ByKen Anderson, writer at
Ken Anderson

Talk about nightmares!

Learning absolutely nothing from that whole Carrie thing, that Fame thing, that Sparkle thing, Willy Wonka, or countless other DOA remakes of classic films; imagination-starved Hollywood announced this week that it has cast Avatar and Star Trek actress, Zoe Saldana, to star in a 4-hour TV miniseries adaptation of Ira Levin's classic Modern Gothic horror novel, Rosemary's Baby. If you’ll recall, back in 1968, director Roman Polanski’s painstakingly faithful film adaptation of Levin’s bestseller resulted in a blockbuster hit for Paramount that not only put its director on the map, but made a star out of actress Mia Farrow, won an Oscar for co-star Ruth Gordon, and has, in the ensuing years, developed a reputation as one of the few recognized classics of contemporary horror.

So, of course, Hollywood has to do a remake.

In a move that sounds more like a joke made in poor-taste than a creative business decision, NBC has hired Polish director Agnieszska Holland (Europa, Europa) to more or less step into the shoes of Polish director Roman Polanski (although of different sexes, perhaps NBC thinks the Polish have an affinity for this material) for this updated adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby to be written by Scott Abbott and James Wong (American Horror Story, whose success is really what's behind all this).

According to NBC executive Jennifer Salke, “The story has been updated and moved to Paris, but it’s faithful to the spirit of Ira Levin’s classic novel.” Which, if past knowledge of Hollywood’s Standard Operational Bull S#*! means anything, NBC is going to play fast and loose with the original narrative.

Zoe Saldana has been cast as Rosemary in NBC
Zoe Saldana has been cast as Rosemary in NBC's adaptation of Ira Levin's classic suspense horror novel

The usual studio rhetoric is to assert profusely that said film is NOT a remake, but an adaptation of the source novel. (That sentence should be auto-tuned and set to music.) But let’s not be naive…call them “adaptations of the source material,” re-imaginings, updates, reworkings, or whatever you like; these movies get financed and green-lit because everybody involved knows EXACTLY what they really are…remakes. Remakes: whose sole function and design is to ride on the brand-name familiarity / goodwill coattails of previous successes.

Mia Farrow
Mia Farrow

When it comes to the topic of remakes, film fans understandably align with different camps. There are those who feel that there is no movie is so scared or perfect that it should not be touched. That, like pop songs covered by different bands, there is something to be gained from having different artists take a crack at the same material. The originals still exist, undiminished, but there are other variations out there to appeal to different tastes.

And then there are those (like me) who have a love/hate thing going with film and its sometimes tangential connection to art. As a culture, it’s not our usual practice to take classic books, paintings, sculptures and photographs and periodically “re-do” or “reinterpret” them as our tastes and technologies change. Perhaps this view is overly purist, but these works represent something specific about a place, time, and a specific artist. Even their flaws represent something unique.

Mia Farrow reenacts the dramatic hallway chase scene while director Roman Polanski maps out the framing of the shot
Mia Farrow reenacts the dramatic hallway chase scene while director Roman Polanski maps out the framing of the shot

I take the position that, with so much new art that needs to be made and created– so many new voices that should have something unique and distinctive to say about the life and times we live in today – it is both a redundancy and waste of resources to revisit works that have already resulted in that rare of rarities… a genuine classic (which is, admittedly, in itself a purely subjective observation).

Hollywood is an industry, and it sees its films merely as product from which profits are to be made. It doesn't behoove them to think otherwise. The public, however, has a stake in film's legacy as a popular art. The best of it should not be rendered disposable and interchangeable. It should be protected. Still, I wish Rosemary’s Baby: The Miniseries well, for within every doubtful film fan opposed to having the memory of a favored sacred cow sullied by a remake, lives the practical film enthusiast, resigned to the ways of Hollywood (remakes have been and always will be with us) who hopes this time he will be proven wrong.

Read my review of Rosemary's Baby at Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For...


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