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|May 26, 2000||
Ride on, Burton!
Tim Burton rides again. The director of darkly comic masterpieces such as Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Mars Attacks adapts a mythic tale that's considered to be the first American horror story.
Washington Irving's classic The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, better known as the tale of the Headless Horseman, is the story of a British soldier who brings terror to a remote Dutch community in upstate New York.
Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Williams, the talent behind films like Seven, The Game and Fight Club, takes that old chestnut and roasts it with imagination and great flair. Then Burton's brilliant team of production designers, art directors, costume designers and special effects wizards go to work, creating an American Gothic tale that leaps off the screen and into the hallways of classic supernatural cinema.
Sleepy Hollow is a simple story. In the year 1799, the town of Sleepy Hollow, NY, is plagued by the serial attacks of a headless horseman who lops off the heads of his victims with a single stroke of his flashing sword and vanishes into the mist of the gloomy New England winter.
Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), a New York police detective, prides himself on his scientific reasoning and deductive ability. Despatched to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the murders, he insists on applying logic and modern scientific detective methods to the task. He soon finds that these methods fall far short of investigating a phenomenon such as a Headless Horseman!
Crane is a wonderfully quirky and self-contradictory protagonist, sometimes unable to ride a horse, often fainting away at the sight of blood. He is surrounded by a melange of eccentric, memorable and deliberately exaggerated yet realistic characters.
The cast is a great collection of actors, from the young and talented Christina Ricci, who's grown a lot since her Casper days, to Caspar van Diem (no relation to the friendly ghost!) and supporting stalwarts like Martin Landau (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in Burton's Ed Wood), Christopher Lee and the always superb Christopher Walken.
But however excellent the actors, it's Burton who's the real hero here. His production is sumptuous. The entire town and the dark, creepy forest surrounding it were created with meticulous attention to detail and magnificent leaps of the imagination on enormous soundstages in London.
The special effects are fabulous and perfectly in control. This isn't one of those tiresome films where you can see the computer graphics clearly. On the contrary: You'll be hard-pressed to tell where the effects begin and the stunts end.
This is an A-grade horror film that isn't afraid to let the gore splash and the limbs fall where they will. But there's always an element of black humour about it, not the serious dreariness of those blood-bucket B-grade horror flicks.
There are chills and shocks aplenty, and you'll scream with delight at the most unexpected moments -- only to laugh when you realise how cleverly Burton has tricked you. And throughout it all, you'll marvel at the fantasy, the romance, the action set-pieces (super stunts, by the way) and most of all, a great story masterfully told.
I could go on for pages about Tim Burton and his talent. He has a great affinity with Neil Jordan, the Irish film-maker who gave us darkly horrific films such as The Crying Game, The Company Of Wolves, Interview With The Vampire and, most recently, In Dreams.
But Jordan tends to slip and stumble far too often, sometimes within the same film. While Burton is a true genius. His visual imagination is nothing short of spectacular, opening the mythical 'third eye' of the viewer's imagination that all great fiction and film must do.
A gifted illustrator of two eerie children's books, he began his career in Walt Disney as an artist and director of animated films before moving on to live action. He is the only director alive who can somehow paint a canvas the size of a movie screen, add terror and beauty to it, breathe supernatural life-beyond-death into its characters and yet make the whole creation so superbly entertaining.
Don't miss this one. If you're squeamish about gore, hell, cover your eyes when you have to. But if you can manage to keep them open for those 105 minutes, you'll see sights that are far more entertaining more than most other visits to the cinema hall this year.
Trust me, you'll lose your head over this one!
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