Sleepy Hollow

dir. tim burton
st. johnny depp, christina ricci, christopher lee, christopher walken

Sleepy Hollow, another gothic confectionery from the most accessible of goths (this is, like, all about my PAIN, maaaan), runs a course down the middle of the road, a path avoided by the story's Headless Horseman, who prefers his heads transected across the midline. Like the Horseman, director Burton creates a gothic America at once terrible and beautiful.

Nosirree, no postmodernism here.

Don't let's get nostalgic over American Gothic, with its shrivelled and androgynous couple. Let us forget the America of ripening wheat and endless, terrible blue skies. Instead, let us bring in Whistler's Mother, sitting in her chair as if Norman added water to Momma Bates for a magical finish on the mansion. Dessicated matriarch - just add water!

Meanwhile, we'll recreate a gory pastoral scene from old America, one based on the tale of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow on the American east coast. In Burton's version, Ichabod Crane transforms from a skanky teacher into a somewhat sexy geek. He is sent from New York to Sleepy Hollow to investiate a series of decapitation murders. We the audience however know that this is a pretext to get his pinko commie 'treat prisoners like human beings' arse out of an area where he could be a instigator of real reform.

Crane's character conforms to film's current fascination with perceived intellect (Pi) and reflects the film's incongruity as a marketing exercise. Perhaps the script, on which Burton did not work, was designed for a G rating, but his use of gruesome special effects, blood akimbo and heads galore, certainly does not reflect any particular audience targeting.

Alongside this are Casper Van Dien's clearasil looks and Johnny Depp's milky white skin, matching Christina Ricci's albino chameleons. With such refined sugary ingredients, how could such a movie fail to be anything other than a mainstream, regular movie? Maybe the last scene where the characters run through a mill is Burton's way of expressing this frustration, although something as blunt and frankly metaphorical such as a pun on 'run of the mill' seems to be beyond his capacity for artisanship.

It would appear foolish in the first place for Burton to attempt another American folk legend, at least so soon after the release of dark horse Blair Witch Project (I'm sorry, but how can something so cheap cost 'just' US$20 000?). Both movies rely, at least partly, on the same elements of American folk fear, with whispers of Indian mythology and a strong usage on magic and mysticism, an admirable attempt seeing that most American folk fear is generated through Tori Spelling in shower scenes.

Interestingly, the film mines visual cues from the Disney cartoon of the same name. The devices are all there - the flaming pumpkin, the black charger, Ichabod on said black charger, and so on. It is quite Van Sant, and fails similarly. It all seems a little unimaginative and lacks the punch that these devices elicit when placed right next to each other, as they do in the cartoon. Sleepy Hollow also lacks visual imagination when compared to Burton's other outings, such as the eerie pastel suburbs of Edward Scissorhands, or the Goth-Roman grandness of Gotham city.

The script too, is overly transparent. Bloody freaking obvious would not be too strong a comment on this point. Burton's direction enlivens the incredibly dull script and leads to a partial redemption although overall it is far less of an opus than his other works and deserves only the encore of shuffling feet as they leave through the exit.

huan-tzin goh
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