Reason: There is another world that awaits us all when we close our eyes and sleep – a place called the Dream, where the Sandman, the Master of Dreams, gives form to all our deepest fears and fantasies. But when Dream is unexpectedly captured and held captive for a century, his absence sets in motion a series of events that will change both the dream world and the waking world forever. In order to restore order, Dream must travel across different worlds and timelines to right the wrongs he has committed during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and enemies and encountering new entities – both cosmic and human – along the way.
Review: After decades of waiting and several aborted feature film attempts that included talent such as Roger Avary, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more, Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece The Sandman finally makes the leap from comics to screen with Netflix’s ambitious ten-episode adaptation. Developed by David Goyer and Allan Heinberg along with Gaiman himself, The Sandman represents an iconic work that has the challenge of living up to the visual source material while bringing in a new generation of fans. With a border-crossing, genre-hopping and time-period-exploding mix of subplots and overarching narrative, The Sandman comes to us as both a faithful realization of the original comic as well as a modernized reinvention of the first two volumes of the graphic novel. With eight additional volumes to adapt, does this first season bode well as the first entry in an ongoing series?
The answer is a clear yes. Compared to the other adaptations of Neil Gaiman’s work (Stardust, American Gods, Lucifer, Good Omens), The Sandman is the most accurate and faithful next to it Coraline. The visuals of this series are striking and the tone retains the elegiac and somber feel of the comics while still bringing out some of the lighter and more imaginative elements. The series also eliminates the direct ties that Gaiman’s comic shared with the DC Universe, including places like Arkham Asylum and appearances by recognizable superheroes like the Martian Manhunter. Actually, The Sandman uses gender-flipped characters and color-blind casting to emulate the original comic even better than I could have imagined without making it a focal point of the production. In short, fans of The Sandman gonna love this series.
The challenge for Netflix is whether new fans will warm to this story. Gaiman has a dedicated army of fans, but by distancing himself from DC, will there be enough to intrigue people for this story? I certainly hope so, as there is a reason The Sandman is so highly regarded in both comedic and literary circles. The vast tale centered on Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) and his family, The Endless, takes everything from Christian theology and biblical characters to all sorts of myths, legends, deities and fairy tales from around the world and combines them into a single tale. The series also manages to walk the line between the family-friendly work Gaiman is known for with his much more adult works such as American Gods. There is a good amount of profanity interspersed The Sandman as well as a decent amount of blood and gore, but the sexual content is far tamer than I expected. Yes, there is sex and some deviant imagery when the story goes to hell, but it never feels gratuitous and serves the story.
The first season of The Sandman stays very close to the source material. The ten-episode season splits half of its runtime adapting the first story arc of the comic, “Preludes and Nocturnes,” with the back half tackling volume two, titled “A Doll’s House.” With the first episode written by Gaiman, Goyer and Heinberg, The Sandman mixes elements from the two storylines to create a more dynamic season with the early introduction of The Corinthian (an excellent Boyd Holbrook), who is a key character in the second volume. Instead of stretching the eight issues into their own seasons, Gaiman and his team condense the stories a little bit without sacrificing all the wonderful characters from each volume. From Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman) to John Dee (David Thewlis), Sir Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance) to Ethel Cripps (Joely Richardson) to Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie), and the various siblings of Dream, including Death (Kirby Howell- Baptiste) ) and Desire (Mason Alexander Park) and Despair (Donna Preston). Christie, Preston and Howell-Baptiste are the biggest scene stealers in this series and will live up to every fan’s best expectations. They also complement Tom Sturridge’s powerful but subdued lead role. There are also some memorable voice acting roles from Patton Oswalt as Matthew The Raven and Mark Hamill as Mervyn Pumpkinhead.
At its core, The Sandman is a story about characters and not about massive scenery. This is not a thriller or a mystery in the traditional sense, but rather a meditation through a dreamlike state. It is fitting that the main character is the Lord of Dreams, as there is an ethereal and surreal feel throughout this series. Characters spend a lot of time waxing poetic or philosophical about life, death, eternity and more, which will throw off some viewers, especially those who were big fans of Bryan Fuller’s far more in-your-face take on Gaiman’s work with American Gods. The Sandman doesn’t come to us from any filmmakers you’d recognize by name, but they all give this series a level of scale and drama that elevates it from being like any other TV series. The special effects are impressive, and the score from David Buckley is haunting and beautiful, two words that best exemplify what this series sets out to do and succeeds at.
The Sandman is a far more faithful adaptation of any source material than I’ve seen in a long time. Neil Gaiman should be incredibly happy with this version of his story, which will hopefully launch an entire generation to devour his library of works, leading The Sandman. From the production values to the pitch-perfect casting of the entire ensemble, this series is an achievement with very few worthy comparisons. I hesitate to say that this series will resonate equally with everyone as there are those who may be put off by the pacing as this is not the next Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. Anyone diving into this series should be prepared to invest not only their time but also their attention as this is a very dialogue heavy story and an emotionally heavy story. By the end of the tenth episode, you will be ready to continue your journey with Dream and The Endless in the coming seasons.
The Sandman premiered on Netflix on August 5.