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I just realized that Tim Burton's Ichabod Crane was useless.

Since I don't really watch television, but I like to pretend I'm staying relevant, I revisited Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow a couple days ago.  It was actually much better than I remembered.  I had it in my head as kind of a doofy, overblown bit of Goth-flavored muck (i.e., Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland), but it was actually more of a playful Goth-skinned retelling of a beloved tale that's only truly terrible if you've got a boner for hating the director (i.e., Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

I thought the romance between Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci was bizarre, at best, since they barely say more than ten words to each other and then suddenly they're in love, and I thought the conflation of witchcraft with religion was too much effort to force a "Fact Vs Faith" thematic conflict... but whatevs.  It had some cool effects, some great set design, a great ensemble cast, and terrific music.

The only real problem I had is that Ichabod Crane was such an ineffectual hero.  And I don't mean that he's one of those guys who starts out weak and slowly progresses and grows and then ends strong.  I mean that he could have died in the first five minutes and the movie would most likely have resolved itself the same way.

Crane's whole deal in this version of the tale is that he's a prototypical forensic investigator who tries to use science and research to resolve crimes in contrast to the rest of the police force, which relies on gut instincts.  So there's a bunch of scenes where he takes out steampunk equipment from his Bag o' Wonder and gets up close to dead bodies to figure out how exactly they died.

Except that nothing he discovers through these investigations actually advances the story in any critical way.  He discovers that a dead body's wounds were cauterized - but that's not a clue.  He discovers that one of the female victims was pregnant when she was murdered - but that's told to him almost directly when somebody says, "There were five bodies in four graves," and her pregnancy isn't really the vehicle by which he uncovers the rest of the mystery.  The entire sequence involving the pregnant victim is really just a contrivance for one of the other townsfolk "in the know" to be murdered right in front of Ichabod, which actually makes him abandon his scientific method altogether.

Crane's investigation doesn't really start advancing the story until maybe fifty minutes into the movie, and it isn't even because of his efforts.  You know how he ends up getting on the right track?  He wanders the forest until a witch arbitrarily comes out of nowhere and tells him where to go.  That's it.  That's seriously how the movie decided to make progress.

["Hmm, our protagonist is an unpopular guy who's convinced he can use his brains to solve a crime and nobody believes him.  I think he should study some books or maps or something and discover a clue."

"Really?  But we already spent like $10 million on this CGI witch."

"Who told you to do that?  The movie doesn't even have a witch in it!"

"It does now."]

Even after Crane follows the witch's instructions and finds the burial place of the Headless Horseman, he still doesn't actually solve any crimes.  He farts around for awhile, suspects the wrong people, chases a couple of loose ends, and then leaves town.  Briefly there's a sequence where you think he might be putting all the pieces together when he sees a corpse being loaded into a funeral cart and he remembers a previous conversation about the nature of illusion - and at this time, the true villain is revealed by way of kidnapping Christina Ricci and holding her in a windmill at the edge of town to carry out the final part of the dastardly plot.

But even in that sequence, it's not like Crane tells anybody what he's figured out.  He just goes to the windmill to rescue Ricci - who has already freed herself and is in the process of running away.  So much for coming to the rescue.

Pretty much the only thing Crane does that's of any worth the entire damn movie is that he grabs the Headless Horseman's head from the villain (the head, by the way, is a device by which the villain can control the Horseman to commit murders), which strips away their powers.  Anybody could've done that, though.

The ineffectual hero is not new to cinema.  One of my favorite movie heroes ever is actually a great example of this: Indiana Jones.  With the exception of Temple of Doom (which I actually kinda like best out of all of them, even though I know that's going to make me lose some film snob cred), all of his movies could be summed up as: "If Indy stayed home, the Nazis / Communists would have died horrible deaths all on their own."

But at least Indiana Jones was active in saving the lives of his colleagues and figuring out where the miscellaneous artifacts were hidden.  He's the kind of hero you want to watch even if all he ends up doing is his laundry.  Ichabod Crane is more like the type of hero you can't wait to leave so you can see more of the villain.

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