It should be clear from the beginning that NBC’s Rosemary’s Baby isn’t an attempt to remake Roman Polanski’s seminal 1968 film, but rather, to bring both productions’ source material, Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, into the 21st century. Taking that into account, Rosemary’s Baby is complicated, as the temptation to compare the novel, the film, and the mini-series is almost too much sometimes. Indeed, Rosemary’s Baby is not the same as its predecessors which, in some ways, makes it a minor triumph, even if it doesn’t end up being enough to save the entire mini-series.
For instance, while I initially struggled with the mini-series’ relocation from New York to Paris, it proved to be one of the stronger elements of the mini-series. Rosemary’s confusion at the ways of the world no longer relies on her innocence or naiveté; it is a cultural barrier as she finds herself a stranger in a foreign land. Furthermore, the relocation gives way to some fabulous sights, sprinkled throughout the 3-hour mini-series.
However, some of these changes do not benefit the story, but rather, distract from what could have been. When watching the featurette, “Fear is Born: The Making of Rosemary’s Baby,” the term “modern woman” is constantly being thrown around. Yet, Rosemary frequently defers to her husband’s will or when confronted by him, she simply becomes a weeping mess. Moments later, she’s “defying him” by going to the doctor of her choosing. Such minor details give way to major inconsistencies in character development. In the end, Rosemary is so manic, it seems entirely plausible that she’s just plain insane. Part of this stems from Ira Levin’s novel, which details themes of being trapped in domesticity and a woman’s subjugation under her husband. The novel this mini-series is based on is, in and of itself, a feminist novel; NBC’s attempt to interject “topical” plot points, such as women’s reproductive rights, muddles the point.
Ignoring the thematic inconsistencies becomes difficult when it begins to affect the characters. For instance, Rosemary is portrayed as a sort of unspoiled innocent. Innocence is key to the character of Rosemary Woodhouse. Yet, one of the first actions we see is her chasing down a mugger. While this might be appropriate in one of Zoe Saldana’s more action-driven roles, it is completely out of character for the Rosemary we see the rest of the film. Granted, this unlikely event is what leads her to the Castavets, setting things into motion, but it is indicative of the kind of mini-series the audience is watching; one where characters do what serves the story, rather than write events in a manner that progresses the character’s development and the narrative.
More than the character fluctuations to serve the narrative, though, is the lack of suspense in this television adaptation. For the first part of the mini-series, any thought that enters Rosemary’s mind is spoken aloud by the character herself. This is more annoying than anything else, but when Roman Castavet takes Guy Woodhouse by the side and all but says, “I’m the devil, I’ve got your hookup right here,” it becomes unbearable. While the fact that Guy betrays his wife is common knowledge to anyone who’s read the book or seen previous iterations, the blatant displays of manipulation undercuts the mini-series. It removes the element of paranoia that Rosemary feels and we, as the audience, should feel with Rosemary as our only window into the world. This probably speaks more to the network’s lack of faith in the intelligence of viewers than the actual subtlety of the filmmakers, but it seriously undercuts the min-series’ inevitable final act.
Rosemary’s Baby is a horror classic. It was when it was first published, its future solidified with Roman Polanski’s 1968 film. Unfortunately, this particular mini-series, which attempts and falters in its modernization of this story, will probably be as well remembered as Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby. While it has a slick and stylish presentation, the lack of character development, or depth, and modern television’s tendency to over-explain and show everything make Rosemary’s Baby more trouble than it’s worth.