Netflix’s TV adaptation of “The Sandman” is very close to Neil Gaiman’s original comics
Neil Gaiman’s revolutionary comic book series The Sandman debuted in 1989, and soon after that came the inevitable dilemma that beset critically praised blockbusters: how to adapt it for the big screen? Each member of the series’ principal family, known as “The Endless,” personifies a natural force, such as dreams, death, and desire.
They live in a wonderfully cinematic universe. However, Gaiman’s epic tale involves a large cast and spans ages. Its hero’s feelings could be kindly regarded as elusive. None of that would easily fit into a two-hour film, so The Sandman has been circling around for years looking for the right kind of visual representation. Has it established itself as a Netflix series at last?
The Witcher, The Umbrella Academy, and A Series of Unfortunate Events are just a few examples of the expensive-looking genre adaptations that Netflix has made possible and that appeal to committed fan communities. Because it typically releases entire seasons at once, a show is less under pressure to explain everything that happened in Episode 1—at least theoretically. The original story of The Sandman is a significant slow burner.
Over the course of a treasure quest, the first book painstakingly pieces together the specifics of its protagonist Dream’s reality. The Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg-written Netflix adaptation embraces that tempo, letting events develop with the care of a monthly comic rather than the snappiness of weekly TV. It results in some extremely high highs and a few long lows.
I’d vehemently argue that The Sandman is one of the pinnacles of modern literature and the best illustration of exactly how expansive and inventive the comics genre can be. I’m an obsessive fan of The Sandman. I used to eat up any word about upcoming movie adaptations for years, fearing what Hollywood may do to them.
Gaiman once famously called a potential draught of a Sandman story “not only the worst script I’ve ever seen, but quite probably the worst script I’ve ever read.” The problem of condensing a complex series into a few hours of plot seemed to have been solved with the rise of prestige television.
However, that structure does present an additional difficulty—namely, how to keep viewers interested. I wonder what the Netflix adaptation will signify to new viewers since fans of The Sandman like me will find much to rejoice in. The fantasy series has an interesting cast and is shiny and flashy, which might be enough to draw viewers during these slow summer months.
However, the season’s main character is difficult to adore, especially at initially, and his intentions are often unclear. That ambiguity is intentional because a significant portion of The Sandman’s plot revolves around the audience understanding Dream (played by Tom Sturridge) as well as Dream’s own self-understanding. However, it depends on the patience of the audience to stay with him during that process.
The first volume of Gaiman’s comic book series serves as the main inspiration for the first six of The Sandman’s ten-episode season. They follow Dream, who reigns over the Dreaming, a world dedicated to all of humanity’s nighttime fantasies (other names for Dream include The Sandman and Morpheus). Dream is taken in the premiere and held captive in the early 20th century by an occultist named Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance).
The plot unfolds over many years as Dream flees and later sets out to rebuild his realm while looking for misplaced artefacts and collecting stray nightmares. He visits hell to negotiate with its ruler, Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie), and meets up with his sister Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the upbeat and sensible keeper of all mortality, during his travels.
Even while that synopsis may seem lengthy, it barely touches the surface. Five more siblings exist besides Dream and Death, and Dream’s own realm is home to a variety of fascinating characters, some friendly and some downright evil. Dream is initially portrayed by Sturridge as being distant and irritable, with his edges gradually melting with each new episode.
He is depicted in the comics as a chalk-white, gothic string bean with a large tangle of bushy hair that was modelled by Robert Smith of The Cure. This 2022 edition is a little down the line, but Sturridge has gravitas, and he especially comes into focus when he’s alongside bubblier characters like Death and the sorcerer-detective Johanna Constantine (played by Jenna Coleman, who also plays the books’ John Constantine).
Where the series falls short of the comics is in its graphics; despite expensive and constant CGI in The Sandman, it is unable to depict a dreamworld in the same impressionistic manner as an illustrated comic. Perhaps the television programme would make a more stunning effect if it were hand-drawn. Instead, the flaming plumes and impossibly high palaces that serve as the green-screen backdrops are only passable. While I liked the care taken with the plot and the attempt to include every aspect of Gaiman’s writing, faithfulness does have its limits.
In the 5th episode, Dream clashes with John Dee (David Thewlis), a man driven to cruelty by one of Dream’s lost relics. Their confrontation is one of the most gripping and horrific Sandman issues ever published, but I found the TV adaptation unexpectedly unpleasant, possibly due to the attempt to compress a few dozen pages of comics into an hour of television.
Other times, the constant cadence that the narrative accuracy provides is engrossing. The sixth episode, “The Sound of Her Wings,” illustrates how fascinating the show can be without relying on spectacle as Dream hangs around with Death, decompresses, and finally turns inward. “The Doll’s House,” the second book by Neil Gaiman, is reimagined in the season’s final four episodes. Then, instead of hopping haphazardly between dimensions, the novel and its adaptation gain from a tighter focus by remaining with the same cast of people all the way to the finish.
Future seasons, I predict, will have even greater storytelling assurance, but a show of this scope will probably need some significant viewership to be renewed. The Sandman will undoubtedly appeal to super-fans given its shortcomings, but if it leans even more heavily on the depth of its characters, it might potentially garner a wider audience. When it works, the programme offers compelling fantasy entertainment and serves as an excellent primer for Gaiman’s works. However, there is a high entry hurdle, and for others, the expense of joining such a complex tale may be prohibitive.