradition. Lolita isn't an advertisement for child abuse, far from it. It's a tragic portrayal of complex people who are trapped between their animal instincts and the constraints of accepted morality. This is, without a doubt, one of the best examples of a novel to screen adaptation ever made. Nabokov would have been proud.