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From the February 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline

4 Stars
Blind man's buff with Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci
Head him off at the pass
STARS: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Christopher Walken
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
SCREENPLAY: Andrew Kevin Walker
CERTIFICATE: 15DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: Pathé
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 45mins
OPENING DATE (UK): January 7

There’s something for everyone in Tim Burton’s dreamy take on Washington Irving’s classic story. Burton followers will be captivated by the film’s seductive, Oscar worthy de-saturated beauty and otherworldly acting. Hammer horror fans will relish the cast of British stalwarts and misty period ambience; gorehounds will be thrilled by the stupendous on-screen decapitations, and ladies will be smitten by Depp’s good looks and endearing awkwardness.

It’s the final year of the 18th Century. Unconventional New York Police Inspector Ichabod Crane (Depp) is summoned to the farming town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of grisly murders, in which the victims have been found with no trace of their heads.

The shifty townsfolk (comprised of a delightful bunch of British character actors) explain that they know who’s responsible for these foul deeds – a vengeful headless horseman. Can this man of science and deduction halt a supernatural killing spree? And will he still find time to win the heart of the strong-willed Katrina (Ricci)?

Depp’s mannered and idiosyncratic performance – which is pitched somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Van Helsing – is perfect for the role and Burton’s off-kilter universe. His English-accented, twitchy-eyed protagonist is true to the spirit of the British Horror movies the director affectionately imitates, yet he’s far from a fearless hero – exiting from a witch’s cave with a nervous cry of “We’re leaving!” and repeatedly fainting.

There are excellent characterizations too from Richardson, Jones and the rest of the Brits, but Ricci’s love interest is disappointingly wishy-washy and the tender moments between her and Depp often ring a little, well, hollow.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s dark script (no surprise from the writer of Se7en and 8mm) is evocative and amusing, but the real power of the movie comes from the astonishing technical creativity on display. Rick Heinrich’s magnificently realized production design, Emmanuel Lebezki’s pungent photography, Kevin Yagher’s breathtaking make-up effects (there’s no cutting away to a rubbery head rolling on the ground here!) and Danny Elfman’s heart-pounding orchestral score plunge the audience head-first into this spooky story.

Burton’s at his very best also, conjuring up incredibly intense and wonderfully imaginative views of the horseman thundering towards his prey, elegantly leading us through the town’s muddy walkways and generally making the film look as mouth-wateringly gorgeous as a dinner party at Delia Smith’s house. While it doesn’t quite reach the majestic heights of previous Depp collaborations like Ed Wood or Edward Scissorhands, this is still a dazzling piece of fantasy film-making from one of the true modern greats.

Jason Caro

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.
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