Rosemary's Baby - 4K Ultra HD Blu-rayOverview -
Roman Polanski's American debut Rosemary's Baby is a celebrated horror masterpiece, a macabre tale of the supernatural and black magic that started a film trend throughout the 1970s. It's an involving and frightening story based on Ira Levin's novel about the secret lives of neighbors and the paranoid suspicions of one young woman played terrifically by Mia Farrow. Celebrating its 55th Anniversary, Paramount delivers the supernatural horror classic to 4K Ultra HD with an excellent Dolby Vision HDR video but the same Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and bonus material as before. Nevertheless, the overall UHD package is Recommended for cinephiles and horror fans alike.
A young wife comes to believe that her offspring is not of this world. Waifish Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her struggling actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) move to a New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and odd neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet (Sidney Blackmer, Ruth Gordon). When Rosemary becomes pregnant she becomes increasingly isolated, and the diabolical truth is revealed only after Rosemary gives birth.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Roman Polanski made his American debut with Rosemary's Baby, a slow-burn thriller that started a filmmaking trend throughout the 1970s with themes about the supernatural and black magic. The director was already known throughout Europe for his exquisitely manufactured work in Repulsion and Knife in the Water, but American audiences were unprepared for the auteur's creative and highly stylistic approach to generating suspense. A straightforward plot concerning a young woman's suspicions of her husband and neighbors is made into an unsettling and often mind-bending trip through paranoia and terror. Part of the radical filmmaking techniques growing at the time, which we today refer to as "New Wave" and the "New Hollywood," Polanski's camerawork is both simplistic and wildly inventive, depending of course on the particular scene taking place, but it's disturbingly effective because through its simplicity we see a world that's off-kilter and full of dark secrets.
For me, Rosemary's Baby is one of the first to open my eyes to the deliberateness of filmmakers and the techniques used for manipulating the frame as well as the audience. The film has us questioning about what we see versus what we hear or know, the visual information we take in, how we interpret the behavior of others, and our ability to judge those behaviors sanely.
When characters go to another room, they're just outside of the frame and out of our field of view. We tilt our heads to the side in hopes of gaining a better perspective. We are slowly being drawn into the narrative on a bizarrely but masterfully subconscious level. The quirky, sprightly next-door neighbor Minnie (marvelously played by Ruth Gordon) goes to the Woodhouse's bedroom to use the phone, partially obscured by the doorframe. And because we already feel awkward towards her, we want to get a better look at what she's doing in there, thus increasing our suspicion of her in small increments. It's incredibly subtle, but so beautifully delivered.
Towards the end of the dinner date with the Castevets, the conversation between Guy (John Cassavetes) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer) is interrupted by Rosemary (Mia Farrow) wanting to go home and sleep. Guy's expression, which seems to be one of amazement and disbelief, is easy to overlook, but pay closer attention and it is clear there's something amiss about whatever discussion the two men were having.
We also learn from that sequence that Rosemary is a very observant person, pointing out the missing picture frames inside the Castevet's home — a small bit of information that we later return to in the conclusion. She pinpoints a funny, powdery aftertaste in the chocolate mousse Minnie made, and she confines in her friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) that the old couple is not only odd but also nosy. Ironically, her perceptiveness and attention to detail, which can be argued as virtues of an intelligent, independent thinker, fail to save her from what's come, a horrifying truth that was hidden and manipulated from her view much in the same way Polanski does to his audience.
Starting with the disquietingly simplistic, black-and-vomit-green poster, we are clued into this idea of our sense of sight and of the things hidden from our view. A traditional pram, almost stereotypical of motherhood and of newborns, sits atop a dangerous rocky hill that creepily resembles a woman's pregnant belly. The image is startling and bleak, to say the least, but one that not only asks the tagline to pray for the heroine's child but also invites us to look deeper into this macabre tale of motherhood and the dangers surrounding the expecting mother.
As portrayed so superbly by Farrow, Rosemary seems strong of mind despite seeming awkwardly weak, timid and fragile on the outside. She's an unquestionably supportive wife to Guy, an actor growing impatient waiting for his big break and who shows signs of an unstable temper. Nevertheless, Rosemary is dutifully forgiving and loyal, attentive to his whims and outbursts, caressing his ego while she suffers in agonizing pain during the first few months of her pregnancy. He shows a bit of concern here and there, but ultimately, the discussion always comes back to his needs. For all intents and purposes, Rosemary is the ideal wife who sadly forgoes many of her needs for the sake of her husband.
On the surface, the suspense and thrills come largely from Rosemary slowly discovering her husband has made a pact with the devil and a coven of Satan-worshipping witches. On a deeper level, the scares and terror come from our heroine directed and subjugated into serving a defined role, even at the cost of humanity's future. It's a subject matter only hinted at but further explored by Ira Levin, whose novel this film is based on, in his later book The Stepford Wives. Rosemary's Baby is a skilled and exquisitely directed film of psychological terror by one of the great masters of the genre.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment brings Rosemary's Baby to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for a digital copy, which unlocks 4K streaming rights with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio. The dual-layered UHD66 and Region-Free BD50 discs sit on opposing panels of a black, eco-vortex case with glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a static screen with the usual selection along the bottom and music playing in the background.
The horror classic arrives on Ultra HD with a lovely HEVC H.265 encode that breathes new life to Polanski's visual masterpiece but doesn't really deliver a night-and-day difference from Criterion Collection's 2012 Blu-ray release. Much of this is due to the production's original photography and the filmmaking style of the era because William A. Fraker mostly shot with diffusion filters on wide-angle lenses, creating a dreamy, fantasy-like atmosphere. In spite of the intentional soft-focus effect, the native 4K transfer comes with a welcomed uptick in overall definition. From the fine stitching and fabric of the clothing to the minor imperfections in the furniture and the apartment, fine lines and objects are more detailed and distinct, but it's all a bit blurrier and softer than what we've come to expect of the format. In either case, we'll have to chalk it up to it being inherent to the source and the result of the filmmakers' creative choices.
The more impressive and significant upgrade is the enhanced contrast and brightness balance, furnishing the action with cleaner, more brilliant whites and inkier, raven blacks. Strong shadow details maintain excellent visibility within the darkest, murkiest corners, providing the 1.85:1 image with a beautiful cinematic appeal. Although more nuanced and subtle, specular highlights also supply a crisper, tighter glow around the hottest spots while revealing the finer details within, such as the sun shining through windows. Better still are the fuller, more accurately-rendered primaries, showering the visuals in deeper reds, more energetic blues and lively greens. Secondary pastel hues also are more dynamic and show better variation while facial complexions appear healthier with a natural, peachy-rose tone in the entire cast.
All in all, bathed in a more refined, thin layer of natural grain throughout, the Dolby Vision HDR presentation is beautiful and satisfying with an appreciable film-like quality. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 82/100)
The Criterion Collection released the horror masterpiece with an outstanding uncompressed PCM mono track that was a highly satisfying complement to the video. Here, Paramount repurposes the same Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Mono soundtrack as their 2021 Blu-ray release, and after some back and forth comparisons, they did not reveal any significantly discernable differences. We can immediately hear the excellent quality in the lossless mix right from the opening moments, as the music of Krzysztof Komeda fills the air with a creepy, demonic-like lullaby chant. Although largely confined to the center of the screen, the soundstage nonetheless feels broad and all-encompassing, creating a wide imaging that's highly engaging and also disturbingly hypnotic. Each note and timbre is distinct with superb separation. The mid-range remains cleanly dynamic as a few scenes with higher frequencies maintain their even sharpness with surprising clarity that penetrates deep into the room. Dialogue is crystal clear and precise, making every quiver, insecurity and jittery tone in Farrow's delivery perfectly heard. There's an appreciable low-end that adds a welcomed weight and depth to the music without seeming forced or artificial. (Audio Rating: 86/100)
One of the great masterpieces of horror and suspense is also Roman Polanski's American debut, Rosemary's Baby. It's a macabre tale of the supernatural and black magic that started a film trend throughout the 1970s and also made the Polish auteur into a respected name. It's an involving and frightening story based on Ira Levin's novel about the secret lives of neighbors and the paranoid suspicions of one young woman played terrifically by Mia Farrow. Celebrating its 55th Anniversary, Paramount delivers the supernatural horror classic to 4K Ultra HD with an excellent Dolby Vision HDR presentation, offering small but nonetheless notable improvements over its HD SDR predecessors. Although porting over the same Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and bonus material as before, the overall UHD package is Recommended for cinephiles and horror fans alike.
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