It’s been nearly two generations since Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” creeped-out moviegoers (while being the stuff of several juicy chapters on celebrity gossip), making a redo more than logical. Into the breach toddles NBC’s four-hour miniseries, an old-fashioned May sweeps come-on that awkwardly puts four days between its two parts. Steeped in gore but deprived of atmosphere, this update on the Satanic classic suffers from its contemporary setting and attendant improvements in obstetrics, while feeling closer in tone to a remake of “The Omen” than of its namesake. Give the network credit for a promotable title and star in Zoe Saldana, but beyond that, well, the Devil’s in the details.
While comparisons to the earlier movie are largely a waste of time, there are two fundamental problems here with the central roles: Mia Farrow’s title character seemed fragile and waif-like, while John Cassavetes — whose part is covered by an ill-suited Patrick J. Adams (of USA’s “Suits”), in what’s really the more demanding character — had a darkness to him that better sold his pivotal willingness to pimp out his wife to the Prince of Darkness.
By contrast, the new movie struggles with the fact that Saldana’s Rosemary feels a little too independent to be so naive, and doesn’t fully convey why her hubby — a blocked novelist — would betray her so horribly by the time the deception must happen.
Directed by Agnieszka Holland from an adaptation by writers Scott Abbott and James Wong, the project effectively uses the framing device that makes clear another couple underwent a similar courtship by Satan-worshipping benefactors, only to have the wife sacrifice herself.
That creates something of a mystery throughout, though perhaps not as great a one as why Rosemary doesn’t become more suspicious when terrible things keep happening to anyone inclined to help her. (One is tempted to say the “Avatar” star should complain until she’s blue in the face.)
Having previously lost a baby to a miscarriage, Rosemary — relocated to Paris with her husband — is understandably desperate to have this latest try go right. Yet the couple are almost comically willing to allow their helpful new friends (a well-cast Jason Isaacs, in full snake-charming Hogwarts mode, and Carole Bouquet) to insinuate themselves into every part of their lives, from gifting them a weird cat to supplying a strange pendant to providing the green slop Rosemary is urged to drink throughout her pregnancy.
In some respects, “Rosemary’s Baby” is all about foreplay, an extended buildup to two moments — conception and birth — with a lot of filler in between. (Notably, Polanski’s film ran 136 minutes, so minus commercials, the net length here is expanded by little more than a half-hour.)
Even the two signature scenes, however, prove somewhat anticlimactic, while Saldana is forced to endure an emotional roller-coaster, with those around her insisting she should shrug off the visions and vivid nightmares she keeps experiencing. Rosemary does receive some encouragement from a detective (Olivier Rabourdin) who provides periodic reassurance that her concerns might not be delusional.
Somehow, though, it was easier to suspend disbelief in the psychedelic ’60s, comforted by a lack of technology that could identify a mole on a fetus (in 3D) while still in the womb.
More pragmatically, broadcast networks once relied heavily on such longform events, particularly during sweeps months, and NBC is wise to try making the genre — after the success scored by “The Sound of Music” — part of its arsenal.
Viewed that way, “Rosemary’s Baby” should be pretty good at making some noise. But given the modest nature of the payoff, enduring this latest progeny does represent its own kind of labor.