Sleepy Hollow
U.S.A. / 1999
Directed by Tim Burton
Johnny Depp
Christina Ricci
Christopher Walken
Color / 105 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Paramount Home Video
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    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Noah Soudrette
The year is 1799. Ichabod Crane is the most controversial police constable in the state of New York. Crane has a number or radical ideas on the blossoming science of forensics, taking every opportunity he can to challenge the system of law and order. During court, after one of his frequent outbursts on the subject, he's given a challenge by the Burgomeister to solve a series of bizarre murders in the upstate town of Sleepy Hollow. Crane is dispatched quickly, arriving there to meet the five town elders and the community leader's beautiful daughter, Katrina Van Tassel. Ichabod publicly announces his mission to seek out the murderer. The killings continue. Even after Crane is confronted with the supernatural nature of his prey, he's resolved to find the person pulling the puppet strings of the Headless Horseman. Ichabod's persistence pushes the situation to a fever pitch; as he begins to unravel the dark conspiracy of the Hollow, the bloody attacks become more frequent. His discovery of the truth leads toward the furious final battle between the supernatural killer and the logical detective.
    Tim Burton despite a few slip-ups is one of the most visionary and talented directors working in Hollywood today. His version of the classic Washington Irving story is possibly his finest effort as a filmmaker. The thing that really makes this film a delight for a viewer like myself is that it's a homage to the great European horror films of the late '50s and early '60s, particularly those of Terence Fisher and Mario Bava. With the assistance of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Like Water for Chocolate) Burton crafts what could very well be the kind of movie Hammer Films would roll out today if the studio were still in existence. Add to this Ichabod's creepy dream sequences, inspired by Bava's Black Sunday, and you have a truly visual feast. Of course, all of these beautiful visuals would be pointless without the taut, humorous, and well-crafted screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en). While a few critics complained about the ending, I found it kept the energy level high and competently tied the film together.
    The other factor, besides visuals, which makes this film great is the large number of wonderful film/theater actors taking on some of the more entertaining and colorful characters to grace the screen of late. First is Johnny Depp's (From Hell) wonderfully comedic portrayal of constable Ichabod Crane. Here Depp shows his amazing talent once again; his performance rivals that of his earlier role in Burton's Ed Wood. Christina Ricci's turn as Katrina is well done, even if she does have a few issues with her accent. The great Michael Gambon (The Beast Must Die) fills the shoes of Baltus Van Tassell, alongside his compatriots: Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice) as the Reverend Steenwyck, Richard Griffiths (Gormenghast) as Magistrate Philipse, Ian McDiarmid (Return of the Jedi) as Dr. Lancaster, and the wonderful Michael Gough (Horror of Dracula) as Notary Hardenbrook. Rounding out the cast is Casper Van Dien as Brom, Christopher Walken (A View to A Kill)
getting his Lon Chaney Jr. on as the Horseman, and a wonderfully welcome cameo by the great Christopher Lee. The only member of the cast I had any problem with was Miranda Richardson as Lady Van Tassel. I found her performance towards the end of the film severely lacking for someone who's classically trained in Shakespearean drama. This quibble aside, Sleepy Hollow is one of Tim Burton's strongest films and easily challenges Batman, Ed Wood, and Edward Scissorhands for the top spot in his filmography.

The Paramount DVD presents Sleepy Hollow in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9. The quality of this transfer does the film the justice it truly deserves. Colors are rendered beautifully here, and while many were intentionally muted by Burton, no detail is lost whatsoever. Shadows are a deep black, and reds look great splattering on Johnny Depp's face. The film print has no defects naturally, and there are no compression artifacts or grain to be seen. This is one of the finer and well-balanced DVD transfers I've seen. The sound is equally excellent, presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround. All the dialogue is clear, the music clashes like you were there in the recording studio, and the snack of the blade will resound deliciously from your speakers.
    Thankfully, Paramount includes a decent amount of extras with this release. First up is an audio commentary with Tim Burton. The big problem with the track is that Burton isn't the most talkative guy in the world (as least when he's alone, anyway). There are numerous silent gaps on this track. However, when he does talk, what he has to say is always interesting. It's almost as if you were sitting down with a friend, who just so happens to be the director, watching the movie with him while he makes the occasional fascinating comment. Overall, its sparseness aside, I found this track rather entertaining. Next, we have a 30-minute featurette entitled Behind the Legend which is thankfully more informative than promotional. The feature covers details of the production, and gives the viewer a number of glimpses at the construction of the town, the windmill, the horseman, and decapitated heads. Overall, an enjoyable half-hour. Complementing this is an 11-minute interview segment featuring Burton, Depp, Ricci, and others. Rounding out the features are a disposable photo gallery and a decent set of cast biographies.
    With a nice set of extras to enhance an even nicer film, Paramount has done a bang-up job with the Sleepy Hollow DVD. 9/19/02