Halloween Review – “Sleepy Hollow”

A Tim Burton movie to its core – from Johnny Depp as the lead and a Danny Elfman score right down to bizarre mechanical contraptions.

Production Info

Johnny Depp …. Constable Ichabod Crane
Christina Ricci …. Katrina Anne Van Tassel
Miranda Richardson …. Lady Mary Van Tassel/The Western Woods Crone
Michael Gambon …. Baltus Van Tassel
Casper Van Dien …. Brom Van Brunt

Complete info can be found at imdb.com
The DVD release can be found at Amazon.com


Burton is all about tone – and the darker, more foreboding he makes it, the better he is at it. He’s in top form here. Sleepy Hollow takes Washington Irving’s folktale, nods at it a few times, and then goes on to tell a fascinating story that bears just enough resemblance to Irving’s that it’s recognizable. Only the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. Ichabod Crane is, in this version, a police constable from a New York just on the edge of the 19th century, fighting to have science and reason taken seriously in police investigations. He’s sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders that apparently have no scientific or reasonable explanations. Or do they?
If you’re looking for an accurate adaptation, forget it. Of course, that doesn’t preclude this being a thoroughly enjoyable movie. I’ve always wanted more from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Some explanation of where the horseman came from, why he was doing what he was doing. Of
course, that was always part of what made the story so creepy to me – why it still works as a tale that inspires some measure of dread and unease. There is no reasoning with the ghost
– there was no logic or method or explanation. Simply terror. Of course, you can’t have a movie work like that (at least not unless you want it to be a slasher flick), so Tim Burton creates a
back story for the ghost – a reason for it to rise from the dead. And amazingly, he handles the
twofold ideas of mysticism and science deftly, folding them together so that neither one cancels
the other. After Crane comes to grips with the reality of the ghost, he doesn’t abandon his scientific tools – he simply assesses his new set of facts and moves on to examine what he can reason with.
Definitely recommended watching this Halloween season – not terribly frightening (unless you’re alone in a dark house) but terribly entertaining.

High Point

“It’s a headless horseman!”
“Yes, we told you”
“No! You don’t understand! It’s got no head!”

Low Point

I’m torn here. I was initially going to pick Crane’s series of dream sequences. They’re completely superfluous and unnecessary to the story – his personal history doesn’t really need to be
explained as his characterization comes through quite well simply from his actions. And then Christina Ricci opened her mouth. She’s not an inherently bad actress – I’ve seen her do good work
(though just what escapes me at the moment) but this is far from it. I just can’t choose!

The Scores

The originality is debatable. Certainly, it’s an adaptation of a short story – but it’s so heavily adapted (and stretched to fill a feature film) that very little is left of the original but an inspiration. I’ll give it the bendefit of the doubt and a 4 out of 6.

The effects were excellent – most notable are the severed heads. Prior to this movie, a severed head usually looked waxen, stiff, and unbelievable. That’s because prior to this, severed heads really were waxen. (I’m of course referring only to those in movies.) With this movie, they began to digitally place images of people’s faces onto the molded head – and while subtle, the difference is noticeable (if you’re looking for that sort of thing. And I do).
For that alone, I’d give it a 5, but add the rest of the effects in and it gets a 6 out of 6.

I’m not 100% on the story. There are places where it seems needlessly belabored – and numerous times it occurred to me that one of the more expedient things to do would be to have killed Crane. But, then you wouldn’t have a happy ending and everyone goes home sad. To be fair, it’s better than some of the movies I’ve seen this summer. 3 out of 6.

The acting was uneven – Depp gave his usual stellar performance, and most of the supporting cast was excellent. They made up for Ricci’s less than inspiring performance (which usually
drew me enough out of the movie that I was able to think things like “so why *didn’t* they just kill Crane?”) and Miranda Richardson’s awkward explanation of the plot (which really wasn’t her fault). Since on the whole it was really quite good, I give it a 4 out of 6. (On a side note – does anyone else find it hard to take Christopher Walken seriously these days?)

It’s hard to judge emotional response here. I’ve seen this about 5 times now – obviously I enjoy it – but I’m sure my emotional response has been damped down. I remember my heart racing at points when I saw it in the theater – and I know my wife spent a sleepless night alone when she first moved into our apartment and watched it late at night by herself. That – and the fact that I still laugh at all the “jokes” scattered throughout – says to me that this did what it intended to do – and thus gets a 6 out of 6.

I didn’t notice any problems with production – and I was watching for them this time through. I’m sure IMDB has a list of every production flub, but as a casual viewer, the production
was quite good. 5 out of 6.

Overall, this was an excellent movie, with everything I wanted it to have – there’s a certain feel you begin to expect from a Tim Burton movie, and a certain level of quality. This has it. Definitely a 6 out of 6.

In total, Sleepy Hollow recieves a score of 34 out of 42.

Halloween Countdown to date

3 replies on “Halloween Review – “Sleepy Hollow””

  1. Depp
    Depp has got to be one of, if not the most talented actors of his generation. While Sleepy Hollow may not be the best film he’s ever been in, his performance is fantastic, as usual. Any film that comes out with Depp in it, I am automatically inclined to see. Pirates of the Caribbean is the best example. When I first heard about it, before the cast was being touted in the previews, I said, “No way, this is just Country Bears all over again.” Then I heard Depp was the lead, and I couldn’t get to the theater fast enough. I went to see Chocolat with my wife because he was in it. Benny and Joon, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Don Juan DeMarco, even Arizona Dream. He’s just a freaking fantastic actor! Finding Neverland and the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are already on my list of theater-worthy trips (we have to pick and choose – an 18 month old means babysitting time).

    • Re: Depp

      while I too am a Depp fan, he has more then his share of bad movies to his credit, such as the Ninth Gate and Secret Window… which would destroy careers of lesser actors, which I suppose proves just how talented he is

Comments are closed.