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Since having seen the film theatrically, SLEEPY HOLLOW ($30) has been the one DVD release that I have been anticipating above all others. Now that Iím holding the disc in my hot little hands, I can honestly say that no one will be disappointed by this fantastic DVD release from Paramount Home Entertainment.

As some of you might have surmised from other reviews that Iíve written; I am a huge fan of the works of director Tim Burton. However, when one of his films is released, Iíve noticed that the reviews tend to be decidedly mixed. There are those critics who donít like his films because they havenít got a clue as to what Burton is trying to achieve, while there are those who love Burtonís movies (like me) because they understand every visual and thematic reference. Tim Burton is obviously a movie fan, who brings his love of the movies to every one of his projects- SLEEPY HOLLOW not being an exception. Every single frame of SLEEPY HOLLOW is a loving tribute to the horror movies that have preceded it; most especially, the wonderful gothic horror movies that came out of Englandís Hammer Studios. When they first appeared, the Hammer horror movies redefined to genre by mixing gore with a romanticized gothic style. SLEEPY HOLLOW is a visual masterpiece that perfectly captures the essence of that Hammer style. If it were not for the fact that the Hammer Production Company were being resurrected in England, I would be willing to call SLEEPY HOLLOW the last great (unofficial) Hammer horror movie.

Although Tim Burton envisioned SLEEPY HOLLOW, there are other members of the production team who deserve recognition for making Burtonís highly stylized vision a reality. First of all, I have to mention Rick Heinrichsí absolutely stunning production design. From the Sleepy Hollow village to the haunted Western Woods, every single detail is absolutely perfect in creating the haunting atmosphere for this wonderful horror tale. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki also must be sited for creating the filmís bewitching atmosphere that is like nightmarish Grimmís fairy tale brought to life. SLEEPY HOLLOW is a beautiful looking movie that is sweepingly romantic, yet it sometimes takes the appearance of centuries old etchings that are quite scary.

SLEEPY HOLLOW is a reworking of the great American horror tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. In this revisionist version of the story, the character of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a Constable from New York City, who is sent to the upstate town of Sleepy Hollow to conduct a murder investigation. SLEEPY HOLLOW takes place in 1799, a time when men are ruled by religion and their superstitious beliefs. Despite these prevailing attitudes, Constable Crane intends to utilize forensic science and deductive reasoning in Sleepy Hollow to solve the series of gruesome murders, in which the victims quite literally lost their heads. At the offset, Craneí scientific leanings leave him convinced that there a madman at work in Sleepy Hollow, despite the localís assertions that there are supernatural forces at work. With his mind so completely set against the possibility of the supernatural, Crane is completely unprepared for the truth, especially when he encounters a real Headless Horseman in the midst of chopping off someoneís head. Once he recovers from the initial shock of encountering the Headless Horseman, Constable Crane returns to his scientific methods to deduce why the Horseman has returned from the grave and what force is controlling him.

SLEEPY HOLLOW also stars Christina Ricci as Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of one of Sleepy Hollowís leading citizens. Katrina proves to be as brave as she is beautiful, when she ventures out into the supposedly haunted woods to help Constable Crane locate the Horsemanís resting place, when none of the townsmen help him. Though it has its share of differences, SLEEPY HOLLOW remains faithful to the original, when it comes to the romantic aspect of the story. Katrina Van Tassel and Ichabod Crane become romantically involved, although Johnny Deppís matinee idol features make such a romance far more plausible in this SLEEPY HOLLOW, than it was in Washington Irvingís tale. Christopher Walken is downright scary as the murdering Hessian destined to become the Headless Horseman. Walkenís film visage is completely unforgettable, although it was amusingly referred to in one newspaper review as "redundant fright makeup." In addition to its leads, SLEEPY HOLLOW features an amazing cast of supporting players, each of whom brings their role to vivid life. Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Marc Pickering, Lisa Marie and Miranda Richardson are amongst the filmís wonderful featured players. Fans of Burtonís previous films should look for ED WOOD star Martin Landau in an uncredited cameo.

As I stated above, Paramount Home Entertainment has done a fantastic job with their DVD edition of SLEEPY HOLLOW. Nowhere on the packaging does the DVD say "collectorís" or "special" edition, but it certainly should. Paramount has deemed to include more supplements SLEEPY HOLLOW, than certain other companies have on their so-called "deluxe" releases. Despite the ancillary material (which is always great to have), the most important aspect of any DVD release is how good it looks and sounds. As I have come to expect from any new film released on DVD by Paramount, SLEEPY HOLLOW is truly superb in both areas. SLEEPY HOLLOW is presented in its proper 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on wide screen displays. Since SLEEPY HOLLOW has a highly stylized look, which deviates significantly from almost all other new releases, some may think that there is something terribly wrong with the image quality on the DVD. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the transfer is an amazing recreation of the filmmakersí intentions. The first thing one will notice about SLEEPY HOLLOW is how dark and colorless the image appears to be. Of course, the darkness creates much of the filmís creepy atmosphere. As for the colorlessness, Tim Burton has wisely decided to use color as an effect in the film. Just as the viewer adjusts himself or herself to the desaturated pallet- there is a shock of bright crimson to scare them out of their wits. This trick was first used by Alfred Hitchcock on SPELLBOUND and remains just as effective today. Since the colors are so subdued, there are no problems with chroma noise or colors bleeding beyond their boundaries. Blacks are perfectly rendered, which is advantageous since so much of the image is black. Shadow detail is surprisingly good on such a dark movie, plus the image has very even contrast, which maintains the filmís desired look. Image sharpness and detail are excellent, although they remain within the parameters of the filmís visual style. SLEEPY HOLLOW has been flawlessly authored across two layers to maximize image quality and minimize any noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts. 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack boasts a wonderfully atmospheric mix that really comes into its own every time the Headless Horseman makes an appearance. Channel separation is excellent across the forward soundstage, but less evident in the rear, except for a smattering of split surround effects. However, the surrounds deliver a goodly amount of ambient sound, which help to enhance the filmís overall sense of foreboding. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and precise, so there are no problems with intelligibility. The bass channel is effectively utilized to reinforce the thundering hoof-beats of the Headless Horsemanís steed, as well as in a few other places. Danny Elfmanís haunting score is beautifully reproduced, with a lush, expansive sound quality that is perfectly mixed to take full advantage of discrete Dolby Digital encoding. Matrixed English and French surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles. 

The interactive menus are nice looking, but basic in their implementation. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and setup features, as well as the DVDís nice array of supplements. Director Tim Burton supplies a running audio commentary that is a bit sparse at times; perhaps heís enjoying the movie too much to talk about it. Still, fans will want to listen to Burtonís talk for the choice tidbits it contains. Next up is a thirty-minute documentary that takes one Behind The Legend. There is a whole lot of meat in this documentary, which shouldnít be confused with the kind of standard PR puff piece that accompanies most DVD releases. The documentary provides interviews with cast and crew, plus it takes a look at the filmís special effects work. Additionally, the DVD contains another 10 minutes worth of interviews with cast and crewmembers. Two trailers, a photo gallery and cast biographies/filmographies fill out the supplements.

SLEEPY HOLLOW is an amazing movie that horror fans, Hammer fans and Tim Burton fans will absolutely love. The movie is rated "R" for good reason, so this one isnít for the little kiddies. Bigger kiddies who donít mind a little blood and a few decapitations will certainly get a kick out of SLEEPY HOLLOW. Technically, Paramount Home Entertainment delivers a flawless DVD, making this the only way to own SLEEPY HOLLOW. Absolutely recommended.



Sleepy Hollow



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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