Sleepy Hollow (DVD)
Starring Christina Ricci et al
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Steve, . 27 March 2003
A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes
Tim Burton's campily creepy SLEEPY HOLLOW has great visuals and Johnny Depp's usual imaginative acting. A fun film, it is light-years better than the schlock horror pictures that played this past Halloween, when this movie should have more appropriately opened.
But first a warning is in order.
No, not about the gore. If you purchase a ticket to SLEEPY HOLLOW and are shocked to see explicit violence in a movie about a serial decapitator, then you have only your own naive stupidity to blame.
The warning is about the script and the miscasting of the female lead. Kevin Yagher's underdeveloped script, based on the famous Washington Irving story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," has some good ideas but lacks a cohesive narrative.
Cast opposite Johnny Depp, as Constable Ichabod Crane, is Christina Ricci, as his love interest, Katrina Van Tassel. Ricci, wearing wisps whites and pastel blues, looks wonderful on her large white horse. Everything is fine until she speaks. The script, which takes advantage of none of her signature sarcasm, offers her few opportunities to shine. The result is a bland performance in which there is no chemistry between her and Depp. Basically, to enjoy the show the viewers are required to ignore Ricci and focus exclusively on Depp and on the film's mesmerizing look.
Called from New York City to investigate the macabre murders in the remote village of Sleepy Hollow, Crane takes such a soundly scientific approach to the crimes that he would make Sherlock Holmes proud. Using gadgets of his own invention, he researches the crime scenes and the bodies, which he exhumes. He completely rejects the notion of the frightened villagers that the missing heads of the victims were "taken by the Headless Horseman back to Hell." (With sharp triangular teeth, Christopher Walken, in a cameo, does an hilarious, over-the-top rendition of the Headless Horseman.)
"Murder needs no ghost come from the grave," Crane lectures the assembled, whom he views as a bunch of impressionable country bumpkins. Once he encounters the fiend, however, Crane retreats to the safety of the bedcovers of his bed and whimpers like a schoolboy.
The marvel of Depp's performance is that he encourages us to laugh with him and not at him. With shifty eyes and dramatic gestures, he lets us in on the joke. When he cuts into a tree that splatters blood on him, we're supposed to grimace and then laugh. "It's okay," he seems to be saying to us, "we know you're going to find this funny. Laugh all you want and have a good time." After all, what other reaction can there be to a movie that has a headless guy, who can't be killed (he's already dead, you see), riding around slicing off other people's heads.
Ah, and then there are the visuals, which are certainly worth the price of admission. When he pulls the camera back to show the grand vistas, Burton's picture has the grandeur of a Frederick Edwin Church painting of upstate New York where the story is set. The gothic village itself has a wonderfully eerie feel. Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography features denuded color in some scenes and a strong steel-blue look in others. As the scenes change, "wow" is the most common reaction.
It's fun, it's funny, it looks great and it's got Johnny Depp. What else do you need to know about the movie, anyway?
SLEEPY HOLLOW runs 1:45. It is rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality and would be fine for most teenagers.
Region 2 - Europe (except Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus), Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Greenland, French Overseas departments and territories.