I have to say this carefully as I don’t want to sound unappreciative or ungrateful. The new Criterion Bluray of Roman Polanski‘s Rosemary’s Baby (10.30) is a very high-grade thing. It makes the 1968 classic look as lustrous and scratch-free as it did when it first opened. And it sounds crisp and full and clear as a bell.
And the disc includes a well-polished, smoothly cut documentary — “Remembering Rosemary’s Baby” — that includes face-time with Polanski, Mia Farrow and former Paramount studio chief Robert Evans. I think I liked the doc better than the film because I’ve seen the film too many times whereas the doc is fresh and new as far as it goes.
So what’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong. It looks totally fine except…I’m not even sure I want to say this because I don’t mean to sound like a Bluray peon. All right, eff it, here we go: Baby Blu looks like film, and I was sorta kinda hoping for a blend of celluloid and digital enhancement that would somehow take it beyond what it was when Polanski signed off on the final answer print. No, I don’t want a “shiny” Spartacus– or Patton-level DNR deal, but I wouldn’t have minded a little DNRing. Just a tiny bit of sweetening, just a tad. But that’s not what the Criterion monks do. Their Blurays of older films always look like celluloid running through the gate of a Norelco DP-70, and sometimes that’s fine and sometimes it’s mildly disappointing and sometimes it’s a little “meh” and sometimes it’s great. This is one of the fine ones.
I only know that the Baby Bluray doesn’t have that special plus quality, that look of “whoa!…this looks better than ever!” that Blurays sometimes provide. Criterion’s Sunday Bloody Sunday Bluray has that look, or at least it looks significantly better than I’ve ever seen it on a home screen before. But their Rosemary’s Baby Bluray, truth be told, looks roughly the same as it did when I bought the DVD ten or 12 years ago and played it on my Sony 32″ analog flatscreen. And it looks roughly the same as it does when I play the Netflix version on my iPad 3. And it looks about the same as it did the last time it played on Turner Classic Movies. And it looks roughly the same as when it opened in Boston’s “combat zone” on June 13, 1968.
The Rosemary’s Baby Bluray, in short, wasn’t mastered with the idea of taking your breath away, or at least the idea of taking away the breath of someone like myself, a Bluray-worshipping, semi-sophisticated cineaste and ex-projectionist who doesn’t mind a little tasteful DNRing. It’s made for the grain dweebs who will say “whoa, really nice grain structure!” It looks like it’s being projected at the Criterion theatre a week after Bobby Kennedy was killed with a first-rate projectionist in the booth. Grain purists like Glenn Kenny will probably be happy, and I’m not putting Kenny down when I say this. So I’m not “complaining.” Really. It’s fine. I’m just saying “it is what it is.”
I’ve given up on seeing Rosemary’s Baby at 1.66 in my lifetime, but I would have been just a tad happier if Polanski and Criterion guys had at least used a full-screen 1.78 to 1 aspect ratio and given it just a bit more height instead of faintly cropping at the tops and bottoms in order to give it a 1.85 aspect ratio.