Monday, October 03, 2011

31 Days of Halloween - Day 3 - Movie

Looking at my previous two posts, and destiny seemed to be leading me to watching Sleepy Hollow (1999) today, so I caved in and did just that.

As you probably already know, this movie is based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving concerning a headless phantom on horseback who is said to haunt the area surrounding the town of Sleepy Hollow. Tim Burton's adaptation plays fast and loose with Washington Irving's story introducing a mystery into the proceedings and changes Ichabod Crane's occupation from school master to NYC constable eager to prove the value of scientific detection in police work.

These changes don't really bother me. Anyone who has read the original story would recognize that it really needs some embellishment to pad it out into a feature length film. This is why the excellent  Disney adaptation is only about 45 minutes long and why most other feature length adaptations which limit themselves to what's contained in the Irving story tend to drag.

Visually, the movie is stunning and is about as perfect a visual distillation of the mood of the Halloween season as you can get. If the music had been composed by James Bernard instead of Danny Elfman it would truly seem like you were watching a Hammer horror film, which is what Tim Burton was striving to evoke. The movie moves along briskly with a great cast and plenty of wonderful visual moments.

The only thing that kept this movie from being close to perfect for me goes back to one of the aspects of the movie that was altered from the original story, which is the detective material. Great weight is placed on Constable Crane's determination to prove the value of forensics, or scientific detection, to police work as a whole, and he is given a series of mysterious beheadings in Sleepy Hollow as a testing ground to prove his point. Yet, when the time comes to use them, many of Crane's methods fall over to the realm of made -up pseudoscientific nonsense such as his ridiculous, impractical looking,  tools of his own design to sprinkling powder on the ground next to a corpse and noting its reaction to determine that the corpse was beheaded with a single stroke of the blade. Worse, his detective work does not solve the case, or reason out who is behind the murders. The responsible party relays all of this information to a chosen victim. Crane only figures things out on his own after he's given up and then makes an intuitive leap from an observed detail. As a case for proving the value of scientific methods, this is a bit of a failure.



Wendy the (Very Good Witch) said...

I've been wanting to watch this again. I haven't seen it in a long time, and I dare say I've almost forgotten a lot of it. But I did remember how atmospheric it was and that is why I've been wanting to watch it. Think I will but it on my list for this month's viewing...thanks for the review!

John Rozum said...

You're quite welcome, Wendy. The atmosphere is fantastic, and the scene with the night watch and the one where the small boy is entertaining himself with his magic lantern are definitely high points for me. I hope you enjoy it.

Shawn Robare said...

Yeah, I love so much of this flick, but it does have it's issues. You make a great point about the detective work being weird and ultimately unimportant. What always bugged me about the mystery aspect was the reveal of the plot at the end. I mean seriously, the villain could raise the dead for crying out loud, and it was all for money? "You'll need to dream a little bigger, darling..."

Dane said...

I never noticed the plot holes, I've been too busy staring at the you said, it's the distilled essence of Halloween. Sheer beauty!