Sleepy Hollow

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Details At A Glance

Category Horror Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced), Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating ma.gif (1236 bytes) Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital Rain
Year Released 1999 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Tim Burton (Director)
Running Time 100:57 Minutes  Other Extras Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette - Behind The Scenes (29:59)
Featurette - Reflections On Sleepy Hollow (11:24)
Cast & Crew Biographies
Photo Gallery
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (75:48)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Tim Burton
Mandalay.gif (2534 bytes)
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Johnny Depp
Christina Ricci
Miranda Richardson
Michael Gambon
Casper Van Dien
Jeffrey Jones
Christopher Walken
Case Disgusting Button Thing
RPI $34.95 Music Danny Elfman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
English (Dolby Digital 2.0 )
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 )
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Sleepy Hollow is very much like American History X, in that it is another Roadshow Home Entertainment film that was gone from the theatres before I could talk myself into seeing it, although the reasons in this case are not as clear-cut. I've always enjoyed Tim Burton's work as a director, especially after his vastly superior renderings of the Batman story. Johnny Depp can also lay claim to being one of the most gutsy actors I've heard of, considering that he has displayed the nerve to portray Ed Wood, known for being the worst director America has ever produced. As a result, I am utterly baffled as to why I missed the chance to see this film in the theatre, especially considering that I don't remember anything else being on at the same time which could qualify as being quality entertainment. Sleepy Hollow is rather loosely based on the story of the same name by Washington Irving, about a small town haunted by the Headless Horseman. In Tim Burton's version of the story, the events take place in the isolated colony of Sleepy Hollow, where several townsfolk have been beheaded by what the people describe as a headless horseman. As the film begins, rebel constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent to the isolated town for believing that his work should be governed by the facts rather than by insane beliefs. His reasons for believing in, as he says, "sense and justice" rather than a series of ghastly fairytales that pass for an ethical system, are explored in a series of dream sequences in which we see a seven-year-old version of Ichabod (Sam Fior) with the influences of his mother (Lisa Marie) and his father (Peter Guinness). In a way, these scenes make the science versus superstition subplot of the film what it is: fascinating rather than insulting. In any case, upon arriving in Sleepy Hollow, the adult Ichabod Crane is greeted by Katrina Anne Van Tassel (Christina Ricci) and her father, Baltus (Michael Gambon), whose initial reactions to the man are as opposite as their personalities. Baltus is a stuffy, superstitious man, a relic of the century that is about to be left behind (the film is set in the year 1799), while his daughter Katrina is an inquisitive, hopeful woman with an open mind to the investigative techniques employed by Crane. It is a credit to the actors that while we accept these methods as being a crude version of those we take for granted today, we also can accept the unhealthy scepticism with which they are greeted by most of the characters in this film, local coroner Doctor Thomas Lancaster (Ian McDiarmid), not least among them.

    Another credit to this film and its makers is the power of its characterizations. At first, I simply could not recognize the man playing Brom Van Brunt (Casper Van Dien), in spite of the fact that I had seen his face enough times in Starship Troopers to be able to recognize the actor out of costume at twenty paces. Another such character who comes across as a character rather than an actor playing a character would be Reverend Steenwyck (Jeffrey Jones), whom I would not have recognized if he had failed to remove his wig during the film. In fact, the only actor other than the two who are billed on the theatrical poster (which also serves as the front cover artwork) who is easily recognizable would be Christopher Walken, who plays the headless horseman before the decapitation, and after his skull is returned to him. Ray Park plays the horseman during most of the sword-swinging scenes, but his head is blue-screened out of the picture. Even the characters with minimal screentime and development, Brom among them, are so convincing that they quickly overshadow the somewhat hollow Shakespearean nature of the story. If there is a weak point in the film, it is only carried over from the story upon which Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay is based: the overstructured nature of the dialogue. The setting and nature of this film only serves to once again highlight the absurdity of the praise lumped upon William Shakespeare and his work: human beings, under normal circumstances, simply do not speak like this. Still, the strengths of this film far outweigh its negatives.

    A look at the film on the Internet Movie Database reveals that, like a lot of Tim Burton films, this movie divides opinion as thoroughly as the modern-day issue of whether we should clone new cells to turn dreaded illnesses of our modern era into relics of the past. The majority of the voters are in the same camp as myself, and praise the film for the quality of the set design, the acting, the characterizations, or all of the above and more. A small minority attack this film for its reported major deviance from the Washington Irving story, or describe this film as being nothing but gore from start to finish. The first of those two criticisms is perfectly valid, but I feel that if I wanted Washington Irving's story to be faithfully followed, I would have gone out and bought myself a copy of that story in printed form. Ian McDiarmid's performance during the autopsy scene makes a blatant joke out of the second criticism, with acting so convincing and strong that it reminded me of what the man has been doing in the sixteen years between this film and Return Of The Jedi (running a theatre company, for those who don't know). In a nutshell, if you want an intelligent film with well-developed characters and an almost flawless plot, then Sleepy Hollow is most certainly the one to look at. Quite why it only received one Academy Award for Art Direction when there are performances, special effects, and a script worthy of such recognition, in contrast to the films that actually won these awards, most notably The Matrix, is beyond me.

Transfer Quality


    It really breaks my heart to have to tell you that this DVD misses out on a place in the Hall Of Fame, because it does so because of some very small and trivial flaws which most of the viewing public simply would not know how to explain.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. While I am on this subject, it has to be noted that the cover makes no mention of the aspect ratio except to state that the transfer is in widescreen with 16x9 enhancement. This is an omission common to the packaging which Roadshow Home Entertainment has afforded to its DVDs which simply must be rectified in the future.

    The transfer is as sharp and clear as the film allows, with no lapses which cannot be blamed upon the original cinematography. The shadow detail is absolutely flawless, as is rightly demanded by a Gothic horror story that is mostly lit by lightning. No low-level noise was allowed to spoil the presentation.

    The colour saturation in this transfer can be loosely described as dull. I say loosely because the transfer brings the colours to life, but the subjects of each shot have precious little colour in them to speak of, with most of the film taking place in very dull environments under very low lighting. It is amazing how much vibrancy there really is in the transfer, considering how little there is within the film itself. The scene in which Baltus Van Tassel is killed happens to be a perfect example of this, with the only bright colours in the entire scene being blood red and a purple chalk used by Katrina. In spite of the fact that the other colours in the scene are, for the most part, without life or vibrancy, these two colours are remarkably well saturated, as if fifty percent of the colour palette in those shots went into them.

    MPEG artefacts were not found at any point in the transfer or the extras, with the right balance between content and transparent compression being struck quite well. If you want an example of how a film and its collection of extras look on a disc where both are presented correctly, Sleepy Hollow is certainly the disc to look at. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some mild aliasing in shots with chrome in them, but the total amount of aliasing in the film could be estimated at less than two minutes. If there is one thing that can be said for setting your film in an eighteenth century village, it's that you won't have any problems with the combination of chrome and interlaced video. The abundant greenery in this film is not a problem, either. Film artefacts were more or less non-existent, reflecting the youth of the film, and this is a very clean-looking transfer even by those standards.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place a few seconds after the beginning of chapter 16, at 75:48. The layer change is not very well placed, as it occurs in the middle of a musical cue, and the pause is quite noticeable to say the least. This layer change is also the point where the transfer loses its overall reference status, as major distortion in the soundtrack can be heard from the beginning of the chapter to the layer change if the chapter is manually selected by the user (but not if the movie is played sequentially).


    The audio transfer is presented with three soundtracks on this disc, all of them in English. The original soundtrack of the film is presented in two formats: Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding. As a bonus, we also have an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 by director Tim Burton, just for good measure. I primarily listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and the audio commentary, and sampled the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times, although some of the tenser moments involve a lot of shouted and screamed dialogue that loses a great deal of clarity. However, this isn't any fault of the transfer. Audio sync was not a noticeable problem at any point in the film.

    The score music was contributed by Danny Elfman, a long-time collaborator of Tim Burton's, whose larger-than-life emotional style is a familiar and welcome carry-over from such Burton films as Batman and Mars Attacks!, although the familiarity occasionally works to the score's detriment. Much like the rest of the film, the score music has divided viewers into two distinct camps: those who enjoy the score in spite of its occasional intrusiveness, and those who utterly loathe it for that very reason. Although this score music reeks heavily of being recycled from Batman or other "serious" Burton films, and this occasionally works to its detriment, the score music is still overall a very good effort. Another minor problem is that the same humorous style that powers the more emotional and light-hearted parts of the film often makes the more serious, powerful moments of the film harder to identify due to the musical similarities from one moment to another. All in all, however, this is definitely one of Elfman and Burton's best works in terms of the marriage between onscreen action and musical emotion, with the appropriate musical tension surfacing in the three-way duel between Johnny Depp, Casper Van Dien, and Ray Park.

    The surround channels are very powerfully used throughout the film in an optimal fashion, with even the quietest moments in the soundtrack being supported well by the surround channels. One sequence that gave my surround speakers a great deal to do was the initial meeting between Crane and the Van Tassels, in which the sounds of men stepping in a circle on a hardwood floor can be heard wandering around the speakers in a subtle fashion. The music is almost always supported by the surround channels, and the ambient sounds constantly provide an immersive experience that made the overall sonic experience of this DVD better than I imagine the theatrical experience could possibly offer. Similarly, the subwoofer was constantly present in order to provide a bottom end on every element of the film's surround picture without making itself conspicuous.


    American History X wasn't just a flash in the pan, instead appearing to represent the era of a new approach taken by this distributor towards the collection and presentation of extras. Roadshow Home Entertainment have once again struck the appropriate balance between quality, quantity, and presentation of extras. The Dolby Digital Rain trailer can be found on this disc.


    The menu is presented with a small amount of animation and audio that does an excellent job of setting the mood for the film, and it is 16x9 enhanced. As was the case with American History X, the navigation of this menu is much easier than previous generations of Roadshow Home Entertainment discs.

Theatrical Trailer (2:06)

    Somewhat unusually, this trailer is in a wider aspect ratio than the film that it accompanies. The theatrical trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. The sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0, although this trailer would be equally effective without sound at all, as the visuals do a lot to invoke curiosity.

Commentary - Tim Burton (Director)

    This commentary track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding. In contrast to most commentary tracks, Tim Burton does not feel the need to speak over the entire film, and speaks whenever he has something interesting to say about the film or the subject of a shot. The lengthy and frequent pauses in Burton's speech give the commentary a somewhat disjointed feel, however, although the things he has to say about the process of making the film are indeed quite interesting.

Featurette: Behind The Scenes (29:59)

    Normally, I would not have anything nice to say about this type of featurette, but this one does have some interesting insights into how the special effects of the film were accomplished. The most interesting part of this documentary was exactly how the shots involving the headless horseman were accomplished. Ray Park certainly doesn't seem to be having an easy time in Hollywood, with his last major Hollywood film appearance involving him being made-up past the point of recognition and his voice being dubbed out, and this one involving his head being entirely removed from the finished product! This featurette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It appears that picture information was cropped off this featurette in order to accomplish the 1.78:1 shape.

Featurette: Cast And Crew Interviews/Reflections On Sleepy Hollow (11:24)

    This is what the Cast & Crew Interviews mentioned on the packaging actually refer to, and this is more like the most objectionable kind of featurette, being little more than a series of snippets from interviews intermingled with footage from the theatrical trailer. This featurette is also presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies are provided for Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Christopher Walken, and director Tim Burton. They suffer, albeit comparatively mildly this time, from the usual readability problems that plague Roadshow Home Entertainment biographies. They are, however, quite comprehensive.

Photo Gallery

    A collection of unannotated stills that have little meaning as they appear to be taken directly from the film.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     Although these omissions are somewhat noticeable, they are really not much reason to favour one version over the other.


    Sleepy Hollow is an excellent film, presented on a very good DVD.

    The video quality is superb, easily earning reference status.

    The audio quality is excellent, but suffers from a minor fault.

    The extras are the best I have ever seen from Village Roadshow.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
July 21, 2000.
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer