I Can See Clearly Now
The first problem you have to deal with when turning a short story into a full-length story deals with characterization. Characters in short stories can be effective with just one or two key traits; many stories are built around a character's single trait (Thurber's "The Catbird Seat," for example). Compelling movie characters require more development--while it's ok for them to have a single, dominating trait, without any additional depth, you're left with cardboard caricatures that don't even stretch Keanu Reeve's meager talents.
The writers did have an intriguing notion--I will grant them that. When I first heard that Ichabod Crane would be transformed into a constable/detective for Sleepy Hollow, I though, "OK, that has some potential, as long as they don't turn him into an eighteenth century Fox Mulder." And I still think the basic concept could have worked, had the scriptwriters employed even three brain cells. But everything about Crane's career in law enforcement reeks of half-baked plot gimmicks. Nothing was carefully thought out--or even sloppily thought out, for that matter. As a result, although Crane is no Fox Mulder, he comes perilously close to resembling another famous lawman--Lt. Frank Drebin of Police Squad.
Let's start with the opening sequence in New York City. The basic idea is interesting--Crane has these new-fangled ideas about scientific detective work and deduction, and because his new ideas are stepping on a lot of toes, he's packed off to the boonies. There's only one problem: We never see much evidence of his deductive skills. When he starts to argue over a newly discovered corpse, he has no specific reason to suspect anything other than drowning. He's dead. He's wet. He was pulled from the river. There are no other marks on the body--who wouldn't conclude that the man drowned? If, instead, there had been something--no matter how slight--about the corpse that Crane could have pointed to as evidence of foul play, then Burton could have established immediately just how gifted Crane was.
Such a setup could have also allowed for a much more dramatic altercation with the Burgomeister (Christopher Lee, in a welcome return to the screen), a scene which 1. could have further served to develop more of Crane's character--for example, he's gifted, but nervous in public, which is why people tend to dismiss him; and/or 2. could have set up an interesting backstory--perhaps Crane's deductive skills had previously made the Burgomeister look foolish, giving him an ulterior motive to sentence Crane to some backwater. Instead, we're stuck with a pretty tired, pretty obvious plot device calculated toss a little pro forma exposition onto the fire and to get Crane sent off to Sleepy Hollow just as quickly as possible. [I must admit--this point isn't a big deal, and is probably prompted more by a desire to have seen more of Lee than anything else. It's more of a missed opportunity than a gaping flaw.]
The deductive ball is also dropped later on in the play, as Crane examines the corpse of one of the victims, using a combination of chemicals (perhaps including eye of newt?) to determine that the wound had been cauterized. Again, what about some more basic DEDUCTION (that is, after all, supposedly Crane's strong suit). Crane notices that there is no blood--and after cutting off someone's head, you'd expect to have blood all over the place. So, he looks at the corpse's neck and SEES that the wound has been cauterized. That would have simply, but effectively, established Crane's ability. But instead we're given a contrived scene that completely dismisses substance for a cool visual moment of Crane working with his chemistry set. And actually, the bit with the chemicals doesn't make any sense--he pours the stuff on the ground, so he must be testing for blood that has spilled from the corpse--but, as he notes, the wound has been cauterized, so there shouldn't be any blood. And even if there had been blood, the body had been moved, so there shouldn't have been any blood at that location. It's the sort of cheap visual stunt I've come to expect from Joel Schumacher, but not from Tim Burton.
And, finally, Crane's inability to realize the Katrina had been trying to cast a protective spell--or, more to the point, Crane's inability to read the book Katrina had given him until damn near too late. Granted, his Freudian backstory could have given him a blind spot when it comes to witchcraft, but it could just as easily made him more sensitive to the issue. Again, let's talk some common sense here--does anyone really think that Katrina is going to inscribe an evil eye right in the middle of a crowded church!?! I didn't think so. (I'm also still trying to figure out how she could have completed the circle without someone inside the church noticing.)
In the original script, the pentagram is handled much more carefully, so that it is more of a legitimate clue and not a plot bat. The circle is discovered under Crane's bed, and is clearly drawn in blood--leaving little doubt as to it's malicious intent. A second circle in the church never appears. (Tangentally, the book Katrina gives Crane is Romeo and Juliet, not a book on witchcraft.)
At times, in fact, one is left wondering if Crane isn't so much New York's answer to Sherlock Holmes as he is New York's answer to Frank Drebin. I'm not complaining about Crane not being able to stand the sight of blood--that was one bit I rather liked (Though I did balk at a several days-old corpse spurting bright-red blood). But it would have made for a much more interesting character had we seen that squeamishness coupled with the strong deductive ability.
The original script does give us a much clearer sense of Crane's deductive ability, and his dedication to the scientific method. He discerns some useful info from the crime scenes, even taking a plaster cast of the hoof print of the Horseman's steed for comparison with other horses in town. He creates a crude compass to help him navigate through the Western Wood, and, more importantly, he figures out fairly quickly that there's something funky going on with Van Garrett's will. The basic direction of the plot stays the same, but in the final shooting script things have been tweaked for theatrical effect, heedless of the fact that the effect undermines the story itself. For example--The opening montage of the signing of Van Garrett's will--it looks kinda cool, especially the way that we initially mistake the sealing wax for blood. Apart from that though, what does the sequence accomplish? Absolutely nothing, except to make it good and damn clear that the will is going to be at the center of the plot. It gets us thinking, before the movie has barely started, about a criminal motive, rather than a supernatural one. And that undermines the whole thing.