Main cast: Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane), Christina Ricci (Katrina Van Tassel), Christopher Walken (The Headless Horseman), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel), Jeffrey Jones (Reverend Steenwyck), Casper Van Dien (Brom Van Brunt), Michael Gambon (Baltus Van Tassel), Richard Griffiths (Magistrate Samuel Philipse), Ian McDiarmid (Dr Thomas Lancaster), Michael Gough (Notary James Hardenbrook), Christopher Lee (The Burgomaster), Martin Landau (Peter Van Garrett), and Peter Guinness (Lord Crane)
Director: Tim Burton
Some movies are beautiful photo albums in disguise, and Sleepy Hollow is one of them. Every scene is a masterpiece of light dancing on darkness, every shadow and highlight combining to form a haunting landscape of beauty that I can never be sure whether it’s a scene from a dream or a nightmare. Tim Burton is a director whom I’m always fond of, for his vision is always an elegant blend of things macabre and lyrical. No one but he can make Katrina Van Tassel’s slow pirouette in her blind-man’s-bluff game, hands outstretched and dancing in slow circle, her bare feet almost moving on air and her skirts gliding on air… simply poetic.
This movie is also cold and clinical, often than not devoid of any semblance of humanity. Its beauty can become so cold, so inhuman, that without any warmth in sight, the whole thing just isn’t welcoming any more to my senses.
Ichabod Crane is a visionary whose advocation of logical deductions and scientific analysis to the solving of crimes causes his peer at the law enforcement body which he works to expel him to Sleepy Hollow. There’s a madman going around severing and keeping the heads of his victims. If Ichabod can solve this crime, his methods would then be proven as effective. Ichabod, undeterred, marches off to Sleepy Hollow. He seeks lodging with the Van Tassels, one of the more prominent families, and finds himself attracted to the daughter Katrina. And adding to the fun is the Headless Horseman and his head-severing antics.
Nothing is what it seems in Sleepy Hollow, as Ichabod learns. Magic exists comfortably beside science, and this rigidly scientific and emotionally repressed man is soon facing the test of his life. Can he unbend and thaw in time to stop the Headless Horseman? For this whole madness has degenerated into not only a murder to be solved, but a challenge to Ichabod’s ability to feel and care, and yes, trust his fellow human beings.
All this I have to deduce from the movie, of course. Tim Burton obviously cares more for the correct angle of light than the development of his key players. Katrina is inscrutable and severely underdeveloped and her loyalty to her father is never convincing, as is her potentially interesting past. Ichabod is slightly better shaped in terms of character, but then again, I come out of this movie knowing little about him. His relationship with Katrina, needless to say, is definitely kept in the freezer for all the warmth they display. It’s not Johnny Depp’s or Christina Ricci’s fault – it’s just that the script and direction allow them little room to spread their wings. It is as if acting is kept to a minimum in fear of overshadowing the admittedly beautifully gothic special effects.
Only Tim Burton can make lopping off of heads a cartoony yet poetic act (feel free to call the shrink). There are plenty of hush-hush-wink-wink nudgings from the movie to us old horror movie veterans, with subtle yet clear tributes to old, hokey cult horror classics on cable. If this is Mr Burton’s tribute to his childhood favorites and muses, it works. Sleepy Hollow manages to combine everything that’s haunting and eerie and yes, erotic, about death and horror in one unforgettable movie. But ultimately, it also comes off like a new mechanical toy, lacking a pulse.