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SLEEPY HOLLOW

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Casper Van Dien, Michael Gough
Director:  Tim Burton
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  May 23, 2000

Film ***1/2

Tim Burton does much more than make movies…he creates entire worlds of endless fantasy, dreamlike atmosphere, and limitless potential for comedy, horror, or magic…or sometimes all three.  He was responsible for the zany comedy classics Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.  Then the world was taken aback when it was learned that he, of all directors, would bring the much anticipated Batman to the big screen.  He silenced critics by creating a dark, ambient, moody comic book world the likes of which had not been seen in cinema—but then, fell out of favor just as quickly with the sequel Batman Returns by focusing a little too much on the dark atmosphere and neuroses of the main characters.  Throughout his career, he has given fans much to marvel at, including his animated production Nightmare Before Christmas, his touching fairy tale Edward Scissorhands, and his masterpiece tribute to the life and times of Ed Wood.

Those latter films teamed Burton with actor Johnny Depp, and the two reunite once again for the director's latest opus of vision and fantasy, Sleepy Hollow.  Depp, an actor with amazing range and depth, and seemingly a new voice for every occasion, plays Washington Irving's legendary character Ichabod Crane.  And by the way, if you don't yet know who plays his nemesis, the Headless Horseman, don't let ANYBODY tell you until you've seen for yourself.

Crane is a New York constable in 1799, and is a man of science in a judicial world that still practices torturing confessions out of suspects.  He believes forensics can take police work into the next century, and his superiors give him a chance to prove just that by sending him to the little town of Sleepy Hollow.  There, he must try to solve a series of bizarre murders involving decapitations and missing heads, holding on to his scientific beliefs against a town given to superstition.

Or is it superstition?  After witnessing more and more inexplicable events, Crane begins to wonder if the legend of the so-called Headless Horseman is indeed frighteningly real.

As mentioned, Depp gives another excellent performance in this film, as do the entire cast of supporting characters (Christina Ricci in particular).  But the heart of the picture is Tim Burton's vision, and it is one of the most amazing he's ever offered.  The town is quiet and dreary, seemingly a lost remnant of somebody's dream.  The mist that rolls in actually seems to weigh heavy, even extinguishing the torches it covers.  The woods are a twisted, wretched, creepy throwback to the best of German expressionistic horror, and the way Burton uses his “natural” images to frame foreground action will remind you of some of the classics of the genre, including Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. 

Burton and his team also weave impeccable art direction and set design with flawless special effects and CGI's, which bring the horror and suspense that much more to life.  I should take a moment and point out to fans that this picture is considerably more violent than what you might expect from Tim Burton.  It's not overdone, but there are enough disturbing images to satisfy the nature of the story.

In the end, I think this picture could be considered one of Burton's finest efforts.  I have read a critical complaint or two that proclaim this movie shallow, but in all fairness, you could say the same thing about Washington Irving's original story.  It was never meant to be a deep, provocative character study.  It was meant to be the kind of creepy campfire story that would keep you up in your tent all night, ever watchful for the distant footsteps of the ghostly equestrian.

Video ****

This is an outstanding anamorphic transfer from Paramount, a studio that is steadily climbing in terms of quality DVD's, in my opinion.  Some have referred to this movie as being a color film shot like a black and white one, and I think this transfer really helps one appreciate that notion.  There is a wide array of bright whites and light colors contrasting against deep blacks and strong darks, which helps the picture create its off-kilter image.  The results are beautiful:  no evidence of grain, compression, color bleeding or distracting nicks and scars.  Images are crisp and sharp when called for, purposely a bit softer in certain segments, though there's no doubt when and where they are supposed to be that way.  Color rendering is excellent, and detail is consistently remarkable, even in deep focus shots.  A real treat.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix featured on this disc is extraordinarily dynamic…almost too much.  It will proceed at a normal level for a period, then come exploding out of your speakers at such a high level, you might have to make a dive for your remote.  The .1 channel is given good use in stormy sequences and sudden bursts of bottom end from Danny Elfman's score, along with a few good rumblings during action scenes.  I only wish the rear channels had been accessed a little more.  There are a few too many long stretches where they aren't noticeable, though when they kick in, the overall audio ambience is quite satisfactory.

Features ****

The disc contains a commentary track by director Burton, a “Behind the Legend” featurette, a collection of cast and crew interviews, two trailers, talent files, and a photo gallery.

Summary:

Consider Tim Burton's version the ultimate Sleepy Hollow film…if all you've ever seen was that goofy Disney short with Bing Crosby, you haven't experienced the true surrealistic horror of this classic American fairy tale.  This is a beautifully realized movie on an outstanding DVD; a richly drawn fantasy world as only Burton could deliver, and one you might want to visit time and time again.