The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Film based on the novel by Washington Irving:

Sleepy Hollow (1999) [SHOW CREDITS] [HIDE]

Director Tim Burton; writers Kevin Yagher, Andrew Kevin Walker; featuring Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, Miranda Richardson, Christina Ricci

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

COMMENTARY | MOVIES

Legend of Sleepy Hollow scene

Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane as a New Age detective in 1999 Tim Burton film.

Folktale heads off into paranormal realm

Here's Washington Irving's description of Ichabod Crane:

He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew.

Now if you were casting this character in a film version of the story, wouldn't your mind immediately leap to Johnny Depp? No?

The role of Ichabod Crane being taken by the handsome and charming Depp is only the first of many departures from the story by the 1999 film that goes by Sleepy Hollow. It really should be called Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, in the style of some of Burton's other flicks, because it sure ain't Irving's.

Depp's Crane is not a passionate schoolteacher in this quiet little backwoods community but rather an visiting detective from New York who's come to investigate several beheadings that have taken place in the burg. Though he is skeptical at first, his main suspect is the locally storied headless horseman, a ghostly relic of the American Revolution. (The horseman is played unrecognizably by Christopher Walken, I realized only after the film was over—he is, after all, headless for most of it). Much of the film then concerns the town's fight to protect itself from this marauding serial murderer and Depp's—I mean, Crane's—attempts to end his posthumous career.

There's a love interest or two, a rivalry with a local stalwart, some political skullduggery (literally?), and lots of visual effects: the fantastic elements are taken quite seriously. Forget Irving's kindly skepticism and subtle debunking—Burton wants us to take the paranormal as fact. And plenty of it.

None of this is in the story of course and most of it is not even an elaboration of the story, as it flat out contradicts it.

All that said, and dropping the comparison with the story, the movie is very well done. Quite exciting actually, if over the top with the horror homages.

There are some effective scenes when the scientific Crane collapses with self-doubt as his faith in rationality is revealed to be misplaced and he is brought by the love of a woman to accept the evidence of his eyes and to continue the good fight. Though perhaps we've seen this too many times already in film and on TV.

An entertaining distraction when you're bored with reading.

— Eric

COMMENTARY | MOVIES

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Sleepy Hollow (1999, DVD)
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Related:

Author
Washington Irving

Story
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Story
Rip Van Winkle

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories
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The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
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