May 12, 2014

THE SKED Premiere Review: “Rosemary’s Baby” (Part 1)


No one could seriously imagine that the TV remake of ROSEMARY’S BABY would come close to Roman Polanski’s 1968 masterpiece, so let’s get the obvious over with in a single paragraph.  (The amazing thing, really, is that it’s lasted this long without an inferior reboot being made, although there was an awful 1976 made-for-TV sequel.)  Polanski’s film has aged smashingly, as scary, funny and tense as it was 45 years ago.  Although some of its references are dated (the Pope’s then-recent visit to New York was a key plot point), Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel is so tight, and the film is so centered on painstaking details of character and creepily accumulating atmosphere, that it remains thrillingly alive.  The NBC version takes everything that was inspired, eccentric and ambiguous about the film and sands it over.  The director Agnieszka Holland, who has done some very fine work in the course of her career, does an adequate job here, but seems to have been chosen for this particular project in the misguided belief that Polanski’s remarkable direction was somehow related to the fact that he was born in Poland.

What’s left, in Scott Abbott and James Wong’s script, is a horror drama that follows the general outlines of Levin’s tale, but feels completely conventional, like one of the many Rosemary’s Baby imitators that have followed over the decades.  This is especially clear in the conception of the performances.  Instead of Mia Farrow’s vulnerable yet slightly strange Rosemary, practically vibrating with near-hysteria, we get Zoe Saldana in a can-do version of the part, seen shortly after the opening credits chasing down a mugger through the streets of Paris.  (This version is set in Paris, at least in part due to local tax rebate laws.)  Instead of John Cassavetes’ wittily narcissistic portrayal of Rosemary’s actor husband Guy–a man who might rationalize selling his wife to the devil in exchange for a great part–here the man is yet another novelist with writer’s block, played blandly by Patrick J. Adams of Suits.  Ruth Gordon’s absolutely sui generis yenta devil-worshiper Minnie Castavet has been transformed into suavely Continental Margaux (Carole Bouquet, a former Bond girl), and her slightly bumbling husband Roman is now elegant Jason Isaacs.  (Margaux’s tie to Rosemary has also been given a soupcon of lesbian attraction, for that contemporary air.)  Where Rosemary once had an elderly friend who wrote children’s books, now she has generic buddy Julie (Christina Cole).  And so on.  It’s not that the new actors give bad performances, but that their roles have been stripped of everything that originally made them distinctive.

The new Rosemary’s Baby is also remarkably boring, despite its gore factor having been kicked up enormously from Polanski’s film, which featured almost no on-screen violence.  With 4 hours of airtime to fill, it takes the full first evening for Rosemary to even become pregnant, much of the extra time padded with a much more elaborate backstory about the former tenant in Rosemary and Guy’s apartment, and some extremely bloody flashbacks about the history of their building.

You get the idea.  This new Rosemary’s Baby feels much more like an offshoot of last year’s flop 666 Park Avenue than the masterful original film, and when it tries to do a call-out to a specific bit from Polanski’s version–as when the drugged, hallucinating Rosemary, being raped by the devil, yells out “This is really happening!”–it just embarrasses itself.

The second half of Rosemary’s Baby airs Thursday night at 9PM, but nothing in Part 1 would make watching it a priority.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."