Sleepy Hollow

Reviewed by Kai MacTane

The mainstream reviewers have already criticized Tim Burton’s latest work. In this case, however, their antagonism isn’t a case of the normals not understanding Burton the way we do; their gripes are legitimate. While this movie isn’t half bad — certainly worth seeing at a matinée showing — there are very noticeable places where things just don’t quite seem to jell, and they are galling. The more so because Burton has shown before that he can do better.

Sleepy Hollow: Depp and RicciOne major problem for a movie that’s so thoroughly set in a specific time and place is the fact that the actors must be just as firmly integrated with the era as their costumes. Unfortunately, Christina Ricci can’t quite manage it. Like many other things about this movie, she is beautiful to behold from beginning to end, but nearly half her lines sound wrong, either because of stilted delivery and inflection or because her Californian accent is showing through.

Depp himself initially seems to be suffering from the same disjoint — when he first appears as New York City constable Ichabod Crane, he seems painfully out of place. It isn’t until later that it becomes clear that Crane, both as conceived by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker and as vividly portrayed by Depp, is simply out of place everywhere.

Portraying perennial misfits is no new task for Depp, and his performance is one place where the mainstream critics don’t seem to get it. Harping on Crane’s various tics and small gestures, they don’t seem to understand that this is a man who, beneath his veneer of intellect and civilization, is deeply neurotic. The fact that his neurosis provides a driving force for his humanity and decency rather than making a monster of him or eventually plunging him into madness (as is more usual in today’s dark-themed movies), is one of the few original points about this script.

Not that a remake of Washington Irving’s classic, even a very fin-de-siècle one, is required to be very original. As a spooky story, Walker’s screenplay mostly satisfies. However, the pacing is awkward in many places, with climactic revelations coming too early in the movie and some plot threads given less attention than they deserved. Brom Bones in particular — the chief heavy of Irving’s original tale — appears in only three scenes. (This may, however, have been a careful way of keeping Casper Van Dien, previously seen as the protagonist in Starship Troopers, off the screen as much as possible.)

Christopher Walken as the Horseman is quite recognizable (in the two sequences where he has his head) and, while that is a bit jarring in itself, he is otherwise an excellent scenery-chewer and obviously has a great deal of fun with the part.

A bad idea done well can often trump a good idea done poorly, and this so-so idea is done up very well. The production values are, as has been said already in many other places, simply wonderful. The sets, the costumes, the creepy woods, the overabundance of fog, even the scarecrows and haystacks in the fields are by turns lush, foreboding, picturesque, and even gothically creepy. But there are other fields in which this production shines. The special effects are quite good, including some extraordinarily realistic-looking decapitations. The fight scenes and action sequences are excellently choreographed. In these, the Horseman is played by Ray Park, late of Darth Maul fame, who especially does a nice job with a dual weapon-flourish after decapitating people.

Additionally, the magic in this movie is done very nicely, in a way that’s easy to overlook: much like the rural setting itself, the magic is all hedge-style, plant- and animal-based, and somewhat wild. It has a very Witchy feel to it, in a way that seems very appropriate to the lush, wooded and naturalistic environment the story takes place in.

But for all the beautiful bits of eye-candy, this movie still leaves you walking out of the theater with a slightly hollow feeling. Don't pay full price for it.

Movie: Sleepy Hollow
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for graphic horror, violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson

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