Lolita (1997)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate)
Movie Connections:
> Lolita (1962)
> Lolita (1997)
Drama, Erotic Drama, Psychological Drama, Road Movie
Adrian Lyne Adrian Lyne
Jeremy Irons Jeremy Irons
Melanie Griffith Melanie Griffith
Frank Langella Frank Langella
Dominique Swain Dominique Swain
Suzanne Shepherd Suzanne Shepherd

6.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: September 19, 2004
The storyline here is basically the same as it was in the original, but with a fair number of twists thrown into the mix throughout. This time around, we start the movie with Humbert Humbert as a fourteen-year-old teenager, where he meets up with a young lady of the same age. They fall in love, all is well, until this lady dies of some illness. Skipping up to the present (1947), we join up with a much older Humbert (Jeremy Irons), and his voice over talks of how that girl from his youth changed him forever, how he misses her still, and so on. He has a teaching job lined up for him, but before he starts work there, he'd like to finish up a literature textbook that he's been working on, so he plans to stay with some friends of his uncle here in America while he finishes his book. However, when he shows up at the house that he's supposed to be staying at, he finds that it's burnt to the ground, leaving him homeless in effect. Charlotte Haze (Melanie Griffith), another friend of the family, offers him a room for the low price of twenty dollars a month. Upon checking out the house, Humbert decides that it's too sloppy and disorganized for him to stay in, and prepares to leave... but Charlotte insists on showing him the garden, which he takes a look at. While checking it out, he sees her daughter Lolita (Dominique Swain), and instantly falls in love with her, even though she's only fourteen years old. He changes his mind about not taking the room, and moves in with the family in order to be around Lolita. His obsession with the underaged girl grows daily, she begins to return the affection, and a number of twists pop up throughout...

Now, I've not read the book that both this and the original version of the movie were based on, so I couldn't tell you which version was more faithful to the source material. Both versions have the same general storyline going on, though this vision of the film puts a different perspective on the story. In the original, Humbert was portrayed as a very sympathetic character, but here, he's almost made out to be the villain of the movie. While I won't say that having sex with a well-underaged girl is a respectable thing to do, this version of the character made things much more phony and dull, as opposed to Kubrick's version which seemed very natural and realistic throughout. Another problem that I had with this version of the story was the way Lolita was handled. In the original, she's quite the temptress to Humbert, but it's done up with class and again, seems very realistic. Here, she's portrayed almost as a slut, constantly throwing herself at Humbert before they start to "get together" later in the film, and later moves on to be quite the bitch towards him. Again, this makes things seem very fake throughout, and since Humbert is portrayed as the bad guy, it leaves us with no characters to care about. That's the main problem with this version, as opposed to the original. In the original, we had a set of normal people who get into an unusual situation; there's no villains, there's no victims, just normal people. Here, in typical Hollywood fashion, everything is either black or white; Humbert is a bad guy for the things he's doing, Lolita is the victim and plans to do something to get out of the situation, and the people they come into contact with are also painted in the same one-or-the-other light. Depending on what sort of person they're supposed to be, they're constantly doing things to reinforce that image; Humbert smacks Lolita a number of times to remind us that he's the villain, and Lolita is constantly yelling at the camera that she's the victim here. All of this led to a pretty typical movie, with not a whole lot going to separate it from any number of other relationship-films out there. The final thing that I'll bitch about here is the way Claire Quilty's (Frank Langella) character is handled. I won't mention who he is for the sake of those who haven't seen either movie, but he's a pretty important character in the grand scheme of things in both versions. In the original, he's portrayed as a very intelligent guy who wants to make art-films at his hippie ranch. Here, he's portrayed as a pedophile who specializes in hosting gang-bangs with underaged kids while filming every bit of it. Again, I haven't read the book, so I couldn't tell you which version (if either) he was there... however, this new take on the character seemed very out-of-place, and brought things down just a bit more.

On the acting side of things, I'll make the comparisons quite simple. Nobody in the new version does a better job than the actor or actress playing the same role in the original. Dominique Swain (Lolita) is a few steps below Sue Lyon (the original Lolita), but she comes the closest to being on par with the old-schoolers. While I do believe that the character she portrayed was pretty fake and obnoxious, the actress did do a good job with the role, I'll give her that much. Jeremy Irons (Humbert) is decent enough, though a very large step down from James Mason (the original Humbert). He delivers his lines well enough, but from a visual stand-point, he's just there... there's no sort of facial expressions to further develop a scene, and you can't tell what he's thinking just by looking at his face. James Mason had that, so it was a bit of a let-down to see this new guy in the role. Melanie Griffith (Charlotte) is the worst of the bunch here, completely ruining the role that Shelley Winters did so good in. Her accent is so incredibly fake, she seems lost in the role, and she just seemed like she was there for the check. Thankfully, the build-up involving Charlotte and Humbert's home-life was considerably condensed from the original, so she didn't have much time to screw up the movie.

Overall, this may have been a mediocre movie on its own, but as a remake to a very classic film, it just doesn't deliver. There's nothing majorly new here to warrant a viewing if you've seen the original, and it really isn't a good way to get introduced to the storyline if you haven't. One last note, don't be fooled by the hype that this version is much more erotic and revealing than the original. True, there was a lot of insinuating going on in Kubrick's telling, and I did indeed think it would be nice to have things shown a bit more. Even that was a letdown, as the only difference in that regard was a few panty-shots and a lot of penises swinging in the wind towards the end. You can be the judge on whether or not that makes this more erotic, but for myself, the answer would be no.

Final score: 4/10.
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Shakes #1: Shakes - added 01/20/2009, 10:07 AM
An unnecessary "remake." Not a bad movie, but not very good, either. 4/10
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