Sleepy Hollow

a review by Chris


My theory is that when it comes to movies, there are really four "faces" of the whole experience that you have to consider.


The first face that many of us see is the all-important trailer, or coming-attraction. These trailers, so named because... they arrive at the theatre in trailer trucks... um, I donít know why they're called that, maybe they used to come after the film, are little films in and of themselves. At best, they contain the essence of a movie - hopefully not all the best parts, but highlights enough to entice you to see it. I would pay to see a showing of JUST trailers, believe it or not.


Sometimes, sadly, the trailer is the best part about a film. It ends up that the film may not be very good as a whole, but there are enough good shots and sounds, that in bits, the movie looks not too bad. This is why you must NEVER miss the previews when going to a movie. When the Phantom Menace trailer came out, we found out what theatre was showing it and in front of what movie, and bought tickets specifically so that we could see it. AND - when the previews inexplicably started 10 minutes before the movie time, making us miss the trailer, we asked the manager to let us stay and see the next showing, which he did, believe it or not.


Another face of the movie is everything you hear or read about it before you see it, be it criticisms, good or bad reviews, what your friends says, what the lead actor said on the E! show. This is the second way a lot of us experience the movies.


The third face is the movie poster. Sometimes THIS is the first contact you have with a movie. Movie posters are wonderful little capsules of the movie, and are ALSO sometimes better than the movie.


The point is, each "face" of the experience is - more or less - an art form in and of itself. And in an ideal world, people would make judgments about the movie based only on the fourth - and obviously most important - face, the film itself. Sometimes it's hard to do that.


I mention this because for Sleepy Hollow, the preview made me so excited I almost wet myself. It was a Tim Burton movie! It was going to be about THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN! It was produced by Francis Ford Coppola (as a part of his ongoing series of lavish Halloween retellings, I assume)! It had Johnny Depp as a sort of Ichabod Crane we'd never seen before!


The point of my lengthy four-faces intro is to describe to you how I view the movie experience, and to admit that perhaps my criticisms are based too much on my eagerness to see the film after the preview. Decide for yourself. Now let me stop to reiterate my stratification of reviews, which was originally found in the Matrix review. It is thusly:


Go see this film at the theatre at the best movie theatre in town.

Go see this film at the theatre

Go see this film at a matinee.

Go see this film at a matinee if your first choice is sold out.

See this film on video.

See this film on video if your first choice has already been rented.

See this film when it shows on cable.

See this film if it ever shows on regular TV.

Do not see this film.

Encourage others to not see this film.


Sleepy Hollow earns a Go see this film at a matinee. It falls short of being a great film because, despite looking simply beautiful, the story tended to meander through a few too many themes. But note that I AM saying you should check this out at the theatre!


Firstly, the fog-filled, shadowy town of Sleepy Hollow is wonderfully realized. It's like a place where the sun has been banished, or where the Horseman has scared it away. Burton's visual sense is usually so prevalent that it really takes over the film - not here, however, and to great effect.


The movie quickly sets up Ichabod Crane as a champion of science, and so we seem to know where the movie is headed: the man of reason thinks he can use that reason to dispel the ghost but quickly learns that not everything can be explained. (Sort of like Indy realizing that maybe there WAS something to that Ark business after all when all the Nazis exploded.) Maybe it would have been better if it HAD followed this standard formula.


Instead we get man of science argues with the superstitious yokels for a while about how superstitious they are, sees the Horseman himself and instantly drops the science angle, but then goes about finding out the explanation of why the Horseman is in Sleepy Hollow anyway. The problem with this was, the explanation was not very interesting. Suffice to say that it involved unraveling a not-all-that sensational conspiracy in the town. The best sections of the film dealt with learning how the Horseman came to be Headless. I am a sucker for an origin story of horror characters which I never even considered needed an origin story before - the best part of Coppola's Dracula were the "origin" bits that bookended the whole film. But when Sleepy Hollow came back around to the present, it lost steam. I prefer the Horseman as restless spirit - not as a sort of voodoo gris-gris that can be controlled by black magic. I am more interested in the Horseman than who's controlling him.

Also, the Horseman was surprisingly mortal and vulnerable as a spectre. Bullets knocked him off his horse. He had swordfights, and could be fought off. When a victim hid in achurch, the Horseman had to become strangely crafty and handy with a rope to draw him out. He could be fairly easily drawn into and diverted inside a giant windmill.


Besides that, once the plot dispensed with the idea of science or reason vs. magic, (when Ichabod resolved to face the Horseman), the subplot about the fate of Crane's nature-child possibly-witch mother seemed unnecessary. Maybe the film could have used more grounding in this subplot, and less in the conspiracy.


Still - go see it at the theatre. Depp does an excellent job as the nervous Crane, and Burton continues to astound. It's all worth it for the origin sequence.





© 1999 Absurd Pamphlet Press