Plot: There is another world that waits for all of us when we close our eyes and sleep — a place called the Dreaming, where The Sandman, Master of Dreams, gives shape to all of our deepest fears and fantasies. But when Dream is unexpectedly captured and held prisoner for a century, his absence sets off a series of events that will change both the dreaming and waking worlds forever. To restore order, Dream must journey across different worlds and timelines to mend the mistakes he’s made during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and foes, and meeting new entities — both cosmic and human — along the way.
Review: After decades of waiting and multiple stalled feature film attempts that included talent like Roger Avary, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and more, Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece The Sandman finally makes the leap from comic book to screen with Netflix’s ambitious ten-episode adaptation. Developed by David Goyer and Allan Heinberg alongside Gaiman himself, The Sandman represents an iconic work that has the challenge of living up to the visual source material while also bringing in a new generation of fans. With a boundary-crossing, genre-hopping, and time period-busting mix of subplots and overarching narrative, The Sandman comes to us as both a faithful realization of the original comic book as well as a modernized reinvention of the first two volumes of the graphic novel. With eight additional volumes to be adapted, does this first season bode well as the first entry in an ongoing series?
The answer is a definite 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 Coraline. The visuals in this series are striking and the tone retains the elegiac and somber feel of the comic books while still bringing some of the lighter and more fanciful elements to the forefront. The series also eliminates the direct ties that Gaiman’s comic book shared with the DC Universe including locations like Arkham Asylum and appearances from recognizable superheroes like Martian Manhunter. In fact, The Sandman uses gender-flipped characters and color-blind casting to emulate the original comic book even better than I could have imagined without making it a focal point of the production. In short, fans of The Sandman are going to love this series.
The challenge facing Netflix is whether or not new fans will warm to this story. Gaiman has a dedicated army of fans but by distancing this from DC, will there be enough to intrigue people to this story? I certainly hope so as there is a reason The Sandman is so highly regarded in both comic 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 throughout the world and combines them into a single narrative. The series also manages to toe the line between the family-friendly work Gaiman is known for with his much more adult works like American Gods. There is a good amount of profanity peppered through The Sandman as well as a decent amount of blood and gore, but the sexual content is far tamer than I had anticipated. Yes, there is sex and some deviant visuals 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 running time adapting the first story arc of the comic book, “Preludes and Nocturnes” with the back half tackling volume two, titled “A Doll’s House”. With the first episode penned by Gaiman, Goyer, and Heinberg, The Sandman blends elements of 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. Rather than stretching the eight issue arcs into their own seasons, Gaiman and his team condense the stories a slight bit without sacrificing all of 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 major scene-stealers in this series and will live up to any fan’s best expectations. They also complement Tom Sturridge’s powerful yet subdued leading role. There is 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 set-pieces. 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 to this entire series. Characters spend a lot of time waxing poetically or philosophically about life, death, eternity, and more which will throw some viewers off, 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 would recognize by name but they all grant this series a level of scale and drama that elevates it from looking like any other television series. The special effects are impressive and the score from David Buckley is haunting and beautiful, two words that best exemplify what this series set out to be and succeeds in.
The Sandman is a far more faithful adaptation of any source material than I have seen in a long time. Neil Gaiman should be incredibly happy with this take on his story that will hopefully launch an entire generation to devour his library of works, leading off with 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 this series will resonate with everyone equally as there are those who may be dissuaded 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 their attention as this is a very dialogue-heavy story and an emotionally heavy one as well. By the end of the tenth episode, you will be ready to continue your journey with Dream and The Endless for seasons to come.
The Sandman premieres on Netflix on August 5th.
Originally published at www.joblo.com