This is a loose adaptation of the classic Washington Irving tale about supernatural events in a gloomy little town. Johnny Depp stars as Ichabod Crane, a constable operating in New York. It’s the end of 1799, and Crane is preaching for more reasonable methods to catch and condemn criminals. We learn that childhood trauma made him lose faith, turning him into a cowardly man of books, science and instruments. His superiors are kinda tired of his antics, so they send him to Sleepy Hollow, an upstate village where mysterious murders are being committed. Upon arrival, Crane is introduced to Sir Van Tassel, the rich landlord and banker who controls most of the region and to the local bourgeoisie, a small group of respected but suspicious fellows. They tell him about the Headless Horseman, an undead serial killer who rides through the haunted woods at night and chops heads. Crane is sure there is a logical explanation; he’s in for a big surprise…
First off, let me ask this: what the hell’s up with Andrew Kevin Walker? For 5 years now, he’s been surfing the critical and commercial success of his script for “Se7en”, one of the most disturbing films of the decade. I don’t know if that was a fluke or if his inspiration has run out, but his subsequent screenplays have been awfully conventional. I mean, “8MM”??? And now this. Okay, the premise is intriguing, but that’s Irving. What Walker brings is tired, by-the-book Hollywood schmaltz. The characters are broad and one-dimensional and the dialogue is at best honest. The horror scenes are satisfying, but the rest is just lazy storytelling, the kind of mystery plot you’d expect from Scooby Doo, but without the cartoon’s enjoyable campiness. The film is filled with unlikely coincidences and predictably unpredictable nonsense, just to make it hard to find who’s behind the wicked events. And then you have to sit through one of these horrible scenes in which, like in a James Bond flick, the moronic villain explains his whole scheme in details to the heroes. Add to this forced flashbacks and a clumsy try at romance and it’s almost enough to ruin the film.
Almost, cause it’s partly redeemed by the brilliant, stylish work of director Tim Burton, who takes the routine, old fashioned script and turns it into a powerful movie experience. This might actually be his most gorgeous looking flick. I love all the period details and how every shot seems surreal. The town of Sleepy Hollow is incredibly bleak and creepy, as if the sun never shone there! Burton creates an effective mood of danger and uncertainty through expressionistic lighting and the faded colors make the bright red of the blood even more striking. This is a film that will delight art direction lovers as well as horror fans. o matter how the dialogue scenes drag sometimes, the movie gets absolutely breath-taking whenever the Headless Horseman makes an appearance. The action and gore is as thrilling as it gets, thanks to tight editing, state of the art special effects and yet another extremely rich and effective score from Danny Elfman.
It’s really too bad the script stinks. This puts “Sleepy Hollow” somewhere between “Batman” and “Batman Returns” as another great looking but empty Burton film instead of reaching the artistic high of “Edward Scissorhands” or “Ed Wood”. What this new film does share with Burton’s best films is the presence of Johnny Depp, who pretty much succeeds at making his underwritten character interesting. The same can’t be said of Christina Ricci, who’s utterly boring in the role of a blonde damsel in distress. The film also features Casper Van Dien as Ricci’s beau, Jeffrey Jones as a priest, Lisa Marie as Depp’s mom and, most memorably, Christopher Walken, looking crazier than ever as the Horseman back when he had his head! “Sleepy Hollow” is pure eye candy, no doubt, but it fails to break out of the horror genre cliches. It’s like a very expensive B-movie.