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Sleepy Hollow (1999) – Movie Review

Sleepy Hollow movie poster

Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, based on a story by Andrew Kevin Walker & Kevin Yagher, which was based on the story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Christopher Walken

My Advice: Matinee.

Ichabod Crane (Depp) is a constable with roots in science and logic. He really isn’t fond of his peers and supervisors with their inquisitional ways and toys. The Burgomaster (Christopher Lee), sick of Crane’s whining, sends him upstate to the town of Sleepy Hollow. Apparently, this little burg has a bit of a problem. You see, a headless Hessian soldier (Walken) appears to be still walking (and riding) around—and taking the heads of others. Crane is certain it’s all superstition, and resolves to find the earthly hand that’s causing the murders.

Let me say this first of all–the film is a stylistic masterpiece. Burton and company were harkening back to the old days–the Hammer/AIP pictures from the fifties and sixties. You know the type: gothic moody surroundings, high romance, high overdrama, high hyperbole—the works. And they hit that nail right on the fricking head. It’s set up extremely well, with fine production design by Rick Heinrichs and kick ass costuming by Colleen Atwood.

Then the ball is picked up and carried by a well-chosen cast. The who’s who of Brit character actors is led by Michael Gambon, with Michael Gough and Ian McDiarmid. Chris Walken is having way too much fun being full-on evil as the Horseman. It’s obvious they’ve got Ray Park on board as the fighting Horseman–the hand-to-hand combat sequences are elegantly lethal. Johnny Depp captures the essence of the original Ichabod’s quirkiness, and manages to make it fit within the confines of the adapted story. I’m beginning to think there’s nothing the boy can’t do.

But—ah ha, and you saw that but coming didn’t you? But all is not well. The story has problems, and not even the ones you might be expecting. The obvious problem would be that they changed up some of the elements of the original Irving story, primarily that Ichabod was a schoolteacher, now he’s Ichabod Crane, P.I. That actually didn’t bother me, because Depp was able to bring some of that old school Ichabod (did I just type “old school Ichabod”?) to the role as I said before. No, the problem is in the last half hour, when the entire house of cards tumbles to the floor. A chase through the woods completely ignores a certain plot point (discovered during a battle involving large scythes) and also had me wondering which film it reminded me more of, Friday the 13th Part V or Part VI? Also, when you finally get to the bottom of the whodunit, you wish it had a resolution like the board game Clue instead of something that would make Agatha Christie ask for a transcript. Certain bits which were added, among them information about Ichabod’s traumatic childhood, only serve to muddle the waters further.

What you’re left with is a film that should be viewed on the big screen so one can appreciate the masterwork that is Burton’s setting for the action that follows. The performances bring merit as well. However, not enough attention was paid to the tale being told, and as a result the film suffers needlessly. It’s a shame, because Burton was the man to do this film up right—but somehow the vision didn’t translate well when all is said and done.