This review contains no spoilers for ‘Sandman’.
The more I read about “Sandman,” the more I heard that this is a story about storytelling. While the Sandman movie is technically about Morpheus, the pale man who turns out to be the embodiment of dreams, DC’s valuable comic book series explores much more than just this character’s world.
During those first 75 issues, not to mention all the specials and spin-offs that followed, Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece uses dreams as a gateway to myth, history, and a deconstruction of reality itself. What is a story but a common dream? Dreams are not real, we are told, but dreams and stories also have the potential to shape reality in the waking world by radically changing both storytellers and listeners.
So it’s strange that Sandman is known for being a difficult story to adapt and retold in other media. Although a recent version of Audible was greeted by fans, the effort to bring Morpheus to life on screen has been a nightmare for everyone involved.
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At the world premiere of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman, the original dream maker himself, said, “I’ve spent over 30 years preventing copies of The Sandman from being made.” He’s not joking either. Morpheus is no stranger to the depths of Hell, and the same can be said of the myriad of cinematic adaptations that have endured so long in development.
Since 1991, Hollywood has tried to capture the essence of The Sandman on screen but has failed over and over again. One version of the script was so bad that Gaiman called it “not only the worst ‘Sandman’ scenario I’ve ever seen, but easily the worst scenario I’ve ever read” (via ScreenRant). Looks like desperation was going to have a field day though.
In the end, it was deemed impossible to portray The Sandman in movie form. As Gaiman said at this year’s Comic-Con, making a single 3,000-page comic was “trying to put the ocean in a bowl.” To achieve material justice, the decision was made to prosecute television. Eric Kripke got close to The Sandman before The Boys, but it was David S. Goyer and Alan Heinberg who finally won the Netflix deal in 2019. And now here we are with the ten-hour episodes (give or take.) of the first two arcs, called Preludes and Nocturnes” and “The Doll’s House”.
That’s the whole story, but what about the actual story of the series itself? Is this new ‘hypnotist’ made of dreams? Or should he have stayed in the development hell where many thought he belonged? After watching the ten episodes more than once, this longtime fan gives great joy to reveal that The Sandman is a lot better than it’s entitled to.
Much of the source material here has been faithfully adapted, but just enough has been changed or expanded to make this ‘perimeter’ of text fit almost perfectly into what is essentially a larger ‘vase’. More importantly, the parts that have been changed or added feel like they’ve always been here.
Neil Gaiman’s imprint runs through these 10 episodes, as well as other successful adaptations of his work such as Good Omens and American Gods. However, it should be noted that just as the original comics were actually collaborations with many talented artists, cartoonists, illustrators, and collaborators, the same can be said for the series as well.
In fact, this is more true here given the scale of this production. Netflix has already put all of its Netussy into this project, dumping the VFX team with the amount of money that put the Marvel team to shame. Well, we don’t actually know if that’s true, but it seems to be, because a lot of the scenes here seem to have been pulled straight out of Gaiman’s mind thanks to Morpheus himself.
From The Dreaming to Sandman’s return to this world, the first episode alone looks more impressive — and expensive — than any of Netflix’s other besties. Only “Stranger Things” can rival “Sandman” in this regard, which is impressive given that the Gaiman series relies so much on this kind of otherworldly visuals.
In a matter of minutes, you’ll be screaming “hang it in the Louvre” on your screen, to be greeted with something even more beautiful until your voice becomes hoarse in the second episode. But you’ll want to keep it all going anyway, because ‘Sandman’ has a knack for ending each episode with something that draws you in more, even if some of those previous installments felt more self-sufficient.
Now, this is where the narration fails a bit. While the writers do a great job of connecting these individual chapters with longer series arcs, Season 1 seems to end naturally with Episode VI, only to start over with a new, slightly weaker arc in the middle.
The Doll’s House numbers are among the best Sandman stories ever written, and while notable events like The Serial Killer Convention are translated well here, there are others where the narrative lags a bit. .
There’s still plenty to love about the last four seasons, but her ambition rarely lives up to what came before her. The split mid-season may have benefited the series, creating some distance between these first two halves so they could stand on their own.
Looking back, the moments likely to get fans talking more can be found in earlier chapters like “A Hope in Hell,” where Morpheus fights Lucifer, or “The Sound of His Wings,” where Dream’s sister, Death, will depart. You cry.
Even with so many highlights like these to choose from, none of this would have worked if it weren’t for the actor assembled here. We can talk endlessly about the talent involved, but the aforementioned Dream Sister will come to all of us eventually, so we’ll have to iron out a few highlights.
No doubt there’s going to be a lot of hype surrounding Lucifer for Gwendoline Christie and Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Death, which is especially satisfying given the whining we heard from some die-hard trolls when their selection was first announced. Same for Jenna Coleman’s sex exchange role as Joanna Constantin, which pretty much requires expansion on a much-needed part.
But everyone in this cast gives it their all, including the very scary David Thewlis and also Vivian Achempong, who surpasses magic as Lucian. On top of all that, Boyd Holbrook gives the best performance of his career as The Corinthian, a nightmare fugitive who is also charming in a very different and more sinister way. And then, of course, there’s Tom Sturridge, who plays the King of Dreams himself. Much depended on getting it right, and fortunately, Tom exceeded all expectations.
It’s easy to see why Gaiman and Heinberg chose Sturridge from among the thousands of participants. From his meticulous comic book body to that deep, whisper but commanding voice, there is an otherworldly side to Tom’s performance that is carefully reconciled with the humanity that Morpheus often works so hard to suppress.
Mason Alexander Park’s opinion of Desire also seems ethereal in a divine sense, but while Morpheus recedes, Desire does his best, fully embracing every impulse and desire.
With this kind of role, there’s the risk of complicating things, taking that bragging in the direction of pantomime, but Mason celebrates the role without letting it consume it. Behind every action and every word, there is an underlying sense of danger in his performance that is exciting to watch.
If only we could see more of this in season 1. This is a common complaint and we are sure many fans will echo it in the coming days. I wish there were more Lucifer…and dead…and Corinthians…and dreaming…the list goes on.
As for the complaints, this is one of the best. It’s a compliment to say that the vast majority of these actors are pretty good at each of the roles they chose, so we end up feeling cheated when they don’t get as much time as we would like.
Morpheus himself once said in the comics, “The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.” But all that wishful thinking can only be a good thing when it comes to ‘Sandman’, assuming, of course, that Netflix is actually bringing everyone back for a second season.
After blocking production of multiple copies of “Sandman,” the Gaiman team finally achieved the impossible by creating something fans had long hoped for, but never dared to dream of. And now that the show has finally arrived, we can’t wait to share this story, that dream, with the rest of you back home.
“The Sandman” is now available on Netflix Spain.
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