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Review: NBC's 'Rosemary's Baby' Can't Escape Satan, Or Roman Polanski Comparisons

Photo of Liz Shannon Miller By Liz Shannon Miller | Indiewire May 9, 2014 at 2:33PM

It's not necessarily fair to compare two versions of the same story, but despite the smoldering of Jason Isaacs, NBC's devilish adaptation of Ira Levin's novel struggles to stand apart.
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Rosemary's Baby Zoe Saldana NBC
Nino Munoz/NBC Zoe Saldana in "Rosemary's Baby"

The fast and lazy way to review NBC's much-hyped miniseries "Rosemary's Baby," starring Zoe Saldana, is as follows: Roman Polanski's 1968 film adaptation, featuring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, is over an hour shorter, available via Netflix Instant, and far, far superior.

Yes, it's not necessarily fair to compare versions of the same story (especially since both are based on the 1967 novella by Ira Levin), but the temptation to do so overwhelms over the course of the two-part series. Director Agnieszka Holland and writers James Wong and Scott Abbott relocate the story of Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, a young couple looking to get pregnant and end up with more than they expected, from New York to Paris. But otherwise this new "Rosemary" doesn't dramatically deviate from the original story. 

Which is a shame, because a version that dared to find new angles could have proved interesting. Instead, for anyone familiar with the source material, it becomes a matter of waiting for familiar plot points to occur, buried under some scenes that are so rote they prove to be dead weight. The first real shock of the series occurs around the 45-minute mark. That's a long, long wait. That's not to say that "Rosemary's Baby" lacks its charms: Specifically, the charms of Jason Isaacs, who steals scenes on a regular basis as Roman Castevet, the mysterious neighbor of the Woodhouses. He as well as Carole Bouquet, as Roman's wife Margaux, bring a sensual malevolence to the miniseries that proves intriguing.  

Rosemary's Baby Zoe Saldana NBC
Roger Do Minh/NBC

Their strong presence, however, overshadows Patrick J. Adams as Gus, whose character has a complicated role in the drama, but never really manages to depict that ambiguity on screen. Saldana, meanwhile, isn't afraid to dig into the horror and fear the story demands. But the part, especially towards the end, doesn't give her much opportunity to show off range. 

Ultimately, "Rosemary" is less fever dream and more straight-up thriller, with stomach-churning moments that might feel familiar to fans of NBC's "Hannibal," though the latter series has a way of finding beauty in the grotesque. Meanwhile, "Rosemary" is blunt about its debauchery -- which, ultimately, is its downfall. 

One of the scariest moments of film I've ever seen comes close to the end of Polanski's adaptation -- during a quiet lull, you think Farrow has escaped her pursuers, and that she might finally be safe. Then, in a subtle yet beautifully composed wide shot, two men scurry through the background, and you realize how very wrong you were. 

I went and revisited that moment of Polanski's film after watching the miniseries, because it has haunted me for over 15 years, and I wanted to figure out why it struck such a chord while much of the miniseries proves forgettable just an hour later. And that's where "Rosemary"'s biggest flaw as a miniseries becomes apparent: What's key about that moment is that up until then, we've almost exclusively seen everything from Rosemary's point of view. Then that's stripped away, and we see the true extent of the horrific situation she's in. 

The miniseries, meanwhile, stretches out everything at the expense of that unique POV, eliminating much of the original story's mystery. Even for those unfamiliar with the original tale, it's pretty obvious what's coming -- leaving little opportunity for interesting twists. The one exception is the miniseries' last scene, which is a new addition and serves as a sharp exclamation point for the ending. However, this story only really needed a period. 

Criticwire GradeC

This article is related to: Television Review, Reviews, Rosemary's Baby, Zoe Saldana, Jason Isaacs, Agnieszka Holland, Agnieszka Holland, NBC , NBC, Television, Television