Sleepy Hollow
directed by Tim Burton
(Paramount, 1999)

This ain't your animated Disney remake of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I'll come right out and say it -- I really liked Sleepy Hollow, but I honestly don't know why. Maybe it's the dichotomy of the movie: great story with bad characterizations, a visually appealing cast and set with characteristic Tim Burton gloom, and the movie could almost be called family-friendly if you ignore the whole gore bit. Maybe it would help if I just hit the major points.

For his directorial debut after the disastrous Mars Attacks!, Tim Burton goes back to the basics and comes out with a great movie. He decided to use the big budget for the movie and spend it on scenery and the organic look of the movie rather than CGI like most movies are doing these days. The fact that Burton uses the stop-motion effects that he used before (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetlejuice and especially A Nightmare Before Christmas) adds that old-timey feel that lends itself to the 1799 setting. When Ichabod (Johnny Depp) arrives in Sleepy Hollow, the blue pall over the landscape immediately brings in the gloom of the situation. Your eyes have to adjust from the dark landscape to the brilliant costumes of the party in progress at the house where Crane stays. In twenty minutes, you're introduced to the majority of the cast with enough shifty glances to let you know that something is not right in Sleepy Hollow.

The screenplay, which in Hollywood fashion only borrows from the Irving classic, is fairly good at keeping you guessing what the truth behind the Horseman is. While it does a good job of building the mystery, it fails at times to fill in the plot holes. Ichabod Crane is no longer the spindly-legged school teacher we all remember from the animated classic, but a New York constable sent to the village to prove his ideas of scientific methodology in the solving of criminal cases. That's right folks, master Crane is the father of modern pathology. Crane uses this knowledge of science to make astounding leaps in plot that make you wish you had a rewind button on the movie to make sure you didn't miss something. For a scientist, his knowledge of the mystical arts makes you wonder if the 3 "R's" in education back then were reading, writing and runes. They try to pass this off by showing us flashbacks to Crane's young boyhood where his mother is tried as a witch by his evangelical father. There are a lot of flashbacks and needless details in this movie, so I hope that your suspension of disbelief is very good.

In an attempt to cover up the gaping holes in the story, Burton decides to divert our attention by the application of lots and lots of blood. I firmly believe that Burton decided to punish Johnny Depp for acting in movies that did not involve him by squirting him with blood every chance he could get. I won't even bring up the Iron Maiden scene -- that one even turned my wife green.

But I would be remiss in reviewing this movie if I did not mention the cast and their acting ability (or lack of). Johnny Depp proved once again that he can only portray one emotion at a time, and it's usually the inappropriate one. Casper Van Diem does an excellent job of pulling a Darth Maul -- speaking at the most five lines and getting killed. I'd pay 8 bucks just to see him die again. Kudos to Burton for killing this goofball off in the most visually splendid of ways (hint -- I didn't mention Darth Maul for nothing). The rest of the cast does an excellent job of hiding the true villain, which is real easy to do seeing how they only get 5 minutes of on-screen time. Speaking of Darth Maul, the actor that portrays him (Ray Parks) does an excellent job of portraying the Headless Horseman, while Christopher Walken portrays the Horseman with head. This was a very easy job for Walken, as he had no lines.

The highlight of this movie was Christina Ricci. Maybe it's just my hormones talking, but god bless those pre-Victorian dressmakers for enhancing her bosom. Drop-dead looks aside, she plays an enchanting love interest who does an excellent job of swerving our inept hero into believing the wrong person is responsible for the Horseman. When she asks Crane if she is being naughty, I of course have visions of leather and chains, but maybe I just need to get out more. Her costume designer does an excellent job keeping her in bright colors to contrast with the dark Sleepy Hollow, so she is always hard to miss. My brother-in-law's sole printable comment was "Wow -- Wednesday Addams is HOT!"

In conclusion, this movie was extremely visually appealing and an enjoyable two hours. It's the perfect adult outing film, as I would not let any child within 100 feet of this movie. While the actors may not win any awards, any movie where Casper Van Diem dies gets big points in my book.

[ by Timothy Keene ]

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