Sleepy Hollow (HD-DVD) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: R (graphic horror, violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality) Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: VC-1 Audio: English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; English DTS 5.1 Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH Time: 105 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date: 1999 DVD Release Date: July 25, 2006 Movie Review Note: As I move into more HD-DVD reviews, I am cutting back on the length of my comments on the movie itself to deal more with the technical aspects of this new format. This will be done specifically on the catalog titles provided by Paramount. When they begin releasing titles day and date, I will spend more of the review on the merits (or lack thereof) of the title. Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a man of science dispatched by big city magistrates to investigate the beheadings of several villagers in the upstate village of Sleepy Hollow. At first, he is skeptical of actual beheadings, but once he hears from the locals and encounters the big, Headless Horseman himself, he’s a believer. However, he sticks to his scientific guns to utilize techniques that will give him clues on who the Horseman is, as well as his motive and means. This being the 1700’s, Crane’s practices of the use of “technology” and “science” to solve crimes is looked down on. As the heads continue to roll, Crane, assisted by rustic cutie-pie Katrina (Christina Ricci) and a sidekick, young Masbeth (Marc Pickering), determines the Horseman’s vengeance may have origins closer to them than anyone could imagine. Director Tim Burton has assembled an excellent production team on this picture to give the viewer a distinctive environment filled with mood, atmosphere and an impending sense of doom. The limited color schemes (I don’t know what Burton would do without black), the seemingly endless twilight and the ever-present fog enhance the desperation of the villagers. Depp’s Crane is played with a slight air of superiority over the locals and he uses bits of humor to make light of their lack of sophistication or the absurdness of their plight. He is not immune to being overwhelmed, as he has a penchant for fainting. I remember not being a big fan of this picture when it first came out, but during this viewing I really enjoyed it. I would have to say it is probably due to a combination of great costuming, art direction and the playfulness in the cast that contributes to this. While it is not the best Burton picture, it is still a fun and spooky (not really scary) romp through Colonial era madness. Video: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. Thus, the HD-DVD discs are being displayed in 1080i for evaluation purposes. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units. Sleepy Hollow is an exceptionally dark picture to begin with and that is only enhanced on this new release. Black levels are deep while still showing good detail in the surroundings. As the next step, the smoke and fog take on a life of their own but exhibit no blocking or aliasing as can be noted in SD releases when they are challenged with this material. Burton’s DP, Emmanuel Lubezki (who later went on to shoot Lemony Snicket) complements his director’s vision by using a pale and washed out color palette that shows flares of saturation. The actors maintain a pale complexion that suits their surroundings. This is not to say this lack of color takes away from the detail by any means: this is an exceptionally detailed picture that brings alive the backgrounds. All of the trees and leaves in the various wooded scenes are now distinct and clear. At first I was surprised to see so much grain in the picture, but it is clear this was the director’s intent. It can be a bit distracting at first, but it contributes to the film like appearance of the picture. The VC-1 encoded picture is correctly framed at 1.85:1. I did not notice any edge enhancement. Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is attained by a 5.1 analog connection. I watched the movie with the Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) track engaged. It provides an excellent soundstage with numerous panning effects between the fronts. The surrounds come to life during the action sequences and for atmospheric effects, and the occasional “whoosh” as the headless horseman comes leaping in from off screen. Bass is very natural sounding so as not to blow the viewer out of the seat. In the era or “more is better”, I’m glad the sound designer was restrained on this title. As I said of my review of Sahara, the DD+ and DTS are similar, but I was more impressed with the DD+ track overall. This track seemed richer and more enveloping, whereas when I switched over to the DTS track on, the soundtrack became somewhat…empty. The DTS track is very similar in terms of bass response and clarity, but it is the lesser of the two tracks. Bonus Material With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. Commentary by Director Tim Burton: Burton’s commentary is punctuated by him cracking himself up, which can get annoying. He does give some good insights into the motivations of his characters as they translated in this adaptation. Sleepy Hollow: Behind the Legend: (30:00)(MPEG2, 4x3, DD+): The cast and crew, ably assisted by a narrator with one of the best announcing voices, gives us all the usual EPK items (gushing about the actors and directors, stunts, effects, costumes, etc.). Still, a good enough spot for this release. Reflections on Sleepy Hollow (11:24) (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+): A more recent set of interviews with Burton and the cast as they look back at the movie. This piece is similar to the first one. Theatrical Trailer and Teaser Trailer (VC-1, 1.85:1, DD+): Both are presented in HD. Again, I complement Paramount on their choice to encode their trailers in HD. They look good except for the occasional bit of dirt on the prints. The saturation levels of the colors are also higher as compared to the feature. Other notes on this HD-DVD edition: - The A and B buttons that can be utilized on some HD-DVD titles do not appear to have any function on this title. - I use the on-screen display function extensively when doing reviews for time markers and audio and video formatting. This disc would disable several remote functions until I turned off the on-screen display. I have not noticed this issue on the HD discs from Warner’s or Universal. Conclusions: While I enjoyed Sleepy Hollow more during this repeated viewing, it is still hampered by a dense plot that would be served better by an additional ten minutes of picture instead of the narrative. Burton crafts a spooky world and his cast pleases the audience. The HD-DVD will tax the black levels of your displays, so keep the calibration discs handy. The extras are basic, but I was glad to see Burton, Depp, Ricci and some others return for the retrospective.