From co-creators/executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the Star Trek and Transformers franchises, Fringe) comes the adventure thriller Sleepy Hollow. In this modern-day retelling of Washington Irving's classic, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) is resurrected and pulled two and a half centuries through time to find that the world is on the brink of destruction and that he is humanity's last hope, forcing him to team up with a contemporary police officer (Nicole Beharie, Shame, American Violet) to unravel a mystery that dates back to the founding fathers.
Having seen and heard next to nothing about the first season of 'Sleepy Hollow' before this assignment, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about what I was in for. That's because at the top of the Blu-ray packaging the marketers, in an attempt to impress buyers, use as a selling point that the series is "from the writers behind 'Star Trek' and 'Transformers'.
As someone who has yet to see an entry in the latter franchise and who despised 'Star Trek Into Darkness' because of how poorly written the script and story were, this had the opposite effect on me as I became filled more with dread than eagerness to proceed, but I did my best to go into the series with an open mind since it was successful enough over its 13 episodes to earn a second season, extended to 18 episodes, which returns to FOX on September 22.
The pilot opens as British citizen and Oxford University history professor Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is killed in 1781 fighting on the side of the colonists. Before dying, he exacts revenge on his assailant by cutting off the head of the masked British soldier who took his life. As their bodies lay on the battlefield, their blood pooled together, linking the two men.
The creators not only used Washington Irving's famous tale "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" but also borrowed an idea from the author's other famous short story, "Rip Van Winkle," and Ichabod rises from his grave roughly 250 years later in present-day Sleepy Hollow, NY, at the same time nefarious forces have re-animated the Headless Horseman's body, who goes in search of his head and decapitates those who stand in his way.
With a murderer on the loose, the local police get involved, specifically Lt. Grace Abigail "Abbie" Mills (Nicole Beharie) because her partner and mentor Sheriff August Corbin (Clancy Brown) is one of the victims. The authorities aren't sure what to make of Ichabod, especially when he passes a polygraph test. With little else to go on, Abbie gives him opportunities to prove himself and earn her trust. Early on, the series seems like it might be a typical police procedural with a crime-solving pair featuring one fish-out-of-water member. But the series is so much more than a retelling of Irving's spooky short story, notably adapted previously by Walt Disney and Tim Burton.
FOX's 'Sleepy Hollow' slowly reveals itself to be a supernatural tale of Biblical proportions as a demon named Moloch intends to unleash the Apocalypse with the aid of the Four Horseman. The Headless Horseman is Death and he appears throughout the season in search of his head and to further Moloch's goal. Pestilence is a major presence in "John Doe" about an afflicted colony from Roanoke that had remained hidden from the rest of the world. War has a major presence in the season finale "Bad Blood," setting up a cliffhanger. Famine is only seen in shots with the other three and is not integral to any episode's story. Ichabod and Abbie believe a prophecy that they are the two Witnesses mentioned in the Book of Revelations who can stop the end of the world.
Under the series' overarching premise, the writers deliver many interesting ideas and stories throughout the season. Unfortunately, they too often go beyond credulity even in this fantastic world they created. Ichabod is almost like the Forrest Gump of the American colony, revealed to be part of the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere's ride. His wife, Katrina, is a witch stuck in purgatory because of the spell she cast on Ichabod, yet they communicate frequently so she can offer assistance. The Headless Horseman's identity is a great twist but then other connections are revealed that oddly make the Apocalypse too much of a personal matter.
Even when the writing goes off the rails, Mison delivers a level of charm as Ichabod that should be enough to placate some viewers even though the character is too accepting of the modern world and the way it works, almost as if the writers forget from what year the character comes. Kramer Morgenthau's atmospheric cinematography is outstanding throughout the season. The production design team also deserves kudos for their creation of sets from different centuries. Every dollar appears to be on the screen.
The biggest knock goes to the music supervisor, who makes picks that are so on the nose it's as if no thought went into the job. During "Blood Moon," just before a witch strikes, Sinatra's "Witchcraft" plays on radio. Then in "For the Triumph of Evil," where the antagonist is a dream spirit referred to as the Sandman, we hear The Chordettes' " Mr. Sandman."
All in all, what's done well in 'Sleepy Hollow' outweighs what isn't, so I'd suggest checking out the first season if the above intrigues you.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season' is a three-disc set of 50GB Region A Blu-rays. The blue case that holds the discs comes with a slipcover. Disc 1 presents trailers for Fox TV on DVD, 'Sons of Anarchy: Season Six', 'Oculus', and '24: Live Another Day'. The two other discs load directly to the menu.
'Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season' was shot on Red Epic digital cameras. The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC that is displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is one of the better-looking series currently in production.
The image is quite clean and sharp. There are strong hues, as seen in the greens in the countryside or the bright orange in flames, and great contrast between light and dark. The richness of the blacks is exquisite as the cinematography makes great use of shadows and darkness to help evoke mood. Multiple black objects are able to stand apart and didn’t suffer from crushing. There is very fine texture detail seen in the clothes and sets, both indoor and outdoor, which help make the world real.
The only time the picture quality suffers is intentional. During flashbacks and visits to Purgatory, the image is manipulated to alter the clarity. Also, Moloch's face is never clearly seen. Otherwise, it appears free of digital artifacts.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The dialogue is always clear and is not overpowered by the music or effects unless intended. The score and songs play with great fidelity.
The discs deliver a wide dynamic range from the light whinnying of horses to the heavy sounds of cannon fire. Guns deliver a great oomph of power thanks to assistance to the subwoofer. The ambient effects can be heard in the surrounds, from the loud, action scenes that thrill to the quieter, spookier moments that chill.
'Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season' is an entertaining fantasy/horror genre series, although it's unfortunate how often the writing stumbles as the show's mythology expands.
The Blu-ray offers great video, very good audio for a TV series, and a number of extras that will allow viewers insight into the show's creation. This is recommended.