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Canoe: jam! showbiz

Monday, May 22, 2000

Burton reinvents a legend

By BRUCE KIRKLAND -- Toronto Sun

Deep in the recesses of Tim Burton's fabulously feverish mind, there is a switch that turns off the restraints that normal filmmakers employ when a bizarre idea occurs to them.

In Burton's case, he just goes ahead. Almost everyone else in Hollywood abruptly stops short, toying with weirdness but not embracing it with the playfulness of a child.

The result is that Burton has created a truly breathtaking body of work from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood, from Beetlejuice to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Not all his films are complete works and/or polished films. Some suffer in the narrative structure, as if fragments of them have broken away and fallen off the screen.

Yet every one of them is breathtakingly original in design and execution. Every one of them is a visual work of art as radical to cinema as Picasso was to canvas.

So now, headlining tomorrow's releases, we get Burton's film version of Sleepy Hollow on video and DVD.

The short story The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow is as old as America and has become woven in the mythology of the country. Remarkably, Burton has found a way to re-invent it as a film, to make it seem as Burtonesque as one of his originals. Yet the original story elements still lurk inside the adaptation, which freely changes detail.

Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane, for example, is now an eccentric New York police detective investigating a series of grisly beheadings in Sleepy Hollow. The original Crane was a hapless school teacher. Depp's ambivalent sexual energy also comes into play, transforming Crane into a catalyst in the love story involving Christina Ricci.

Burton does not maintain the necessary energy for the story to maintain itself and keep us spellbound, despite its marvellous play of detail.

However, Burton's Sleepy Hollow boasts a visual dynamic and bravado that will have heads rolling in the aisles in astonishment. Even the creepy, crawly bits and the explicit outbursts of bloody violence are done so stylishly that viewers can forgive the movie's narrative faults.

The result?

A film that begs to be seen again as home entertainment. Burton's artistic expressions need to be studied, debated, dissected or just enjoyed as a sensual pleasure for the eyes. Video and DVD are Burton's avenues to appreciation.

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