Rosemary’s Baby: A Miniseries Event [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (14th September 2014).
The Show

“This isn’t a dream! This is real!”

When Roman Polanski adapted Ira Levin’s acclaimed horror novel “Rosemary’s Baby” in 1968, the filmmaker so closely adhered to the source material that, later, Levin himself called the production not just his favorite film based on something he’d previously written, but one of the best adaptations of any book ever committed to screen. Faithful isn't the world. Obsessive might come close. Polanski lifted entire lines of dialogue from the author’s pages, verbatim, and pulled production design details directly from them too. The director reportedly filmed every single chapter of the novel, page by page, translating everything, from the overarching sense of dread, on down to the most insignificant minutiae, like the fabric and color of the window bench cushions Rosemary makes in her nesting period. It’s unknown to anyone other than the filmmaker himself if Polanski’s rigid adaptation was a result of his notoriously meticulous nature, or, as producer William Castle once caustically wondered, because of his inexperience with both the Hollywood system and working from another writer’s material, the writer/director simply didn’t know he could change things.

Perhaps, as seems most likely, it was a bit of both. The first cut of Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” reportedly ran close to 4 hours. At the behest of Paramount and radical studio head Robert Evans, Polanski and editors Sam O’Steen and Bob Wyman eventually cut the picture down to 136 minutes; this final cut pulled out some of the novel’s inherent puffery, including subplots that were allegorical asides at best, but nevertheless retained the essence of the book, with Polanski’s patented preciseness for fine details direct from the page intact. With an additional 40 minutes on the clock, the new “Rosemary’s Baby”, helmed by another Oscar-nominated director from Poland, Agnieszka Holland, is closer to Polanski’s original 4 hour cut in overall runtime. The 2-part television miniseries originally aired on NBC in the United States, in 85-minute-minus-commercials halves on separate nights. And yet, somehow, protracted presentation be damned, it manages to accomplish less than the shorter, now 46 year old, theatrical version of the same story.

Despite the additional square footage in “Rosemary’s” new, televised, realm, and a “based on” credit in the opening title that includes Levin’s belated turn-of-the-millennium sequel, “Son of Rosemary”, the miniseries largely consists of an extremely loose reworking of the original “Rosemary’s” story. Even then, it’s mostly just a bloodied-up cash-in on Polanski’s film, rather than Levin’s book—and there is a difference between them, despite being so closely, almost slavishly, one-and-the-same—with some shot-for-shot nonsense that makes the entire endeavor seem completely unnecessary. Which, by the way, this remake most certainly is.

Not much is accomplished by the end of the first half, cutting out right at the climactic moment of conception. The second half rushes through 9 months of Rosemary’s life with-child, building rapidly if also haphazardly to the inventible birth of the baby foretold in the title. The miniseries follows the same basic, now famous plot of either source, with several changes for the sake of changing things and seemingly little else. A young couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (played by Zoe Saldana and Patrick J. Adams respectively, in roles originally occupied by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes), move into an apartment building that’s unknowingly tenanted by a Satanic cult shepherded by their seemingly nice, if invasive, next-door neighbors, the Castevets (Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs). A difference in the remake, and a detrimental one, at least in terms of the slow-to-unfold psychological-horror aspects that made the original film, and book, so interesting is the seemingly benevolent neighbors—an older couple in the original source, and the film—have been aged-down, and, more damningly, easily eviled up merely by casting alone.

Set in Paris, and slightly tweaked for a more modern setting, with smartphones and the ability to Google search almost anything including anagrams, the revised take on “Rosemary’s Baby” makes some deliberate detours from the source, far beyond the mere aesthetic, some totally troubling and others not a bother beyond irritated annoyance. Rosemary and Mrs. Castevet’s relationship is skewed from a smothering motherly vibe to heavily implied lesbianism, for reasons that I can only assume at least slightly stem from the European setting and the inherent need to sensationalize television these days. In the new take, Guy is a lecturer, and writer, rather than an actor. His inability to find employment on the screen shifted to severe writer’s block, although ultimately his trouble’s still overcome by literally making a deal with the devil. Rosemary’s lone confidant, the elderly Hutch, becomes her younger, female, ex-college-dorm-mate, Julie (Christina Cole), and Julie's part of an added subplot in which Guy pathetically tries to engage her in an affair. The mysterious murder of their apartment's previous tenants, which Rosemary tries to solve simultaneously with a Paris Police commissioner (Olivier Rabourdin), is shoehorned into the series to add intrigue that ultimately offers little illumination to the more pertinent pregnancy plot points.

In the oddest change, the devoutly Catholic Rosemary has her religiosity almost entirely removed, and projected onto her friend, Julie. In the new take, Rosemary’s an affective agnostic, which wouldn't necessarily be an issue, if the whole point, the main trust of the Satan-put-a-baby-in-her arc of the book, the primary crux of the film, was that the mother of the anti-christ is one of God’s Children. The titular baby’s origins like an ironic middle finger to on-high. I suppose, in today's market, in which broadcaster are both afraid to alienate the humanists and absolutely unwilling to offend the religious with preconceived blasphemy, the change was a necessity?

Admittedly, some of the modernization is rather inspired. Namely, in a present setting, Rosemary’s initial checkups with her doctor, which conflate the marvels of modern neonatal pre-screen imaging with the possibility of a whole host of problems at birth, is a rather astute tweak. The same fears Rosemary has in the film and book, which may or may not be a mentally-manifest madness, fittingly translate into a very real context, in which mothers are constantly told about the percentage of possible deformations and defects to ultimately bear perfectly healthy children. The miniseries is also handsomely produced, with strong production values, excellent camerawork, and a terrific score.

The acting is generally solid, with Saldana approaching her character from a decidedly different place than her mild-mannered predecessor. If Farrow’s meekness made her transformation into an milder, frailer figure all the more frightening, Saldana’s sturdier presence is exploited in an equally effective manner, as a strong woman is diminished, seemingly devoured by the creature crashing her womb. Guy is also granted greater depth with Adams’ portrayal, his hesitance and doubts after his deal is done closer to the character’s origin and arc than in the Polanski picture. Although, it must be said, Cassavetes’ performance has always been the weakest point of the film, so saying Adams’ is better is not saying much at all, really. Bouquet is no match for the marvellously mischievous Ruth Gordon; Isaacs is transparently evil from frame one, which really removes any of the doubt that there is a deviousness at work in every scene. But the biggest fault is in Scott Abbott and James Wong’s screenplay, which strips the film of its subtlety—and it’s elements of psychological horror—for modern conventions of over the top gore and a more conventional tone.

I suppose, on some level, the new “Rosemary’s Baby” is watchable. In fact, it is very watchable, if you have no frame of reference; if you’ve never read the book or somehow never heard of nor seen the classic film. It’s also a middling, not particularly memorable take on a masterpiece, if you have. The miniseries is especially pointless, drowned in the shadow of Polanski’s film, which has aged exceptionally well, in that, despite its 1960's setting, it really hasn’t aged at all. It’s still creepy; a definite slow burn, but impeccably constructed without the use of obvious gimmicks to elicit fear and scares, instead allowing a masterful sense of atmosphere to help the horror film transcend genre, and a sort of silly premise. The miniseries is almost the exact opposite, offering gratuitous violence and exploitive elements, with radically reconfigured characters and subplots that neither enhance nor alter the inevitable end point. There are points where the new “Rosemary’s Baby” really feels like a pregnancy unfolding in real time, which is to say it’s incredibly boring for anyone not directly responsible for the little guy or girl gestating inside the eventually big-bellied birth-giver.

Video

Taking the thoroughly modern approach of the miniseries into visual terms, “Rosemary’s Baby” was captured digitally with the latest Sony CineAlta camera system. Framed in the original 1.78:1 widescreen ratio of the original HDTV broadcast, Lionsgate’s 1080p 24/fps high definition AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer is striking and problem free, even if the cinematography is quite dark and stylized at times. Exteriors, filmed mostly in bright if occasionally overcast daylight, on location in Paris, offer richly rendered wide-angle shots and excellent clarity. It’s almost impossible to make the City of Lights look bad, especially when so many of the tourist spots are in frame, usually packed with people and splendid architectural textures. Most interiors are another story. Director of Photography Michel Amathieu employs a darker, more sinister tone within the Castevet and Woodhouse apartments, where illuminating shafts of light pour in from towering window banks and spotlight only the essentials; the lit part of the frame sharply clashing with the impenetrable shadows that surround. Contrast is largely superb, although some likely intentional black crush robs a few scenes of finer elements in the set design. And the hallucinatory dream sequences—or real life nightmares, depending on your read of the scenes—are shot with all sorts of photographic tricks; multiple exposures, split and blurred focus, and other types of deliberate distortion that greatly diminishes sharpness. Overall, the series offers nicely saturated primaries, including bold blood reds during a few of the gorier scenes. And the disc appears free of any serious compression problems or encoding anomalies.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (48kHz/24-bit) is at times as blunt as the instruments employed in a few of the bloody scenes of unnecessary gore. Dynamic range is very wide, with some rather bombastic bass during a few of Rosemary’s nightmares, especially her confrontation with a man who might very well be Satan himself, the pulsing heartbeat of both mother and child chillingly dominating. Dialogue is crisp, even at his harshest in hushed whisper. There’s some decent atmosphere, with subtle effects in on-location exteriors on the streets of Paris. And the sweeping, operatic, orchestral score by Antoni Lazarkiewicz has excellent clarity, and bleeds nicely into the surround channels in scenes lacking intense foley effects. It’s a solid track, if often overpowered and occasionally stunted by the completely unsubtle nature of the miniseries at times. The disc also includes English and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

“Rosemary’s Baby” is brought into the Blu-ray world with two brief featurettes and a few pre-menu bonus trailers. An HD digital copy of the 2-part miniseries is also included. The disc is authored with optional bookmarks and the resume playback function.

“Fear is Born: The Making of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1.78:1, 1080p; 12 minutes 3 seconds) is a bland EPK featurette in which the cast and crew bend over backwards to explain how their remake isn’t a remake. Actress/producer Zoe Saldana explains, “The desire wasn’t to do a remake of Roman Polanski’s version of ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ It was to actually tell the story again, with different eyes, in today’s world, and set in Paris—in a different city.” That sounds suspiciously like a very loose definition of remake to me… but what do I know? And why not point to Levin's book then, if Polanski's film was a source?

In the other featurette, “Grand Guignol: Parisian Production Design” (1.78:1, 1080p; 6 minutes 35 seconds) featurette, production designer Anne Seibel and other members of the cast and crew discuss the look of the miniseries, including the different demonic touches in the shadows of the Woodhouse and Castevet apartments. Better than the previous, quite perfunctory, featurette, this piece is still too short to really offer much than slight insight and self-serving adoration for this new adaptation.

Pre-menu bonus trailers for:

- “Hannibal: The Complete First Season” (1.78:1, 1080p; 1 minute 37 seconds).
- “Mad Men: Season 6” (1.78:1, 1080p; 1 minute 13 seconds).
- “Nurse Jackie: Season 5” (1.78:1, 1080p; 1 minute 26 seconds).
- "Lionsgate Television on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital" promo (1.78:1, 1080p; 1 minute 52 seconds).
- "EpixHD" promo (2.40:1, 1080p; 1 minute 34 seconds).

Packaging

Lionsgate Home Entertainment delivers “Rosemary’s Baby” on Blu-ray in a simple Elite eco-case. The two part miniseries is confined to a single, region A locked, dual layer BD-50.

Overall

Despite a decent performance by Zoe Saldana, whose take on the titular character is decidedly different than her predecessor, and some other minor redeeming qualities mostly on the technical end, the new “Rosemary’s Baby” is a plodding and pointless rehash. It’s a mediocre take on a masterpiece, relishing too much in shock value, mostly gore and some sexed up sensationalism, rather than more effective atmosphere and psychological horror. The series is certainly watchable, despite it’s flaws, but so is the much, much better original film, which has far fewer of them. The miniseries looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, but is nearly barren where extras are concerned. My recommendation is to skip this modern remake—retelling; re-adaptation; whatever—and watch Polanski’s film, either again or for the first time. It’s timeless, even 46 years after release. The TV miniseries will likely be forgotten by the end of 2014.

The Show: C Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: D+ Overall: C+

 


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