After mentioning his under-appreciated, and for some, decidedly more denigrated work, in another opening titles post earlier in this fast disappearing year, time to examine those of Tim Burton’s more successful one1. The more popular re-envisioned cinematic take of a famed Washington Irving short story. The turn-of-the-millennium revision of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, titled simply as Sleepy Hollow. Just for the Hell of it.
The director well-known for his mix of gothic and quirk, again partaking with a horror-theme fable. As with his later venture with Dark Shadows (2012), this sequence of visually clever movie credits accompanied the story’s hero as he meandered into the unknown. Traipsing the city dweller’s trek, even if a New York City constable, toward a landscape he’s ill-prepared for, and into a path fraught with mystery and death.
It’d be with this production where Burton initiated the movie’s titles long after the yarn sent on its bloody way via a key killing; done with brutally macabre skill by the legendary headless horseman. The preamble2 involving a wealthy farmer, Peter Van Garrett, after christening a new will and testament, along with his son Dirk driving the coach. Both slain on their way home within the previously tranquil hamlet of Sleepy Hollow.
Executed with stylishly haunting imagery as the attacker makes off with their heads, adding to the riddle of it all.
The initial titles3 begin their wistful appearance as Ichabod Crane journeys to the Dutch enclave of Westchester county. The credits ebb in and out with ghostly effect throughout the jaunt northward. Ominous shots of forest in full autumn, leaves falling like their spent lives depended upon it, as the carriage creeps along a road without a person or animal in sight. The unearthly movie credits the only who’d dare.
The sequence wonderfully designed by Robert Dawson4, care of Pacific Title/Mirage, set the titles against a mystique-filled, countryside backdrop for maximum eerie effect, and to establish the phantasmal nature of the tale.
The trip from New York City to the steps of the very manor, Baltus Van Tassel’s, that houses the root of the evil thus traces the dark parable; and all of it manifesting its own life by way of those wraithlike captions. No doubt presented with dusky accompaniment care of another well-worn Burton colleague, Danny Elfman. The overture craftily building its orchestral climax precisely to coincide with the composer’s credit onscreen.
All done within a sinisterly distinctive autumnal-tinged opening titles sequence that insinuates what’s to follow for hero and audience alike that granted Sleepy Hollow a well-regarded All Hallows’ Eve quintessence. I daresay the film has attained the kind of spooky grandeur few others have come close to without name-dropping the holiday itself. One of the prime reasons the film is annual viewing in my house, especially this time of year.
- One of the filmmaker’s rare R-rated films, which retains a glorious glee with its gore and uses blood splashes for laughs, of all things. ↩
- Though the film was stunningly shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a second unit lensed the preamble murder sequence, helmed by the late and great Conrad Hall, and involved his friend, Martin Landau, as a favor to Lubezki. ↩
- The first credit being the film’s headliner, and longtime collaborator, Johnny Depp. ↩
- Dawson primarily responsible for the film’s title credits, and like composer Danny Elfman, had worked with Tim Burton on several of his films — including Big Fish, Planet of the Apes (not the good one), Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, and Beetlejuice. He says they help give “a flavor and a tone to the feeling of the film.” ↩