SLEEPY HOLLOW - HD DVD review

I can't think of a better reason to enjoy some candy corn, roasted pumpkin seeds and apple cider than to sit down and spend a couple hours in the quiet little town of Sleepy Hollow.

DeanWink

Before I even start to write my review of Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow," I am going to come clean on something. I am a Tim Burton junkie. I still consider "Batman (1989)" the best damn comic book / superhero movie, ever. "Edward Scissorhands" and "Big Fish" were incredible films about unusual folk. "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" may very well be my favorite film of all time. "Planet of the Apes?" Loved it. "Mars Attacks!?" Loved it. Tim Burton could make a motion picture about a solitary pumpkin that sits in a mildew ravaged cornfield and has absolutely nothing to do or say and I'd probably love it. Therefore, you can expect this review to be tremendously biased towards Burton's adaptation of the Washington Irving story.

Burton's re-imagining of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" finds Ichabod Crane to be a constable sent from New York City to the quiet and isolated town to investigate a string of murders in 1799. This is an instant deviation from the classic tale that has Crane arrive in Sleepy Hollow to take the vacant schoolmaster position. Of course, the whole plot device that allows reasoning to why the Headless Horseman is committing the violet crimes is not part of the original writing. For any purists of the original story or of Walt Disney's animated 1959 version, you may be disappointed, but Burton's additions, modifications and alterations to the classic tale offer a modern updating of the story, but keeps enough of the original story to pay proper homage and maintain the spooky spirit of the story.

When remaking a Halloween classic, is there anybody else out there that is better suited for the job than Tim Burton? I think not. I am not sure if another director ever existed that had a better idea of what Halloween, specters and creepiness should look like than Burton. The director has a unique look to his films that instantly proclaims "This is a Tim Burton film" and those films have historically had something supernatural attached to them. Just take a gander at the scarecrow that appears early in the film. It is a simple scarecrow, but you know that Burton was behind the pumpkin, straw and cruddy clothing that the scarecrow is comprised of. There is absolutely nobody in Hollywood that could have done "Sleepy Hollow" and given it the soul and spirit that Tim Burton did.

Mix in Burton friends Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman and you are almost guaranteed a classic. Johnny Depp is one of the finest character actors in Hollywood. He has a long running friendship with Burton that is particularly thriving in recent years with the recent "Corpse Bride," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and the upcoming "Sweeney Todd." Depp had previously worked with Burton on "Edward Scissorhands." Danny Elfman is one of the finest composers today. The former Oingo Boingo frontman has been quite busy since the mid-Eighties and his longtime collaboration with Burton began with "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" and the musical scores that Elfman has composed for Burton have a unique sound that add to the flavor and feel of a Tim Burton film.

This ghoulish tale includes more great talent than just Burton, Depp and Elfman. Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid, the incredible and creepy Christopher Walken and one of the great horror actors, Christopher Lee are among the familiar names that populate the closing crawl. If you look closely, you can also spot Martin Landau in an uncredited role and Burton's former fiancée Lisa Marie. This cast is full of veteran's of horror films and those who have been at Burton's side in a couple of the director's films. Fellow Pennsylvanian and "Se7en" scribe Andrew Kevin Wallker receives the screenplay credit. The swordplay, stunts and fighting of the Headless Horseman was handled by veteran stuntman Ray Park. Burton is one of the few directors that consistently finds himself surrounded by so much talent and this is to the benefit of "Sleepy Hollow."

The story of "Sleepy Hollow" finds Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) as an outsider in the New York City that is constantly at arms with the Head Constable because of his ‘cutting-edge' sciences that Crane applies to his investigates and easily finds faults in the police work done by others that results in solved mysteries, but not necessarily correctly solved mysteries. Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow for the purpose of investigating a string of serial murders (and to get him out of the hair of his superiors). Ichabod is a squeamish sort who fears spiders, but is not afraid of getting bloody. He is given shelter in the home of Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon) alongside with Lady Mary Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson) and Baltus' daughter Katrina Anne (Christina Ricci). He bases his investigation from a small room in which they have given him stay.

Crane discovers that the Horseman is a Hessian mercenary (Christopher Walken) that was murdered and beheaded twenty years prior. It is known that the Horseman had beheaded all of his victims and taken the heads. A young boy, "Young" Jonathan Masbath, finds his father among the victims and he joins Ichabod with the desire of finding his father's murderer. The lovely and curvaceous Katrina admits to reading and believing in witchcraft and supports Ichabod the best she can and the two find a mutual attraction between them. Heads continually disappear from the shoulders of the townsfolk and Ichabod feels that the Horseman is looking for his own head, but the question becomes "Who has the Headless Horseman's head?"

"Sleepy Hollow" is a great Halloween film. It is a great re-telling of the holiday classic and though it strays greatly from the original short story, "Sleepy Hallow" succeeds in offering a fresh and interesting take on Washington Irving's writings. The film has a wonderful Burton ‘creepy feeling' about it that perfectly captures the essence of a spooky and frightening town that is being terrorized by a specter with no head and a desire to shed blood and enact his revenge against those who still possess their own heads. Everything from the trees to the scarecrows show the touch of Burton. The costumes and sets are incredible and fit the story and period perfectly. This is a fun story that can be frightening enough to suit its purpose, but will not frighten anybody away from watching it. I think Walt Disney's animated adaptation frightened me more than Burton's vision, but I was extremely young when I first saw that one.

The actors and actresses in "Sleepy Hollow" are brilliant as well. Christopher Lee and Christopher Walken are just great actors for a spooky film and Burton utilizes their talents well. Martin Landau and Michael Gough have previously worked with Burton and they shine in their portrayals as town elders. Depp is his usual inventive and entertaining self as Ichabod Crane and his quirky performance rivals anything else he has done recently, including his portrayals as Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka. Christina Ricci has had to fight off a stigmata for years that has labeled as a ‘creepy movie' actress. She is lovely in this film and has a sincerely and sweetness to her character that is far from Wednesday Addams.

I watch "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" a couple times a year. I try to watch it on Halloween and sometime near Christmas. In my opinion, that is the perfect Halloween ‘special.' Sure, I love the Great Pumpkin too Linus, but Jack Skellington has your pumpkin king beat. Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" is another great Halloween classic from the master of dark and brooding. I rushed to the theaters to see this film and I've watched it more than a couple of times since its release. The retelling is fresh and appropriate. The performances are creepy and entertaining. Depp is in top form. Burton is in top form. I can't think of a better reason to enjoy some candy corn, roasted pumpkin seeds and apple cider than to sit down and spend a couple hours in the quiet little town of "Sleepy Hollow."

Video:

"Sleepy Hollow" is a visual film, as most Tim Burton films are. The director has an eye for visuals and a special knack for creepy and spooky. Much of "Sleepy Hollow" happens either in night or under a gray haze. The sun isn't much welcome in this picture and bright colors stay clear as well. Yes, there are very orange jack-o-lanterns and very red blood, but much of the film features dark and subdued colors to help with the creepy quotient for visuals. The sets are stupendous and perfectly accentuate the story. A Tim Burton film is typically as much fun to watch for the look and feel of the film as it is to enjoy for the story. "Sleepy Hollow" is no exception to this rule and this is about as good as any Halloween film will every look.

The costumes and sets are amazing. The town lacks that ‘authentic' feel as period-related films "The Village" or even "The Patriot," but you can easily believe that the town of Sleepy Hollow exists in the very same universe as "Beetlejuice" or "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas." The buildings, props, horses and costumes look authentic enough, but they are stylized with enough creepiness to be very much at home in a town that is under siege by a supernatural horseman who has nothing better to do than chop off a couple of heads.

Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and mastered at 1080p, "Sleepy Hollow" looks pretty good in HD-DVD. The film has a dark and morose visual appeal to it that does not translate to the most stunning images you'll see in high definition, but compared to the standard DVD release, it is quite an improvement and aside from a few scenes that are slightly on the soft side, there are no complaints with the picture quality. I didn't find this to be nearly as head-lopping stunning as "Sahara," but it was far better than "Tomb Raider." Shadow detail and black levels are very important to this picture and they fit right at home here. A few scenes do come across as soft, but one has to think that the camera filters, constant fog elements and other tricks of cinematography are at play here. The film is not intended to be perfectly sharp and well defined. It is to be hazy, dreamy and spooky. I would have liked for a bit more detail in the image, but I was more than satisfied with the transfer when it was compared with the older DVD release.

Audio:

Danny Elfman continues his long-standing partnership with Tim Burton and "Sleepy Hollow" fortunately, sounds extremely well. Paramount has shipped all of their first cinematic releases with English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and English DTS 5.1. The Dolby Digital Plus multi-channel surround mixes have thus far proven to be slightly superior to the DTS mix and this film is no exception. "Sleepy Hollow" is a great sounding film with a lively soundtrack that is not as aggressive as most action films, but is quite atmospheric and eerie. First of all, Elfman's score is deliciously chilling. It perfectly fits the storyline and certainly adds emotion, fright and feeling to the scenes. Sound effects are also nicely done. The sword sounds very sharp as it cuts through a victims neck and the clanking of metal as the townsfolk attempt to fight back against the Horseman sound as if they are fighting in the same room as you. Bass is deep and pronounced throughout the film. Dialogue is very clear. "Sleepy Hollow" is not a film that is going to excite you for its technical merit, as the soundtrack is not that terribly aggressive. It will, however, give you a few good goosebumps.

Extras:

Paramount has done a commendable job thus far on HD-DVD when it comes to extras. At bare minimum, they have provided the same features found on the standard definition releases and as a small added bonus, the theatrical trailers and teaser trailers have been remastered in high definition. "Sleepy Hollow" is no exception and contains a decent amount of bonus materials to keep us Tim Burton fans more than content. First and certainly most important is the Commentary by Director Tim Burton. Burton has never offered much support in providing DVD supplements. He helped out a great deal on the "Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas" CAV LaserDisc set, but that was about the end of his support until about the time this DVD was released. Mr. Burton comes across as one who loves filmmaking and has a lot to offer in the knowledge of filmmaking. From listening to his commentary, you get an appreciation for the deep layers he tries to weave into his films and you get a good insight into the making of "Sleepy Hollow." I'll admit that the commentary was not the most upbeat and there were long silences, but Burton's commentary is a must listen for fans.

In addition to the exquisite commentary, you get a thirty minute making of documentary, Behind Sleepy Hollow that comes right from the EPK cookie cutter, but I found it tremendously interesting. And again, I'm heavily biased. Tim Burton, Christopher Lee, Christina Ricci, Johnny Depp and a number of others offer their time for the on-screen interviews. There is a lively musical score and that voice that I hear on a third of all theatrical trailers is there (I really need to find out his name). Burton discusses the reasoning for making this film the way he did. I found it very interesting as they showed a great deal of footage on the making of the film. You get to see how different the finished product looked after post-production for a few scenes. Good stuff. Reflections on Sleepy Hollow is a little eleven minute featurette which has Tim Burton in some really odd eyeglasses and other members of the cast discussing more about the history of the story and his enjoyment of brining the story to the big screen. Aside from these two features, there is a high definition theatrical trailer and teaser.

Closing Comments:

I love the Tim Burton film "Sleepy Hollow," but I am biased and can't see how somebody else would possibly not like the movie. I feel this is a wonderful adaptation of Washington Irving's short story. It is a deep and modern retelling of the classic Halloween horror tale. Burton surrounded himself with a great cast and they all put forth solid performances for their director. The sets, costumes and props are wonderful and the film certainly has that "Tim Burton Look." The DVD features a nice image and good sound, though this is hardly a stand out technical title on the HD-DVD format. The number of supplements are a bit thin, but the commentary track is great. The making of feature is one of the better electronic press kit documentaries I've seen in a while. Other than a second smaller featurette and some trailers, the rest of the supplements are quite thin. The commentary is worth listening to and is the best bit of value-added content on the disc. This is a perfect film to watch with friends around Halloween. It is also a good film to watch any other time of the year, but Burton is the pumpkin king.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
6
Film Value
10