Worth A Look: 36.63%
Pretty Bad: 3.3%
Total Crap: 2.2%
17 reviews, 171 user ratings
by Greg Muskewitz
"Sleepy Hollow" is typical Tim Burton, but if you think about it, Burton isn't really typical. The only things his films share in common is a large amount of creativity, and the fact that none of his works is very similar to the other --except for the eccentricities. "Sleepy Hollow" is very Burton-ized film, both perfected in the acting department, and in the technical categories as well.It really wasn't until "Sleepy Hollow" that I realized that Tim Burton was one of my favorite filmmakers. When his last film, "Mars Attacks!" came out in 1996, I wasn't yet reviewing movies (I was only 15) and I was just starting to connect the directors with their previous works. So although I had seen and loved "Ed Wood," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Edward Scissorhands," and "Beetlejuice," it was just recently as I was re-reviewing his works in anticipaction that I realized hom much I like his work.
"©,®, TM, etc, 1999 by Tim Burton; (trademark is better)"
Even with his lesser films, like "Batman" and "Batman Returns," although I haven't like any of all the Batman films, I much preferred the visual artistry and vision of Burton's as opposed to Schumacher's slam-bang, effects-ladden stints. The only film which I vaguely remember and am in no rush to rent is "Peewee's Big Adventure." Peewee manipulated enough of my childhood, etc, for me to bother to watch his banal acts of entertainment even if it is Burton.
It's been since my *early* school days (daze), like, around first or second grade, since I've either read Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," or watched the Disney animated version. Just today I checked out a copy of the book, with a compilation of Irving's other works, and although I've as of so far only read the first two pages, I doubt I understood it as young as I was. What I probably did read was a modernized version, or one of those illustrated, toned-down redos made specifically for those of younger status, but I do remember enjoying the story and the Disney film. With what little I've read, I can appreciate the language on a much larger basis, and comprehend the more literal dimensions that Irving intended it to be.
It seems to me, at least from what I've heard from other people, that the preview for "Hollow" sets it up to be much more of a horror film than it is. I can see the influence of the 1950s Hammer films Burton so vocally cites as inspiration and preferrable favorites, but what "Sleepy Hollow" is, is much more of an exploration into atmosphere. The film isn't scary, it's creepy.
The legend has been somewhat altered to fit Burton's storytelling desires, and what minor changes are made only revivify an already moribund-vivacious story. Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane is no longer a teacher, but a constable, from a New York city (kind of a primative forensic investigator) who is sent to the small and soporific town of Sleepy Hollow, NY. He believes that he will be investigating random acts of decapitation (3 so far), and is quite thrown, but skeptical when it is believed a headless horseman is behind the slayings. It isn't until later when he witnesses a murder first hand by the Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken --don't worry, it's not ruining anything) does it sink in. So naturally, like the original gump-ish Ichabod would have done, he fainted.
Ichabod stays with the Van Tassels, the most prominent family in the town. Baltus (Michael Gambon) is the head of the model family, with his second wife (a stunning Miranda Richardson), and his daughter Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci). Upon first arriving in Sleepy Hollow, and accosting through the house, he is caught in the middle of a primative version of "spin the bottle," where one person blind-folded, stands in the middle of a room, and tries to feel out the other players, kissing the first s/he gets their hands on. Katrina, all blind-folded up, grabs a hold of Ichabod by accident (and kisses him), but her emotional hold is never shaken off.
The investigation, led by Ichabod, with only the assistance of a young boy who's father was decapitated by the Headless Horseman, begins the start of a very atmospheric, almost caper-like "whodunit" mystery. Of course there's often help (and intrigue) by Katrina, who is more often than not, at interesting places at interesting times.
I liked the fact that Burton didn't approach it was a shlock-horror film, more interested in gore than the actual event. It was one of the better stylistically composed films this year. He was very adept at setting up a consistent aura of imagination and atmosphere, as you felt the thick fog streaking your face, or the burning metal of the sword piece and cinge your skin. Everything from the visuals to the costumes and speech gave the effect of being in a small rural NY town in 1799. When you saw a head being sliced off, you felt it. "Sleepy Hollow" had to have had some of the most realistic looking severed heads in a film for a long time. Like most of his other films, Burton uses a campy approach to the style and effectiveness of his films. Watching various people get their heads lopped off, gives of a comfortable funny sense to it; it's neither supposed to be taken like a precaution for Columbine, nor is it outright silly. Burton allows you to guffaw at the whole effect of it.
The red that Burton uses for the blood is a bright red, a stand out like many of the other "things" in the movie. It looks like the falsified tint used in '70s exploitation movies, but causes a lightened effect to something scary.
Johnny Depp is very good as Ichabod, getting the gumpy mannerisms, walk, speech, and other patterns down so as that it plays like a perfect caricture. The gizmos (reminiscient of "Scissorhands") and the clothes, and the way Depp carries himself in the film all lend to the compleation of his personality. I was very glad to see Christina Ricci back in a big studio film, as she is one of my favorite actresses, even though some of the best performances (like "The Opposite of Sex") have been her indie contributions. This isn't so much an exposé for her acting range and dexterity, as it is a subdued and plausible character performance. Ricci is convincing as a non-vixen, yet still a dreamy screen presence, and the way she handles her (sometimes melodramatic) dialogue is amazing. I liked watching her lips as she spoke, because she carries an authenticity and eloquency with her action. The rest of the supporting cast (there are so many!) are also very noteworthy --even Casper Van Dien who never has the chance to make you want to revulse from his presence.
Technically, "Sleepy Hollow" is one of the very best looking and put together films of the year. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is some of the most stunning and provocative images on screen recently. It's truly an eyegasm. The sets and production design, by Rick Heinrichs is haunting, creative and visionary. Everything from the houses and cabins, to the tree from which the Headless Horseman would surface from, were all very unique and boldly structured. Colleen Atwood's costumes were, suffice to say, very fitting (both on the actors and for the time period) and is also one of the best technical aspects for the film (I will be very disappointed if "Sleepy Hollow" is shunned in the techie categories!).
Andrew Kevin Walker's script is gritty, intense, and affluent with depth. There was a lot of extra "plot" added to this retelling, that, if handled by the wrong writer or director, would have been disasterous. But Walker fleshes out Crane's past, making him more of a person in a character sense. I liked having more to grasp about Depp's character, although it suddenly finished after it brought him back into a stage of rembrance. I would have liked a little more with that instead of so quickly dropping off.
"Sleepy Hollow" is very ambient in drawing the audience into its mystique, and carefully dipping in on our psyches, presenting us in an unusual and unpredictable situation. I'm not sure how faithful it is to the ending, although I will know in enough time, but it's very good about keeping your head in the fog all that it wants to, until it's ready to reveal something. Burton was a little like Hitchcock here, exposing the audience only to the details he wanted us to know when he wanted us to know.Final Verdict: A-
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originally posted: 11/17/99 19:15:16