The idea of adapting Ira Levin’s 1967 novel Rosemary’s Baby and its much-reviled 1997 sequel Son of Rosemary into a TV-miniseries has been bouncing around Hollywood for years. In 2005, ABC Television acquired the rights and announced a Rosemary’s Baby miniseries for its Fall 2006 schedule. When that project failed to materialize, the network made a similar announcement (to similar result) in 2008. In each instance, fans of Polanski's film breathed a collective sigh of relief, attributing the abandonment of each project to an 11th-hour attack of common sense on the part of the producers. Or, at the very least, a dawning awareness of the fool’s journey involved in remaking a film widely regarded as a modern classic and one of Hollywood’s few faithfully rendered adaptations of a popular bestseller.
Having been taken down this road several times before, when I learned that NBC had actually made good on its lingering threat…I mean, promise…to turn Rosemary’s Baby into a four-hour telefilm, my natural curiosity trumped my innate cynicism. I knew I was going to watch the TV remake, even if only to satisfy my curiosity over what degree of hubris could possibly inspire the kind of delusional, presumptuous, thick-headed arrogance necessary for one to think they should try their hand at Levin’s modern gothic masterpiece. Especially when, in 1968, a young, pre-felony Roman Polanski fairly batted that particular Satanic ball well out of the park.
And that was just my curious side.
My cynical side suggested to me that the producers, in lieu of trying to arrive at a reasonably fresh approach to justify the need to retell a story already quite expertly told, merely went in search of a marketing hook. One such hook was the simple updating of the story. A lazy but valid pandering to those viewer factions devoted to never watching anything older than the age of their cellphones. The other hook was tried and true, "Strike while the iron is hot!" angle. The horror genre was experiencing something of a renaissance on TV. The popularity of the FX Network’s anthology series American Horror Story: Coven temporarily made witches relevant again, and NBC’s own blood-soaked Hannibal has shown there to be a viable market for network-suitable horror. With these two ratings hits on the charts, Rosemary’s Baby: the redux had at last surmounted its most significant remake obstacle: the ascertaining of a distinct ratings demographic to which to pitch its advertising.
|Rosemary's Baby - 1968|
Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Stanley Blackmer
Directed by Roman Polanski
|Rosemary's Baby - 2014|
Zoe Saldana, Patrick J. Adams, Carole Bouquet, Jason Isaacs
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
|Minnie & Roman|
|Roman & Margaux|
Rosemary’s Baby: The feature film, is a seminal horror classic, integral in moving the horror film from the B-movie bargain basement into the mainstream. Rosemary’s Baby: The miniseries, while respectful, ultimately proved itself an innocuous work of professional competency. By any qualitative standard that makes a movie resonate with me (character development, physiological sensitivity, narrative cohesion, use of cinema vocabulary, subtlety) there really is no comparing the two.
(In the interest of brevity, Rosemary’s Baby and its remake will hereafter be referred to as RB1 and RB2, respectively.)
Contemporary culture’s disavowal of all things spiritual -“There are no witches, not really,” coupled with the credence granted surface appearances -“Honey, they’re old people, and they have a bunch of old friends….” is precisely how it is possible for an unimaginable evil to flourish, undetected, right under everyone’s noses. RB1 plays with our notions of safety by showing us how easy it is for evil to hide in plain sight.
|Standing in for The Bramford, La Chimere: an exclusive Paris apartment building|
RB1 was released at a time when the Catholic Church was in a state of reformation. Pope Paul VI (his 1965 new York visit is referenced in the film) took strides to modernize the church’s image, while simultaneously, Christian theologian Paul van Buren was making headlines with his “God is Dead” theories. Into this atmosphere came a horror film whose premise was viewed by many to be a bastardization of the allegory of the Christ child. A reversal of the New Testament Christian myth complete with a divine father figure, a chosen vessel, and a birth–signifying the dawning of a new era–attended by adoring followers.
In Levin's fantasy, Satan, Rosemary (significantly, a lapsed Catholic) and the birth of the anti-Christ, all signaled the dawning of a new Dark Age for the world. A bleak period all too imaginable given the climate of the times (gun violence, political assassinations, urban riots, the Vietnam War). In the socially-conscious world of the 60s, Rosemary's Baby as a quasi-religious horror parable had an eerie urgency that struck a chord with the public.
Polanski knew the only way RB1 would work was to ground it firmly in a recognizable reality. RB2 goes ludicrously in the opposite direction and situates itself within a reality known only to television. The world inhabited by the Parisian Castevets is of the elite rich (are we supposed to be impressed, or repulsed?); racism is non-existent (the film is either unaware or purposely ignores the implications of what it means to present a solitary black woman at the center of a horror narrative in which she is ceaselessly exploited by a league of white people); and Catholicism plays no part (can't risk offending anyone, for ratings sake). It's a world so artificially realized that some viewers actually thought this Rosemary’s Baby had a happy ending (!!).
Saldana is not given much assist with the epically inexpressive Patrick J. Adams, whose sole, all-purpose expression (noodly wimp) supports a Guy Woodhouse that makes absolutely no psychological sense. He's not ambitious enough to be convincingly evil, and seems too slow-witted to be wily. On the plus side, Adams is so unrelentingly awful, his work has the potential of making folks look more kindly upon the subtleties of John Cassavetes' underappreciated performance.
RB2's saving grace and sole element of inspired casting and character is Carole Bouquet's Margaux Castevet. I absolutely love the changes in the character, how she's written, and how she's played. Mysterious, maternal, malevolent, VERY sexy...it's the only part of RB2 to which I'd give an unqualified thumbs up.
|Mrs. Castevet, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?|
I've been crazy about Rosemary's Baby since it scared the crap out of me as a child in 1968. It has always seemed to me such an ideal, perfectly realized film...I never seriously thought anyone would really attempt remaking it. Well, they finally did, and after seeing it, I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a slight sense of vindication in my belief that Polanski's film is precisely Levin's novel, ingeniously adapted, and should be left alone. With Hollywood hooked on so many remakes and continually returning to the well of past successes, a great deal of our culture today seems on a fast track course of mediocrity.
Example: Had NBC's Rosemary Baby proved a ratings hit, I'm almost positive it would have spawned a series. But who really ever needed to know what happened after Rosemary's child was born? Isn't it more rewarding to have our individual imaginations fill in whatever grim or happy future we envision for The AntiChrist? The notion of a TV series is just another indication that TV too often panders to the literal-minded who are made uneasy by ambiguity. Those who require every detail and consequence S-P-E-L-L-E-D O-U-T.
Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby, the ill-advised 1976 TV-movie sequel to Rosemary's Baby, is available on YouTube. Has to be seen to be believed. It stars Patty Duke as Rosemary, George Maharis as Guy Woodhouse, Ruth Gordon (shame on you), Ray Milland standing in for passed-away Sidney Blackmer, and Tina Louise...as The Movie Star.