Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer
Extras: Interviews, Featurette

During my tenure here at, I’ve reviewed several films that were based on novels. Some of these were good adaptations, while others didn’t do justice to their source material. No matter what, none of them came close to being a word-for-word adaptation of the novel. That is where "Rosemary’s Baby" is different. "Rosemary’s Baby" is one of the most dead-on accurate transformations of a novel to the screen. Writer/director Roman Polanski took Ira Levin’s classic novel and transferred it to the screen intact, creating a terror classic. "Rosemary’s Baby" has recently come to DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Video.

"Rosemary’s Baby" tells the story of Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes), a young couple living in Manhattan. Guy is a struggling actor, but he’s had enough commercial work for he and Rosemary to afford an apartment in the historic Bramford building. Despite warnings from their friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) that the Bramford has a dark history, the happy couple move in. They soon meet their neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castavet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon), an odd old couple. Guy and Rosemary have dinner with the Castavet’s and Guy really warms up to the couple, while Rosemary keeps her distance. Rosemary begins to feel a bit gloomy and then Guy gets an important acting role. Unfortunately, he gets it because the original actor was suddenly struck blind. With this good fortune, Rosemary and Guy decide to have a baby.

This is where things take a turn for the worse. On the night that they decide to attempt a conception, Rosemary has a bizarre nightmare about being raped. Soon, she discovers that she is pregnant. She sees a doctor that the Castavet’s recommend and Minnie makes a health drink for Rosemary each day. But, instead of gaining weight, Rosemary begins to lose weight and suffers from a constant sharp pain. These are the least of Rosemary’s worries as she begins to distrust those around her. Why are Guy and the Castavets acting so oddly? Is there something wrong with her baby? As more and more odd things occur around Rosemary, the line between fantasy and reality begin to blur. Is Rosemary insane or is there something sinister at work?

Simply stated, "Rosemary’s Baby" is a classic. The film is creepy, terrifying, and suspenseful while remaining very quiet and subtle. It doesn’t look like a horror movie (except for the nightmares), but it certainly scares like one and the visuals stick with you long after the film is over. I’m sure that there were paranoia films before "Rosemary’s Baby", but it has since become the blueprint for the genre. Roman Polanski makes every effort to portray everything as nice and serene at the beginning of the film, and continues to twist reality as the film progresses. Even after the film concludes, the viewer is left to decide if anything really happened or if Rosemary imagined the whole thing. The film manipulates the viewer, as we yearn for Rosemary to get away and get help, while at the same time we understand why she’s very unsure if she should be afraid or not. Polanski shoots most of the film in a very neutral and naturalistic style, thus adding to the air of reality gone out of control. It’s only during the nightmares and the finale that Polanski stylizes the film at all.

As mentioned earlier, Polanski has done a fantastic job of transplanting Ira Levin’s novel to the screen. (Of course, if you read the book, it reads like a treatment for a movie.) It’s amazing how simple Polanski makes all of this look. Large chunks of dialogue and many of the cultural references were lifted straight from the book. Obviously, Polanski understood that the story was fine the way that it was and by doing a very literal translation, he could concentrate on the visual aspects of telling the story. The only real difference is that Polanski’s ending is a bit more ambiguous.

As "Rosemary’s Baby" is a bona-fide classic, Paramount Home Video has given the film very nice treatment on this DVD. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. At first, there appears to be some problems with the transfer. As the credits appear over the opening shots, the image shows a noticeable amount of grain. However, once the credits are complete, the image clears up significantly. Overall, the picture in "Rosemary’s Baby" is very sharp and clear, only becoming soft a handful of times during the film. Polanski shot the film in a very natural style (except for the nightmares, of course) and this transfer brings across the clarity of that style by smoothing out the subtle lighting and neutral colors. The dark ambient shots of the movie are perfectly restored with deep solid blacks and well-balanced highlights. The letterbox frame appears to be accurate and there is no apparent artifacting or compression problems. For a film that is over 30 years old, this transfer of "Rosemary’s Baby" looks very good.

The audio on the "Rosemary’s Baby" DVD is presented as a <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono track. While it isn’t surprising that a movie this old would have a mono soundtrack, it’s still somewhat of a disappointment. Frequency response is somewhat limited and the dynamic range of the track is also showing signs of age, creating a bit of a harsh-sounding audio presentation. Still, the ever-important dialogue is always clear and understandable throughout the film, and there is no audible hiss on the soundtrack. I can’t help but think that the film would have been even scarier if that creepy "la-la-la" opening song had been presented in surround sound.

Despite the age of "Rosemary’s Baby", Paramount has been able to add two exciting extras to this release. The DVD brings us a set of recent interviews with writer/director Roman Polanski, production executive Robert Evans, and production designer Richard Sylbert. These interviews are intercut with footage from the film. All three interviewees reminisce about how they became involved in "Rosemary’s Baby" and share many stories about the making of the film. A great deal of attention is paid to how the film was cast and the disagreements between Polanski and the producers on the role of Rosemary. This 17-minute feature gives the audience a modern perspective on the film by those involved.

In great contrast, the DVD also contains a making-of featurette for "Rosemary’s Baby" from 1968. This 23-minute segment offers a great deal of behind the scenes footage. There are some rare moments captured here, such as Roman Polanski with his late wife Sharon Tate, and Mia Farrow dancing around the set and painting her dressing room in Hippie fashion. This featurette is fascinating, not only for the glimpse that it gives us into the making of the film, but also for its undeniable 60’s flavor. Sadly, there is no trailer for the movie on the disc.

As Halloween is drawing near, the DVD of "Rosemary’s Baby" is a must-have. The film is the epitome of subtle horror and the final scene will stay with you forever. The DVD offers a transfer of the film that makes it look as if it were made last week and not 30 years ago. Also the extras, while sparse, are very interesting. If you want to see a classic horror film, there’s no need to join a coven, just check out "Rosemary’s Baby".