I hadn’t planned to write about Rosemary’s Baby the mini-series – wasn’t watching four hours of it enough of a time sink? – yet I find I can’t let the jaw-dropping idiocies of this project pass without comment.
Ira Levin’s novel is no masterpiece, but in its way it’s perfect – a thrilling page-turner that is gripping not only as contemporary horror story, but also a knowing portrait of young marrieds, swept up in the glamour of New York. (I read it in Junior High, and was completely transfixed.) Roman Polanski’s 1968 film version was even better –remarkably faithful to Levin’s book, but with an added sense of sophisticated ambiguity.
Here’s some of what happened when the geniuses at NBC got hold of RB:
- Levin’s setting – a Manhattan apartment based on the Dakota – was a brilliant choice, both grand and creepy, and embodying the kind of life Rosemary and Guy lusted after. At the time of the writing, it was also a fact that the real Dakota housed a very mixed bag of tenants – alongside celebrities, there were still some rent-stabilized holdouts from another era.
- Agnieszka Holland’s tone-deaf adaptation moves the action to Paris for no particular reason, and then treats the city as nothing more than a generic pretty location.
- The original RB featured the unlikeliest imaginable coven members – seemingly sweet old characters who might have been bused in from a tiny Midwest town. It was macabre and funny, and as Minnie Castevet, Ruth Gordon gave one of the great comic performances on film. In the NBC version, the coven is made up of rich Eurotrash – exactly the sort of people you expect to have dark secrets. The stunningly attractive Carole Bouquet plays Minnie (now Margaux) Castevet. As an actress, Bouquet is… well, she’s stunningly attractive.
- As written, Guy Woodhouse (Rosemary’s husband) is an aspiring actor. Levin, who was an accomplished Broadway playwright, knew that world thoroughly – it feel real, and (sorry, actors) the vanity we associate with the profession made Guy’s moral compromises seem plausible.
- Here, Guy is some kind of novelist by night, literary scholar by day – already straining credibility (especially as embodied by the boyishly pretty but feckless Patrick J. Adams). Nothing is more ridiculous here than the inexperienced Guy’s job interview to be chair of literature at the Sorbonne. (Note to TV writers, who apparently have no experience with academia – literature and creative writing programs are usually separate entities. Both are chaired by people with experience, and the appointment process does not involve a standard job interview.)
- More Guy silliness – my favorite moment has Guy being introduced to various party guests by his host, Jason Isaacs, who says, “this is what a real intellectual looks like.” (At this moment, the voice inside my head said, “No – Susan Sontag is what a real intellectual looks like. This is what a B-list TV actor looks like.”)
- Zoe Saldana was likeable enough as Rosemary – as with the original, Mia Farrow, she’s probably more notable for charm than any deep talent. But Farrow’s cheerful naïvete was absolutely perfect – we need to believe Rosemary’s gullibility, or nothing in the premise works. Saldana’s Rosemary was deliberately feistier, but that makes it worse – how could a smart urbanite possibly not see through this?
- Polanski’s RB had psychological complexity; Holland’s has gore by the bucketful.
- Polanksi’s RB runs 136 minutes; Holland’s is interminable.
I could go on, but why? This is the takeaway – I watched Rosemary’s Baby, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.