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What’s in a Name, Anyway?

Published Nov 13, 2006 - (Updated Aug 30, 2013)

What’s in a Name, Anyway?-Main

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2006 issue.

What’s in a name? Well, at the video store, a clue as to what movie we’re holding in our hands would be nice!

You’d think it would be a no-brainer, but because most of the movies in Puerto Vallarta were made in English and then translated for the Mexican market - and we certainly don’t mean literally - their titles sometimes differ so vastly from the originals that they boggle the mind.

And while it’s great that we have the option of watching movies in the comfort of our own homes when the beach and cocktailing pale, picking up a particular film may not simply be a matter of grabbing it on the fly at Blockbuster, regardless of how familiar we are with that international chain. That is unless we get lucky and the person waiting on us happens to know the titles in both languages, because even gringos with a good handle on Spanish have a hard time deciphering movie names designed to appeal to the Mexican psyche, whether converted into English or not.

While the United States is the biggest producer of commercial films in the Americas, and extensive market research goes into choosing titles that effectively tap into the hopes, dreams, fears and so on of its citizens, when distributors move them across the globe they’re translated to respond to the imperatives of other cultures. And the result is that here in Mexico we can end up with names that seem arbitrary, that bemuse and confuse. So we’ve been known to rely on what else is on the DVD cover - like the stars appearing in the thing. (Although this method cannot be said to be foolproof when prolific actors are involved!)

To give you an example of what we’re talking about, “Guess Who” was reinvented as “Conquistando a mi Suegro,” which translated back to English means “Conquering My Father-In-Law.” Now how many of you would have known that?

“Love,” however, does seem to make the world go round when it comes to Mexican movie monikers, “Moulin Rouge” becoming “Love in Red,” “Shallow Hal” rented as “Blind Love,” “84 Charing Cross Road” rejigged to “Never Saw Her, Always Loved Her” and, for some strange reason, “Sleepless in Seattle” known as “Love (Radio) Tuning.”

Other head-scratchers include “The Sound of Music.” Bizarrely, when you consider that its mass appeal was based on its innocence and that it starred the demure young Julie Andrews, it ended up as “La Novicia Rebelde,” or “The Rebel Nun!”

Eerily, “The Stepford Wives” transformed into “The Perfect Women,” while Nicolas Cage’s “The Weather Man” became “The Sun of Every Morning.” The 2004 thriller, “The Manchurian Candidate,” starring Denzel Washington, was released as “The Ambassador of Fear.” And “Regarding Henry,” a romantic drama starring Harrison Ford, became “The Force of Truth.”

And how’s this for keeping us guessing? John Candy’s comedy “The Summer Rental” became “Verano de Locura,” which means “Summer Madness,” even though George Lucas’ classic “American Graffiti” had already been named “Locura de Verano,” which also means “Summer Madness.”

Latin American distributors have been known to back themselves right into a corner, like when the highly successful film “The Omen” was released and the word “omen” was translated as “profecia,” or prophecy. Then, 19 years later, a film actually titled “The Prophecy” came along, and they were forced to call it “God’s Soldiers” - ostensibly to avoid, you guessed it, confusion.

On the other hand, we have to admit that the translation of “Thelma & Louise” actually does make sense: “The Unexpected Ending.” As does the Mexican name for the classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” - “Diamonds for Breakfast.” After all, why should folks in Latin America know what or where Tiffany’s is? And when you think about it, what more memorable name could there be for Olivia Newton-John’s 1978 feel-good movie “Grease” than “Vaseline?”

Who’s That Nun?

Our very own take on “The Sound of Music,” aka “The Rebel Nun,” is portrayed by none other than “Vallarta Lifestyles” contributing writer Norma Schuh. A talented actress, Norma plays a streetwise nun from Brooklyn named Sister Robert Ann in “Nunsense on Vacation in Puerto Vallarta,” an outrageous take on Dan Goggin’s successful musical revue. “Nunsense” returns to Santa Barbara Theater in the South Side every Wednesday beginning in November after last season’s successful run.

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