Tim Burton takes on an old scary tale
and comes close to making a classic
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
Whenever Tim Burton concocts a new movie, critics everywhere go into a lather coming up with new hosannas in praise of his stuff. Generally, they're right. With his latest, the paroxysms of praise have become almost scary in their effusiveness. Which is fine by me.
"Sleepy Hollow," after all, is supposed to be scary. However, those bookish moviegoers who have actually read the Washington Irving story and still remember it may find the liberties taken with the original a bit off-putting.
Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane, a foppish New York City constable who has been a bit of a gadfly in the NYPD of 1799. While the judges of the period are content with brute force and intimidation to solve their crimes, Crane is all for using scientific method and deductive reasoning to come to the truth. For his troubles, he is exiled to a small Dutch community in the Hudson Valley called Sleepy Hollow to solve a trio of ghoulish murders.
It seems that several prominent citizens of the Hollow have lost their heads. Trouble is, their quite dead torsos are rather upsetting to those townspeople who stumble upon them.
When Crane arrives, he encounters the plucky young daughter (Christina Ricci) of a local farmer (Michael Gambon), who imparts the story of the Headless Horseman: A somewhat rabid, bloodthirsty Hessian mercernary (a quietly but perfectly cast Christopher Walken) who met a bitter end in the woods near Sleepy Hollow, betrayed by a pair of woodgathering little girls. The townspeople, who include a self-righteous priest (Jeffrey Jones), a timid notary (Michael Gough), a lusty doctor (Ian McDiarmid), a brave but burly farmer (Casper van Dien) and a corpulent burgomeister (Richard Griffith) are all of the belief that the Horseman is responsible for the unspeakable crimes.
Crane, of course, believes that the murderer is flesh and blood.
The game changes when Crane personally witnesses a murder, sending his faith in science and reason spinning into doubt. Unfortunately for the movie, he resolves this rather quickly (it would have made an interesting subplot to see Crane struggling between the evidence of his senses and his own rationality) and goes on a ghoul hunt, with all the violence, gore and spookiness that goes with it.
There are a lot of fairly impressive names behind the camera including Francis Ford Coppola, Larry Franco (behind many of John Carpenter's earliest and best flicks) and Kevin Yagher (one of the best make-up/special effects men in the business).
While many of Burton's key personnel are in place, this seems less of a typical Tim Burton movie and more of a mainstream action/horror flick. There are a lot of missed opportunities here to bring some credible subplots into play that wouldn't burden the plot as much as the ones that writers Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker decided to leave in.
Burton is wise enough to leave enough atmosphere in to make for some genuinely spooky moments, but his leitmotif of announcing the Horseman's presence with lightning and thunder effects is a bit over-the-top.
Depp makes an interesting Crane, retaining much of the bumbling fright of Irving's Crane while giving him a heroic bent for the modern moviegoing audience to identify with.
Ricci is lustrous in her ingenue role.
There's some great work in "Sleepy Hollow," enough that you'll leave the theater talking about it. With a bit more of Burton and a bit less of Hollywood, this would have been a hellacious ride.
See other information about "Sleepy Hollow" at Internet Movie Data Base.