“And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, “Come and see.” Then, behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”
No, this is not a Johnny Cash song or a bible study post. Believe it or not, we’re talking Ichabod Crane from Washington Irving’s famous story The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. Fans of the tale will recall that Ichabod came to encounter the headless horseman in one of the first American horror tales ever written. Irving was a contemporary of our founding fathers, including another Washington who happened to play a big part in a little skirmish with the Brits that came to be known as the American Revolution here and the Great Colonial Rebellion over there. Thanks to the new series Sleepy Hollow, we discover that the British weren’t the only ones we were fighting. It’s a story of independence we hadn’t heard before. It’s a fresh take on an old idea that dates back to Kolchak: The Night Stalker. It’s out on Blu-ray now, and I recommend you check it out. Just don’t mix it up with that American history text. We history teachers frown on that kind of thing, you know.
“The Headless Horseman is mowing people down to bring about the end of days. For further questions, please call Ichabod Crane, the man who beheaded him in 1781.”
In 1781, Ichabod Crane (Mison) was fighting under General Washington in the fight for independence. He encounters a strange Hessian soldier who he had been warned he would face. The battle leaves both men mortally wounded, the Hessian without a head. It would seem that was the end of a story. For Sleepy Hollow and Ichabod Crane, it’s really only the beginning. Crane awakens in a cave filled with all sorts of witchcraft artifacts. He stumbles from the underground crypt and out into the middle of a strange kind of road. Nearly hit by a truck, he quickly realizes he’s not where he thought he was. The truth is he isn’t when he thought he was.
Meanwhile Sleepy Hollow sheriff’s deputy Abbie Mills (Beharie) is working one of her last shifts with her friend and mentor Sheriff Corbin (Brown). She’s been selected to train at Quantico for the FBI. It’s a chance in a lifetime she can’t pass up. But this night will change those plans and her life. When they respond to a routine call they encounter an incredible force. It appears a headless horseman is their suspect and ends up killing Corbin. Of course, she has a hard time convincing anyone she’s not crazy or lying until the main police suspect shows up. You guessed it, Ichabod Crane. Turns out Crane has a photographic memory, which comes in handy. He also has George Washington’s family bible which has hidden messages and clues.
“My name is Ichabod Crane. I was a professor of history at Merton College, Oxford, when I was enlisted in the Queen’s Royal Regiment and sent to the American colonies to fight the patriots. It didn’t take long for me to have a change of heart, and I defected.”
He has a strange story to tell. In an unlikely partnership, they begin to investigate the crime only to find out it’s the tip of a very large iceberg. The headless horseman is the first of the infamous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Revelations reveals that there are to be two “witnesses” who will toil together for seven years to hold off the end of times. Both Ichabod and Abbie have had a strange paranormal experience in their past that connects them on a level they will only begin to understand even as the season ends. Abbie spent her life denying her experience, betraying her sister who shared the event. Her sister Jenny (Greenwood) has been in and out of mental institutions, and Abbie carries guilt over her denials. But her sister holds some clues in their investigation and is often a part of their team.
The supporting characters include a nod to writer Washington Irving. It’s Captain Frank Irving, played by Orlando Jones. He begins quite skeptically but eventually is confronted by things he can’t quite ignore. He allows Abbie and Ichabod to form a kind of X-Files team to investigate these supernatural events. There’s also Katrina Crane, Ichabod’s wife, who was a witch and is responsible for tying his life-force with that of the horseman so that both will awaken together. She’s played by Katia Winter and lives in Purgatory until these things are resolved. She tries to communicate with them and provides key information. But she’s in danger, as she exists on a plane with the demon Moloch, who appears to be the puppet-master behind this force. The new Star Trek’s helmsman Sulu has a pivotal role to play as John Cho plays Officer Andy Brooks, who is a part of the evil side. There has been a sleeper cell of sorts awaiting this coming end of days and assists in its arrival. Finally the cast is eventually joined by Fringe’s John Noble, who plays a very Walter-like character here as Henry Parish, a sineater who eventually separates Ichabod from the horseman. This was necessary because had they remained connected they could not kill one without killing the other.
The show has a nice distinctive style and atmosphere. The original story places Sleepy Hollow in New England, but here we’re somewhere in rural New York. The style looks a lot like that of the Underworld films, and that isn’t at all surprising. One of the show’s executive producers and director of the pilot episode is Len Wiseman, who also created the Underworld universe. There’s a lot of that cold light and blue tint to the film. There’s a bit of diverse talent in the production team. It includes Ken Olin, who is more known for family style dramas and playing smart-mouthed Garibaldi on Hill Street Blues. He also directs four episodes, but it’s certainly Wiseman who sets the show’s tone in the pilot that dominates here. The show was also co-created and run by writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, both of whom have worked with J.J. Abrams on shows like Alias and Fringe. So it should come as no surprise that the show contains much of that drawn-out mythology that has become a genre all its own these days. It’s all filmed in and around the Wilmington, North Carolina area.
The episodes also feature the trendy dual-story vehicle. We get treated to many flashbacks to pertinent events back in the 18th century where Ichabod had his original encounters. Many of these feature his time on the battlefield but tell a story of a British nobleman who came to the colonies to fight for the British. A woman ends up changing his perspective on the conflict, a woman who eventually becomes his wife.
Fans of the National Treasure films will also find a familiar formula here. Lemon juice to bring out secret invisible ink, and enough conspiracies from our founding fathers to placate Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer. These clues often lead to historic locations where the next clue can be found. We discover that the Hessian soldiers were pretty much demons and that demons had a stake in the Revolution. We beat them then, thanks to Ichabod and George Washington, but now the battle starts anew. It makes for some compelling episodes, and this is just the first season.
A charming aspect of the show is the fish-out-of-water tale of Crane adjusting to the modern era. There are plenty of scenes where he rages about prices, taxes and smart phones. All of which I’d say I’m completely down for, and I wasn’t born in the 1700’s. Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie do develop a nice chemistry. It’s somewhat strained and requires some suspension of belief at times. She warms to his identity far more quickly than this trained and highly skilled police officer should have. It’s an important part of the story, and with only 13 episodes for a first season, it’s a somewhat necessary flaw. It’s one you’ll simply have to forgive if you’re going to get everything out of this series that you can.
The season ends with the expected cliffhanger, but I found it to be the most disappointing outing of the season. Not because we’re left hanging. I’m very used to that. It’s because the show violates the most basic tenant of writing. The show is too loaded with exposition dialog to fill in the blanks and is less committed to actually showing us the story. I get that there’s a ton of things they wanted to get in, and that 13 episodes might have been a bit constraining. But the overall effect is that I felt like most of the episode was like a bad two-reeler where the villain twirls his mustache and reveals the evil plan while the hero is immobilized by some nefarious trap. It’s not typical of the storytelling here. A pretty solid collection of episodes merely ends on a bit of a downer.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. The high-definition transfer is certainly stylish. Colors are mostly very cold with a blue tint to them. There is also a tendency to wash out colors with harsh lighting, particularly in the flashbacks. On the plus side the image is quite sharp. You get some really nice textures here that build an effective atmosphere. In episode 10 there is an odd and quite startling video breakdown. I went over it several times to be sure it wasn’t an equipment issue. It all breaks down terribly. Fortunately, it’s very brief, but I’m at a loss to explain it. There are also many instances of digital shimmer here that can be distracting. It appears almost like digital artifact which should not be present in a release like this. These issues mar what is otherwise a very impressive image. This also leads to merely fair black levels.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 has one of the strongest sub responses that I’ve encountered on a television release. When the horseman rides, you get a wonderfully full and room-shaking thunder that is a sweet surprise. The sub adds in many other ways as well. It provides a much fuller feel to everything from dialog to score. The surrounds aren’t terribly aggressive but used to good measure. There’s just enough ear candy to keep you immersed in the atmosphere provided.
Welcome To Sleepy Hollow: (20:44) Starts out with huge spoilers, so you want to make sure you’ve watched the episodes first. Cast and crew really spill the beans here. We get a look at how the idea was conceptualized and sold. It includes audition and screen test footage.
Mysteries And Mythology – The Secrets Of Sleepy Hollow: (19:18) This is a run down on the episodes and an overview of the season. Mostly clips with interview narration. There is a little production footage, but very little.
Deleted Scenes: (11:47)
The Corbin Files: (2:23) This uses the recordings Corbin made to reference important points from the season.
Welcome To The 21st Century: (2:20) These are clips of Crane’s reaction to our time.
The Horseman: (2:56) This is not what you think. This is about Doug Sloan who wrangles the horses on the show.
The Horseman’s Head: (2:11) No, they did not decapitate Doug Sloan. This one looks at the show’s propmaster and the various copies of the head that Ichabod and Abbie are trying to keep away from him.
Gag Reel: (2:36)
The show is slated to return. I don’t know if we’ll get the prophesized years here, but there’s plenty of material to keep this one moving for a while. It has some horsepower, pun intended, and the cast is interesting enough. Of course, it owes its roots to Kolchak, who was the original supernatural investigator on television, and to The X-Files as well. So it’s not truly a groundbreaking idea. Fans of the original story will find that a ton of liberties have been taken here. It’s not very faithful to that material. I’m a bit disappointed that Washington Irving gets no credit in the opening titles. Don’t be too upset with the changes. It was an 18th century story being told on modern television. “Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Crane.”