Monday, September 30, 2013

Well, it is Hollow and it Makes me Sleepy…

I thought I had the material for the perfect October Halloweeny post, but I didn’t make it that far.

This is my favorite and oldest t-shirt.

I believe I have had it since junior high, have worn to the Magic Kingdom on every Disney World trip, and subsequently been asked by at least one cast member every time, “Where did you get that? Tell me we have it here!”

You could say I’m a fan of Washington Irving’s tale.

The original short story, if not number one on my list, is in the top three, and still holds up a hundred and ninety three years after being written.

Still spooky and suspenseful.
Still funny and entertaining.

The 1949 Disney adaptation is one of their closest to the source material and captures both the fun and horror of the original quite nicely.  It also has Bing Crosby singing, which is hard to top in any medium.

We now pause to take a moment of silence for what could have been:
If not for Disney losing production members to the war effort, it would have been a full length feature. 
Let that sink in for a minute…
There could have been a Legend of Sleepy Hollow animated feature film made by Disney at the height of their artistic output, with a Bing Crosby soundtrack.

I think the extra padding, deviations and new songs added to the original story to fill the time would have been well worth it.
I also think Maleficent and Tchernabog wouldn’t be at the top of the villain heap anymore in that scenario.

My appreciation of the story and its images only grew with time.
Heck, the reason I bought my first DVD player was because of the release of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.

That one did have extra padding and deviations, but they all worked well to enhance the moods of the original.

A Tim Burton movie is a very specific type and not a perfect fit for all tales.

Some concepts don’t fit at all, like Willy Wonka.

Some concepts fit when he lends some of his sensibilities (Batman) but not too much (Batman Returns).

And some are perfect. (Mars Attacks, Ed Wood)

His 1999 Hammer Horror inspired Sleepy Hollow falls firmly into the last category, placing Mr. Burton’s loves of both dark humor, and twisted horror into the limelight.

Needless to say, I was very excited when I heard about a Sleepy Hollow television series.  Time shifting the characters from the past to the modern day seemed a way to extend the life of the short story into a serialized tale.

I’m a big fan of Kurtzman and Orci’s work on the Star Trek and Transformers franchises, and was happy to see John Cho, Clancy Brown and Orlando Jones in the opening credits.


The fact that two of them died in the pilot was the least of my problems, and not just because they got better.

I’m going to start with the issues that I got over relatively quickly, which is quite surprising for someone with my history of nerd rage outbursts.

These issues all stem from the fact that when I tuned in to see a show called Sleepy Hollow, I (ever so foolishly) expected to see story elements, locations and characters that were from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The pilot started out introducing studly, manly, militarily skilled Ichabod Crane.  They did throw in that he was a professor as a token, but the character is so far removed from Irving’s original to be unrecognizable. Yes, the Tim Burton version changed his profession, and used Johnny Depp, who I have been assured by several women is in no way as ungainly or goofy looking as the original.  However, the film did keep the character as an educated, extremely jittery, and exceptionally delicate, awkward outsider who is unskilled at both physical combat and horsemanship.  

Mr. British Smoothie, even after pulling a 232 year (not 250 year as the opening says) Rip Van Winkle (to name drop another Irving story) still manages to exude confidence and comfort with others and his unfamiliar surroundings.

Interestingly, this show has kept one character interpretation in common with other adaptations.  Katrina Van Tassel is described in Irving's story as being "Plump as a Partridge."  The Disney version even quotes the passage verbatim.  However, whether she be farmer's daughter, secret witch, or ghostly guide - all three adaptations decided "Plump as a Partridge" somehow translates into "generally skinny, yet visited by the fairy of copious corseted cleavage."

The "town" of Sleepy Hollow is another contention of mine.  They decided to show it as a good sized CITY, which they filmed in North Carolina.  That seems an odd choice when

The place even changed its name officially to Sleepy Hollow from North Tarrytown in 1997, and built a big honkin’ artsy bronze statue of the Headless Horseman on Route 9 in 2006. 

Now, the Horseman himself. 

The Hessian of the Hollow.

The key image of the story. 

A headless fiend from hell atop his midnight black steed racing down the dark, tree lined roads toward Ichabod.

Them’s the two big iconic parts of the monster: 
His Black Horse
Flowing, relentless high speed motion.

Disney captured them through fluid, dark toned animation, and also the use of him racing down Main Street to start their Halloween parade. 

Burton’s film captured them through filtered lenses, properly chosen and made up horses, and the effortlessly smooth looking motions of stunt performers Ray Park (fighting) and Rob Inch (riding).  Having Christopher Walken’s head be the one that’s missing was bonus creepy points.

Every stinking statue, painting, drawing, newspaper add, Haunted Hay Ride and kindergarten Halloween decoration  shows some aspect of the Nogginless Nightmare on his powerful, either galloping or raring to go, melanin-full mount.

Except this new show.

The Horseman moves in an excessively jerky, clunky, and deliberate manner.  In some scenes it appears that having lost his head seems to have impeded his vision. While this does make a bit of sense, it doesn’t jive too well with the Legend.

He also picked up some modern guns. 

Horror lesson time people.
An undying beast from the pit that inexorably moves toward its victims, heedless of the gunfire and other attacks pouring into it, until it is within range of its enchantedly heated edged weapon, with which it lops off their head as they try a final, but ultimately futile last ditch defense then gallops off as if riding the wind is the height of suspense filled terror.

An undying beast from the pit that blows away a couple of people with a shotgun from across the street and then staggers away… is not.

The final, and truly gigantic straw, was they gave him a white horse.

Somebody please mail those people a dictionary glued open to “iconic.”

The only good thing about the white horse was it offended my sensibilities to such a point that I was able to completely divorce this show from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow almost immediately.

Having done that, I was still prepared to enjoy the series.

It has writers and actors I like.
The references to the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse bring in another iconic concept I’m a fan of.
The dueling covens and mysteries of the American Revolution angles could provide ample story fodder.

 I planned to view it as the Buffy/Charmed clone - monster of the week visiting - continuing interpersonal and supernatural arc series - which it actually is.

Unfortunately, it isn’t really a good one of those either.

Even the return of Harold as Renfield and Sergeant Zim as Abbie’s spirit guide didn’t make it better the second week.

At first glance, Abbie looks to be in the role of the strong female lead (Ala Ms. Summers or the Halliwell Sisters) but every aspect of her personality is defined by the men in her life. It isn’t only Ichabod who manages to be more physically useful and smarter than her, despite being time lost, and not good enough at subtraction to figure out how long he slept.  Her character traits are also delineated by her ex, who seems poised to play a larger role once Ichabod and his not quite dead, witchy Missus hook up again.  Then there’s the push and pull of accepting the magic she knows to be real, or denying it because of what reality should be, personified by Dead Sherriff Kurgan, and Police Chief Clifford Franklin.

Oh, and I’m calling it now, the Sherriff hegant Zimin'man, "ad Sherrif Mentor Guy is going to turn out to be on teh y fodder.
is going to turn out to be on the bad guy’s side.
In the words of Superman, “It’s Lex flippin’ Luthor!” 

The out of time jokes are already grating two weeks in, partially because they are lame, but mostly because they are random.  Ichabod is never going to fully adapt, because then the show will lose its hook. That leaves the character the same place Data was with his emotions: an annoying level of inconstancy, where he’s fine if the plot is in a hurry, but completely useless when they need a cheap joke.

After valiantly trying for two weeks, there is one unbreakably strong reason I will not be tuning in tonight.

The most important rule for a “monster of the week” show is that the monster of the week has to not suck.

The pilot brought us the Horseman (who I’ve raved about already) and a white guy who lives in mirrors and is blurry.

Week two gave us the amazing rubber necked Sulu and a witch who appeared to be covered in over toasted marshmallows and twizzlers.

The coming attraction for tonight expects me to be terrified by “Boum Boum” from Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam.
Granted he’s scarier than anything they’ve brought out yet.

However, the effects are generally weak, the show is mostly boring, and I don’t have time for this.

When I feel the need to see a heroic Ichabod Crane dealing with warring light and dark spell casting women added to Sleepy Hollow, I’ll watch the Burton film.  Now there was a scary add on witch! 

If anyone needs me in the mean time, I’ll be waiting for tomorrow night’s S.H.I.E.L.D. episode.  Luckily, that show lived up to and surpassed my expectations.  The best part is I don't have to stay up all night defending my reasons why people should ignore the hard work and talent going into a series.  If something is that good, all that needs to be said is:

It's Awesome!  Watch it!

Oh and for the record, again, I stand by my prediction from the Avengers...Phil is an LMD. 

While I wait, I'll be reading a fun and frightening tale supposedly told by a Mr. Dietrich Knickerbocker set in a Dutch owned section of New York in 1790, while softly humming to myself.

“With a hip hip, and a clippety clop.”


Anonymous said...

One of Francesca's all time favorites as a little girl. She wouldn't settle for any other movie before bed. Funny how things turn out. When we went to N.Y. for the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade MOMA had a Tim Burton exhibit of his art work. We had to go! Now as time has passed her favorite actor is.... Johnny Depp! Neither of which had anything to do with the short story she grew up watching after dinner and a bath.
Great critique Jeff. You leave no stone unturned and your knowledge of the subject matter leaves you with no equal. BRAVO!!!!

Jeff McGinley said...

I can totally picture her as a sweet little girl, not being truly calmed down for bed unless she sees the undead sword wielding horseman.

And apparently the girl still has good taste in actors and directors.

We just missed that exhibit in MOMA...of course we also just missed bringing our daughter when the exhibit with the naked people standing in doorways was there, so I guess we came out about even.

Many thanx for the encouragement.