Here's what I've covered so far:
Intro: My Year at "Film School"
The (sorta)Forgettable Films
The Films That Just Don't Hold Up
When Bad Movies Happen to Good Directors
The Forgotten Gems of 1999:
The War Zone (Tim Roth)
Sunshine (István Szabó)
Beyond the Mat (Barry W. Blaustein)
Galaxy Quest (Dean Parisot)
Mumford (Lawrence Kasdan)
Bowfinger (Frank Oz)
Cookie's Fortune (Robert Altman)
I feel as though I have to come clean from the onset: I don’t much care for Tim Burton’s films. I know a lot of people love his work and praise his visual style, but honestly, his films do nothing for me. The guy is a visionary, I’ll give him that, but he can’t create characters worth a lick. I don’t think I have ever seen a Tim Burton movie where I really cared about what was going to happen to one of the characters, and I’ve always found the films where he completely abandons any semblance of story for more outrageous visuals to be his most tolerable. In 1999 he adapted Washington Irving’s popular short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and what he created was a work that was on par visually (read: it looked great and had bizarre set pieces) with his other films, but succeeded in making me laugh and have a good time while watching the story unfold – something that isn’t that common with Burton’s films.
Sleepy Hollow is a lot of fun, and it’s peculiar that I don’t hear it talked of very often when the director’s fans speak of his great movies. I always find it a chore to sit through Burton’s mopey excursions, but his take on Irving’s classic Gothic tale (which fits Burton like a glove…the establishing shots of the towns and the art direction are spot on, here) is an efficiently paced, sometimes scary, sometimes funny, always interesting to watch, horror movie.
Burton has a lot of fun with the Ichabod Crane character. He’s a scientific know-it-all who disregards the myth about The Headless Horseman from the minute he steps into Sleepy Hollow. He takes an analytical/scientific approach to the case, and what must be some of the earliest practices in forensics. Burton enjoys splattering blood onto Crane’s face whenever he can (making the viewer think of Sam Raimi), and as is normal with a Burton film, loves to don Depp with all kinds of bizarre “scientific” contraptions. It’s no wonder these two wanted to re-make Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, just look at the fun they’re having here.
The film is lit brilliantly, the sets beautifully constructed (the windmill at the end and the church, especially, make for great set pieces), the dream sequences stunning to look at (Burton has a thing for these ethereal dream sequences), and the music by Danny Elfman is haunting – so what else is new, right? Well, the delight is new. As I alluded to earlier I’ve always found it a chore to sit through Burton’s films. Only recently with Sweeney Todd did I find anything worthwhile after viewing one of his films, and after re-visiting Sleepy Hollow it’s even clearer now that the man should stick with stories of the macabre. The film is not really scary, that’s ruined by the first moment we see the martial arts fighting Headless Horseman, but it has a lot of fun with the spookiness that these kinds of myths evoke.
Irving’s story is more about Crane and the townsfolk, specifically the Van Tassel's, and especially Crane's relationship with Katrina Van Tassel (played by Christina Ricci who seems like she was born to be in a Burton film), and Burton for once does a decent job of establishing character and creating a likable, albeit exasperating, protagonist. And Depp plays that protagonist to perfection. He hits every offbeat note right. Many people point to his recent role as Jack Sparrow as proof the man can do comedy, but the real evidence is in Sleepy Hollow. Depp shows a lot of range in a one dimensional caricature, and he and Burton have a lot of fun with some of the more over-the-top moments (seriously: there’s a lot of blood in this movie…I’m talking Evil Dead 2 style.); there's even a moment at the end of the movie that reminded me of the Large Marge scene from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. You also get all kinds of Burton stalwarts playing bizarre roles: Michael Gough, Christopher Walken (who is appropriately cast as the pre-headless Headless Horseman), and Jeffery Jones. The screenplay was written Andrew Kevin Walker who wrote Seven, and even though this movie isn't nearly as serious about its horror tropes as that thriller was, he has a lot of fun playing up the lighter side of horror (Christopher Lee even has a cameo at the beginning, giving us the feeling of an old campy Hammer Horror picture).
What else can I say? This movie won’t set your world on fire, it has pretty much everything aesthetically that you expect from a Burton film – mix in some humor and creative set pieces and you have a movie that’s about a B- or B grade picture; but, despite what sounds like a lukewarm reaction to the movie I really did enjoy myself while re-watching it (I hadn’t seen it since it was out in the theater), and it’s a shame that it has been somewhat forgotten in Burton’s popular oeuvre. Among the forgotten gems of 1999 that I've covered Sleepy Hollow is probably the least impressive, but it’s a fun horror movie, and it is truly forgotten…I forgot how much I liked it until I watched a few days a go.