One of the best-known literary pieces of American horror is the Washington Irving tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Everybody knows the story of Ichabod Crane and his fateful encounter with the legendary Headless Horseman. This story has been told countless times, from the animation artists of Walt Disney to the peculiar style of Tim Burton. Millions and millions of Americans have read the story and you would be hard pressed to find somebody that could not associate Sleepy Hollow with the headless horseman. In 1999, two filmed versions of the Washington Irving tale were released. Theatrically, Tim Burton found tremendous success with his visually stunning film Sleepy Hollow and had the skillful Johnny Depp portray Ichabod Crane as a bumbling and intelligent police investigator. On the television side of things, Hallmark created the Pierre Gang helmed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that strived to stay true to Irving's original telling.
Brent Carver is Ichabod Crane, Paul Lemelin is Abraham Bones and Rachelle Lefevre is their love interest, Katrina Van Tassel and this made-for-television film is perhaps the most faithful telling of the character's tale. The 1958 Bing Crosby narrated Disney version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was perhaps the most faithful of all previous tellings. It was short and to the point. Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow was influenced by Irving's story, but was far from faithful. Other notable adaptations included a 1980 television movie that featured Jeff Goldblum as Crane. That version took liberties with the story as well and leaned more towards the humorous side of storytelling. That version interestingly featured Dick Butkus as Brom Bones. There have been a dozen other tellings and adaptations of the New England tale.
This version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may be successful in sticking to the original storyline and plot points of Washington Irving's short story, but the film's decision to do so also brings about problems. Running at a hair over ninety minutes, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow becomes long in the tooth through numerous scenes. It is hard to expand upon a short story and create a full-length feature and NOT take liberties with the story. With no original angles or additional plot devices, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow becomes a long drawn out affair during some of the middle scenes. The story starts out with a wonderful introduction to the near-perfect portrayal of Ichabod Crane, and then spends the largest chunk of its time creating a love triangle between the three principle characters. It doesn't take long before you just want Crane to lose his head to the Hessian horror. It really starts to feel long after a while. Entertaining, but long.
Performances are good and they are about what I imagined when I first read the tale many moons ago and from my original introduction to the Disney cartoon. Brent Carver is wonderful as Ichabod Crane and Rachelle Lefevre is a lovely young lass who comes across as very desirable and wealthy. The Canadian cast assembled for the production is very good as Colonial New Yorkers during the Post-Revolutionary War era. There is one black mark against the cast and that is that of young Paul Lemelin. He is a pretty boy and looks nothing like the strong and strapping young farmer described by Irving. He doesn't look like he spent one day in his entire life working on a farm. I just can't see him wading in pig feces or even bailing hay. He is a better choice than Dick Butkus, but his casting isn't in line with the rest of the actors and actresses chosen for their roles.
In the end, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a great telling of the classic tale; even if it does tend to run on for long stretches of time and works too hard at stretching the story from its short beginnings to a feature length production. The sets and costumes are wonderful and the film is a great period piece of late 1700's America. Brent Carver deserves credit for his portrayal of Ichabod Crane, though I could never see a man of his Crane's appearance and attitude winning the heart of the young and attractive Katrina Van Tassel. If you love the original story, then you will probably want to get this faithful telling. If you are looking for frights and effects, then you may not find this story captivating. Admittedly, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of my favorite stories, so I may be a bit biased, but I don't have a problem recommending this one come Halloween.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a made for television movie that was filmed back in 1999 and before the days of High Definition Television. Therefore, you aren't going to have much luck in hoping this period piece is presented in anything other than a 4:3 full frame presentation. However, the picture quality is pretty good and though it isn't anamorphic widescreen, it is quite pleasing to the eyes. Colors are nicely saturated. Much of the action happens around nighttime, or in dankly lit interiors. Candlelight is commonplace. Detail is never lost in these dark scenes and a nice warm glow is emitted from the candles. Black levels could have been a tad better, but for the most part the transfer holds up perfectly fine during the dark scenes. The colorful women's clothing of the period comes across beautifully. My only true complaint is the stylistic choices made during the famous confrontation between coward and apparition. The source materials used were very clean and no faults in either the original film or the digital transfer to deliver The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to DVD can be found. This is far from being reference material, but it is right in line with what you would expect for a made-for-television film.
Sound is provided via a singular Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix. Essentially, the mix is a Dolby Pro Logic soundtrack delivered via Dolby Digital. Dialogue is very important for this film and though some of the thick accents are hard to understand, it is quite clear and as intelligible as thick accents can be. The musical score is passable and the aural range of the presentation is enough to make it feel warm and full. Bass response was adequate and the high end of the spectrum was nicely done. There really isn't much in the way of ambience or environmental effects for much of the film and the nature of the production certainly does not allow for a dynamic soundtrack. Basically, the soundtrack does the job it needs to do in order to tell its story. The title is closed-captioned, but there are no subtitles or alternate language tracks.
There are as many features on this DVD as eyes on a headless horseman. Zero.
Whatever happened to Ichabod Crane? Did he fall prey to the Headless Horseman? Did he run off into obscurity? Was Brom Bones the murderer, or was there really a crazed Hessian ghoul lopping of heads and trying to find one that fits? The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a well-known story that never reveals the fate of its main character. Generations have heard the story and are wondering what the answer to my questions is. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow stays faithful to the Washington Irving tale and features wonderful costumes and set design. The cast is quite good and convincing in their roles. The film itself runs a bit long because of the short story it is an adaptation of, but it manages to entertain for much of its running length. This is a very ho-hum DVD that offers nothing more than the made-for-television story. Fans of the story will certainly want this DVD and I'm sure it will appeal towards others. The disc could have packed a bit more than the bare basics, but if you want to witness the story the way it was meant to be told, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is quite good.