One of the most beloved literary classics of the 20th century -- and rightfully so -- the 1985 novel Love in the Time of Cholera by the Colombian-born Gabriel García Márquez made its first cinematic appearance in 2001. In Peter Chelsom's Serendipity, it was the book in which the playful Sara (Kate Beckinsale) wrote her name and phone number, in the hopes that her would-be lover Jonathan (John Cusack) would find it. He spends years searching for it, flipping through every copy of the book that he can find. That movie doesn't have many fans, but I'm fond of it, and in a way, it's truer to the spirit of Márquez's novel than Mike Newell's more straightforward movie adaptation that opens in theaters this week. Whereas Chelsom's film attempted to capture the feel of the novel, Newell's film attempts nothing more than a translation.
That's a big problem right there. The novel was originally written in Spanish, and though the English translation is quite beautiful, it's still a translation. The new movie is filmed in English, so it's an adaptation of a translation. Then, we have a director from England, Mike Newell, who has absolutely no cultural connection to the Caribbean, where the story is set. Of course, no director could perfectly, accurately represent the novel on the screen, but it's possible to start from a slightly better vantage point. On top of that, the story takes place over fifty years, which in a novel is no problem. But in a movie it requires layers of age makeup, a process that, as movie technology gets better and better, seems to get worse and worse (imagine how awful this will look on HD-DVD or Blu-Ray six months from now). And, on an emotional level, stories that cover that kind of immense time span tend to leave out life's most innocuous, but telling and truthful, moments in favor of great plot lurches and story highlights. It becomes like a Reader's Digest "condensed novel."