There is no compelling reason to remake Roman Polanski's classically disturbing adaptation of the Ira Levin novel "Rosemary's Baby." But there's no compelling reason not to either.
And that attitude of "sure, why not" ambivalence is precisely the problem with NBC's four-hour, two-part update beginning Sunday, which makes no attempt to deepen, broaden or expand the tale beyond doubling its run time.
The creative team (screenwriters Scott Abbott and James Wong and director Agnieszka Holland) did decide to set their version in Paris, which is always a good idea. As "Midnight in Paris" and "The Smurfs 2" proved, the city's allure can compensate for any number of narrative shortcomings, and so it does here. At least during the first hour, which is so chock-full of enticing exteriors it could have been sponsored by Air France.
But all is not Haussmann facades and the gleaming Seine. Oh, no, evil lurks in the City of Light right from the get-go, in which an anguished young pregnant woman makes a Terrible Discovery.
Cut to the U.S., where the much more winsomely expectant Rosemary ("Avatar's" Zoe Saldana) is getting a sonogram as loving husband Guy (Patrick J. Adams) hovers nervously above. Alas, it is not to be — and soon Rosemary and Guy are putting their heartbreak behind them to start anew in Paris where he lands a gig teaching at the Sorbonne.
And yet, he remains dissatisfied (Memo to the Sorbonne: I would not be dissatisfied). It's only a one-year thing, he wants to be an important novelist and he is experiencing Writer's Block. (Memo to the Sorbonne: For a year in Paris, I would live with writer's block.)
Fortunately, Rosemary, who is a former dancer and the world's nicest human being, gets mugged. She chases down her mugger, retrieves her bag and the wallet of another woman, who turns out to be so incredibly Parisian she lives in a gargoyle-appointed building called the Chimera and is herself named Margaux (Carole Bouquet).
Oh, and her husband, Roman (Jason Isaacs), Just Happens to be on "the board" of the Sorbonne. Which is looking for a new head for its English department.
So before you can say "well, this certainly proves that I love Jason Isaacs so much I will watch him in anything," Margaux and Roman have all but adopted Rosemary and Guy, giving them a fabulous flat, a walk-in closet full of clothes and all manner of counsel and advice.
At this point, any thinking woman with Internet access would become suspicious — are Roman and Margaux slave traffickers? Drug runners? Interested in a multinational foursome?
But our Rosemary seems to understand that she is Just That Adorable, and Margaux's smile is so sincere, Roman's eyes crinkle so kindly and Guy finally seems happy, truly happy. Because, of course, everything is suddenly going his way. The other candidate for department head mysteriously goes bat-guano crazy, and soon Guy is writing the Best Book Ever in five minutes. Most important, Rosemary has agreed to try for another baby.
Well, we all know where this is going, and indeed that is where it goes. Hitting all the big plot points of the novel, the TV version offers little nuance and no new perspective. Which is too bad, because a real modern look at Levin's tale could have used the characters to explore the corrosive allure of consumer culture — just how far are we willing to go to have a great job and a closet full of Parisian clothes? — the modern fixation on pregnancy or the perils of accepting candy from strangers and people at face value.
Instead, when Rosemary finally, FINALLY gets suspicious, terrible things begin happening to anyone who tries to help her. The film tips so dangerously close to "Omen" territory that when a flock of crows appear, you fully expect them to peck someone to death.
That said, "Rosemary's Baby" is not terrible. Where the original film was shocking, this version, though bloody, is fairly mild. Amid all the ambient hard-R horror of television, it could pass as family friendly, a vaguely diabolical bagatelle that evokes a time when a TV movie was expected to be cinema-lite.
The story holds up, if in a nostalgia fueled, camp-flecked way. Saldana is engaging if overly earnest, and Isaacs and Bouquet infuse their characters with as much depth as can be humanly expected of, you know, midwives to the birth of the Dark Prince.
More than anything, this "Baby" seems the product of a missed chance. As Rosemary will no doubt find herself saying someday to her mini-Mephistopheles when he causes his nanny to hang herself or whatever: "It's not that I'm angry, darling, just very disappointed."
When: 9 p.m. Sunday and Thursday