MAY 11/15, 2014
OK, The Exorcist, you're pretty much the only one left. Any list of the "Top 5 horror movies of all time" would likely include Rosemary's Baby, and now it (like fellow "greats" The Omen, The Shining, Halloween, and Psycho*) has been remade, albeit as a TV miniseries. Usually I'm pretty lenient when it comes to remakes, especially when it's a "remake" of a film that's based on a novel - my philosophy is, you don't consider any Dracula movie that comes along to be a "remake" of a Bela Lugosi film, so why should it be any different for The Thing or whatever? But the Polanski version of Rosemary's Baby (based on a book by Ira Levin) is unusual in this field in that he stayed almost precisely with the original text, not being aware that it was OK to change things, as it was his first adaptation. So that, in addition to the movie's much deserved stature as one of the best horror films of all time, makes any attempt at a redo rather puzzling: why bother? They can't use the "we're sticking more closely with the book" excuse (usually a bullshit one) that others can get away with, and it's not Polanski screwed anything up the first time.
To its credit, the filmmakers behind this version DO try to make their own movie; in addition to the new plot points and characters the extra hour affords them, they've changed the locale (Paris), the jobs (Guy is a writer now), and even the dynamic with regards to the Castavets (more on that later). Unfortunately, the movie they made is dreadfully dull and almost entirely suspense-free; I spent most of the time watching wondering who exactly the audience for the movie was, as it seemingly couldn't possibly intrigue fans of the original (or the book) OR newcomers. Fans would be annoyed by the changes, drawn out plot points (if you watched it live you had to wait 2 hours just for the "This is really happening!" moment, at which point you'd have to wait four days to see what happened next since that was the break point in this two-parter), and general "They don't GET it" feeling it will provide, while newcomers will merely be bored, watching without being armed with the knowledge that things eventually get more interesting.
Indeed, part 2 was an improvement over part 1, but by then it was too late anyway. The first half was a complete disaster; I can happily look at Zoe Saldana all day normally, but director Agnieszka Holland (an odd choice; I guess they thought this story should only be adapted by Polish directors?) and screenwriters James Wong (NBC's shortlived The Event) and Scott Abbott (Queen of the Damned) turned this into a chore, tossing her around various Paris locales and having her occasionally freak out or faint, or going from sickly and miserable to cheerful and trusting of her neighbors with no rhyme or reason. Abbott and Wong did not write it together it seems (dropping some trivia on y'all here: their writing credit is denoted with an "AND", which means they worked separately, an ampersand "&" would mean they wrote together), but I began to wonder if one man actually rewrote the other, or if they both wrote their own versions and Holland just grabbed pages from both at random to assemble her film.
See, as I mentioned earlier, the dynamic between Rosemary & Guy and the Castavets is different from the original; the John Cassavetes version of Guy found his neighbors to be weirdos at first, but gradually depended on them more and more, and while he seemed to harbor some regret over his actions at the very end (when he turns away, post birth), he was with them until that point, as Rosemary grew more and more mistrusting. Here, there's a period where he's at odds with Roman (Jason Isaacs); there's a baby shower scene where Rosemary is all grateful to them, but he's cold and has a face-off with Roman in the bathroom - this momentarily gave me hope (well, as much hope as I could muster three hours into the damn thing) that they'd do something really different and, even if it didn't work, give us a new experience for the grand finale. But alas, before long he's back on their side with her against them, and the movie's final 20 minutes or so play out almost word for word as the 1968 one did, save for a useless epilogue.
Oh, and (spoiler) a few shots of the baby, something Polanski left up to our imagination. This isn't a "he did it so you must do it too!" thing that I'm annoyed by (if anything I like remakes that do as much different as possible while retaining the basic story), but it's just dumb, because they retain the "He has his father's eyes" thing and when we see the baby it's just that the eyes are really blue. It's not a cheat, as the actor playing the Devil has striking blue eyes (indeed, he is credited as "Blue-eyed man"), but it's a giant shrug of a "reveal", and again, I can't imagine who'd be satisfied with this. The credits say that the movie is based on both the original novel and Levin's batshit sequel "Son of Rosemary" (where the now grown baby has 12 disciples and a betrayer named "Judith"!), which I kept hoping would actually play into the movie somehow, but ultimately, it just does the same thing as the original, albeit in nearly twice the time (again, with commercials).
So what do they do to fill up that other time? Well, lots of dream sequences, a friend for Rosemary (who meets her end in a scene that MUST have come from Wong's part of the script, as it's a Final Destination-y sequence of accidents resulting in a gruesome/funny demise), and other stupid stuff like that, plus a lengthy portion at the top where we have to get Rosemary and Guy into the building next to the Castavets. Rather than just have them move in so they can, you know, get on with the goddamn plot, first we meet them in LA, where she has a miscarriage. Then they go to Paris, and live in a dinky apartment. Then Rosemary gets robbed, and finds another wallet, which leads her to the Castavets, who invite them to a party and give them a cat, and then their apartment catches on fire, so finally THEN, some 40 minutes or so in, our protagonists move next door to the antagonists so we can start the part of the movie anyone who knows the story knows is going to happen. Going into prequel territory can actually work sometimes (it's working out great for Hannibal, which was bizarrely not advertised very much during the movie even though it should attract the same audience), but none of this really has any weight, because it's all just getting pieces into place and delaying the inevitable without giving us anything to really chew on in the meantime.
Another baffling choice was to cast Jason Isaacs as Roman. I love the guy, but unlike the original version of the character, you'll never understand why Rosemary OR Guy would ever trust him - he's Lucius goddamn Malfoy! He LOOKS sinister and even acts it, with his acts of generosity always coming off in the same way a mobster might when he offers to protect your business, before reminding you that you owe him. I kept thinking that they were just trying to fool us; maybe he'd turn out to be a mole within the group or something (or just doing like Snape, acting evil just to gain the real threat's trust), but no. It's just yet another of the many decisions that I don't disagree with just on principle, only on execution.
And that's the thing - I was actually kind of intrigued by the idea of doing a modern update of this story. All of my favorite horror movies (Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw, and even Carpenter's The Thing, sort of) have been remade, so it's not like I can get mad about one I quite like but probably wouldn't place in my top 50 all time favorite films (just horror, sure, but spanning all genres - there would probably only be like 10 horror films in there, actually). Plus, it's 46 years old at this point; we live in a world where we get remakes in under 20 years sometimes (or less if you go beyond horror; Amazing Spider-Man came along a mere 10 years after Raimi's version), so it's not like they were jumping the gun on anything. Also, and maybe this is most important (so of course I'll bury it at the end of my review), my own son will be born in just four weeks, and it's getting to the point where I get choked up over even the SLIGHTEST upsetting parent/baby issue in a movie or show because I'm so excited/worried about the upcoming arrival. So there's never been a better time for me to get taken in by this story, but it was so flat and uninvolving, I barely ever even made the connection. I think the extent of my identifying with the movie was noting that having a baby shower on a ship was a weird idea since they'd have a lot of gifts, remembering that it took me a while to bring ours in from the car. That's just a total failure on their part.
Based on the ratings, you all skipped this thing, and I doubt they'll rerun it anytime soon. I'm sure it'll end up on disc someday, but I urge you to avoid it unless you're a Saldana completist. It's possible that someone can update the story and do a great job with it, something even the people who consider Polanski's version to be their favorite movie of all time can at least respect if not love, but this certainly ain't it. Even the TV version of The Shining managed to get a few things right; this is just a complete waste of time that seems hellbent on reinforcing purists' belief that it was an awful idea to even try.
What say you?
*Silence of the Lambs is probably safe for a while as well thanks to rights issues; the TV show might do a VERSION of it, but it'll be without Clarice.