Thursday, October 28, 2010

Film Review: SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999, Tim Burton)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson (THE CRYING GAME, THE HOURS), Michael Gambon (THE LIFE AQUATIC, THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER), Christopher Walken (MCBAIN), Casper Van Dien (STARSHIP TROOPERS), Richard Griffiths (WITHNAIL & I, THE HISTORY BOYS), Ian McDiarmid (RETURN OF THE JEDI, DRAGONSLAYER), Michael Gough (TROG, Alfred in Burton's BATMAN), Christopher Lee, Lisa Marie (ED WOOD, MARS ATTACKS!), and Martin Landau (NORTH BY NORTHWEST, ED WOOD). Music by Danny Elfman. Executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Larry J. Franco! Based on the short story by Washington Irving. Written by Kevin Yagher (makeup designer on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREETs 2-4, Chucky creator for CHILD'S PLAY, and TALES FROM THE CRYPT collaborator) and Andrew Kevin Walker (SE7EN, BRAINSCAN).
Tag-line: "Heads Will Roll."
Best one-liner: "YAHHH!" (said by Christopher Walken).

With ten years of hindsight steering the way, I believe I now possess the proper distance to proclaim that SLEEPY HOLLOW was Tim Burton's last great film. At the time, it felt like something of a letdown- coupled with MARS ATTACKS! and his burgeoning, reckless use of CGI, it seemed as if the man was on a downward spiral. But in (PLANET OF THE APES & CHOCOLATE FACTORY) retrospect, the CGI comes across as nearly prudent; the morbid sense of humor, quite clever; and the thrills and chills strike the perfect notes of an R-rated, 90's retread of THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD.

Johnny Depp haplessly prances about this film: exuding inherent worthlessness, babbling reassurances to no one in particular, and fainting at the drop of a hat.

At times it feels like a more wimpish MURDER, SHE WROTE episode- albeit one with buckets of gore- and indeed, one of Johnny's inspirations for the role was none other than Angela Lansbury. The other was Basil Rathbone, and he constructs a hero that is the ANTI-Sherlock Holmes, one who'll pour chemicals on the ground and yabber scientific nonsense to himself, not to- *voila* -solve the crime, but to buy himself a little time as he contemplates his awkward exit strategy. Some have complained that Burton, writer (and makeup legend) Kevin Yagher, and script doctor Tom Stoppard stray too far from the original Irving story, but instead we have a work that does its damndest to integrate every bit of macabre Americana mythology from The Headless Horseman to iron-fisted (or is that Iron Maiden'd?) Puritans to witches and witchcraft, and I, for one, think it works. Hell, the windmill from FRANKENSTEIN even makes an appearance!

The atmosphere is exquisite, too-

Elfman's dark and rumbling score; the misty, overcast New England forest trails; flickering silhouettes cast by a ramshackle oil lamps...
And it's great to see bit parts from legends like Christoper Lee, Martin Landau (who gets his chance to run through the cornfield á la NORTH BY NORTHWEST), a dunderheaded Jeffrey Jones,

a fossilized Michael Gough, and Christopher Walken (a convincing force of sheer, Hessian malevolence, straight from the pit- his sharpened teeth and unruly hair nearly steal the show!).

On the women's side, we have a venomous she-devil played by Miranda Richardson, a waifish Christina Ricci as the love interest,

and an ethereal Lisa Marie as a motherly force (and consider the theory that Burton's decline perfectly coincides with the deterioration oft his relationship with Lisa Marie!- compare to Godard/Karina, George & Marcia Lucas, et al.). Anyway, you sort of get the idea that Burton pitched the entire project as an excuse to put ladies in cleavage-intensifying corsets, but I guess that's okay, too.

Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Side note: Watch for 'Large Marge' from PEE WEE making a (completely theoretical) cameo appearance!


J.D. said...

I love this film if only for the fact that visually it is an unabashed love letter to Hammer horror films.

I would say that even MARS ATTACKS! has aged pretty well, esp. compared to Burton's recent output. And you and I are in total agreement about Burton's decline re: his break-up with Lisa Marie. She was his ideal muse and as much as I dig Helen Bonham Carter (esp. in FIGHT CLUB) she is no Lisa Marie and the proof is in the lackluster output since SLEEPY HOLLOW. Burton has lost his mojo!

Sean Gill said...

It's certainly unfortunate about Burton's decline. There was a Burton retrospective/exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art last year, and I got the chance to catch most of his output- including SLEEPY HOLLOW- and the magic of (1982-1999) Tim Burton on the big screen only accentuated my disappointment in (2000-Present Day) Tim Burton. Perhaps the FRANKENWEENIE remake will remind him of his roots, but I've already resigned myself to bland, big-budget nonsense slathered with generous helpings of CGI.

If you haven't seen it already, I HIGHLY recommend his 45 min 1982 HANSEL AND GRETEL, which is an insane fairy tale fantasia in the vein of TALES OF HOFFMANN/Dario Argento/DR. CALIGARI. I saw it at MOMA, so I'm not sure how easy it is to get one's hands on, but it's well worth the effort.