What we have here is the product of two men. After his screenplay for “Seven” was produced, Andrew Kevin Walker’s retelling of this Washington Irving story was sold and promptly sat on the shelf for a few years. Director Tim Burton, after a long string of artistic and commercial successes, had a pair of setbacks. His cinematic adaptation of the “Mars Attacks!” trading cards was all sight-gags, and no soul. Recently, he spent a year in pre-production on a Superman movie, only to have Warner Bros pull the plug a couple of months before filming would begin. In a no-brainer, the director and the script found each other. There are two things that make this the perfect Burton project. The first is the latest addition to his gallery of beloved outcasts, Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp).
In this version of the tale, Crane is not a schoolteacher, but a New York City constable in 1799 (though still a foppish girly-man). At this time, superstition and piety still rule the populace. After a childhood trauma, Crane has rejected both in favor of science and reason. When attempting to apply both to police work, the would-be forensic scientist is ridiculed and sent upstate to apply his “detecting” skills to a series of murders in a small village called “Sleepy Hollow”.
The second detail to probably suck the filmmaker into this project, was the chance to create a film in the style of the ones he enjoyed as a child. From his short films “Vincent” and “Frankenweenie” to “Ed Wood”, Burton has always paid homage to the horror films of the 1950’s and 60’s. This film is his tribute to the product of American International Pictures and Britain’s Hammer Films. “Sleepy Hollow” features the most complete and most beautiful gothic landscapes created since the glory days of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Everything is color-keyed to black and gray with the noticeable exception of the ridiculously bright, red blood (which always manages to splatter in Johnny Depp’s face). To complete the image, Burton even shot the film in England with a mostly British cast.
Like most of the director’s films, this one is flawed. The pacing is uneven and the romantic subplot isn’t really believable. You should expect attention to detail, not a thriller. All Tim wants is to create a world for the audience to get lost in. There’s no great messages here, just love and visual mastery. At that Burton succeeds admirably.