Netflix's The Sandman is worth the decades-long wait

Wellfinally, The sandman arrives on the screen. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s classic fantasy-horror comic series, which ran from 1989 to 1996, have smashed New York times bestseller list and spawned a universe of spinoffs and sequels—they’ve been waiting for this moment for nearly three decades. It had to be a movie first. It then languished in development hell as Hollywood continued to adapt other Gaiman works: Coraline. star dust. How to talk to girls at parties. The streaming era brought TV series based on American Gods, Good omensand even Lucifercharacter introduced in The sand Man. But various adaptations of Gaiman’s masterpiece continued to be delayed, plagued by bad scripts and creative differences.

Well, the 10 episodes sand Man series is finally here, following a 2019 deal that brought the property to Netflix, led by Gaiman executive producers David S. Goyer (Foundation), and showrunner Alan Heinberg (Wonder Woman). And with the caveat that it probably won’t satisfy some sectors of vocal fandom that have spent decades in a state of anticipation, the show is proving to be worth the wait. From smart casting and a strong script to an exquisitely eerie production design blending noir and horror that makes thoughtful use of digital effects, this is one of the best comic book adaptations for the small screen ever made.

Gwendoline Christie in “The Sandman”


Sandman dates from DC Comics‘ Golden Age of the 1930s, but Gaiman’s version represents a complete reinvention. Known as Dream, Morpheus, and a host of other mythologically derived names, the main character rules the realm of dreams and stories, as part of a family of anthropomorphic representations of natural forces called the Infinite. (Wish and Despair are two of his seven siblings.) “When the waking world leaves you bereft and weary,” Dream narrates, as the camera pans through a graveyard of nightmares and an enchanted palace of fantasy, in the show’s opening sequence, “your sleep lead here to find freedom and adventure.

In both the comics and the TV series, we meet Dream (a poignantly vulnerable Tom Sturridge, recently seen on HBO Irma Vep) on the worst day of his eternal life. It’s 1916, and members of an occult order have gathered at an English manor house for a ritual they hope will summon Death so they can trap her in an orb and force her to do their bidding. Since he has descended into the waking world in pursuit of a “fraudulent nightmare” aka the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), who revels in wreaking havoc on humans, it is the Infinite that they capture instead. He spends an agonizing century in his prison, too proud to buy his freedom by acquiescing to the demands of his mortal captor (Charles Dance).

All of this is essentially a prologue to Dream’s escape and return to his kingdom – now crumbling and all but abandoned. With the help of his most loyal deputy, the dreamy librarian Lucien (Vivien Acheampong) and the playful raven sidekick Matthew (voiced by Patton Oswalt), he must recover three looted objects that possess the power of restoration. In the first six episodes, which are pretty close to the first volume of the comics, Preludes and nocturnes, the quest will take him back to Earth and literally through the gates of hell. The back of the season makes a sudden, if inevitable, transition to a parallel volume 2, The doll housecentered on Rose Walker (the self-possessed Vanessa Samunyai), a young woman searching for her long-lost little brother and who, unbeknownst to her, has the latent capacity to bring about mass destruction.

Emma Duncan in “The Sandman”


More compelling than these serialized arcs and their main characters – who exist largely as our guides through The sandmanThe strange realm of is episodic stories, one-off set pieces, and quirky supporting characters. The best episode of the season sets a consistently terrifying David Thewlis, as the psychotic John Dee (aka DC’s Doctory Destiny), in a 24-hour diner where he uses the power taken from Dream to get a handful of employees and customers to interact honestly for once in their lives. What follows is a multi-part symphony of conflict, confession and violence; it’s actually an improvement on Gaiman’s fan-favorite diner theme. There are great, twisted concepts like this all over the place: a serial killer convention, a dreamland Cain (Sanjeev Bashhar) who always kills a self-resurrecting Abel (Aseem Chaudhry), a man granted immortality in 1389 who meets Dream on every hundred years for a beer and some reflections on why he still likes to be alive.

Casting has always been critical to this project and to Netflix The sandman absolutely nails it. This does not necessarily mean finding the actors who most closely resemble the comic characters. Lucifer Morningstar, the biblical fallen angel who rules over Hell, is famously painted to resemble David Bowie in the era of the big-haired folk singer of the late 60s. Here the character is played by Game of Thrones‘ statue Gwendoline Christie, who embodies Lucifer’s attractive nonchalance despite being a woman. Kirby Howell-Baptiste offers a wonderfully wise, calm twist on Death comforting the newly deceased and sending them on their way to the afterlife. Whoever thought of throwing Hedwig and the Angry Inch manager John Cameron Mitchell as a Florida boarding house owner and drag cabaret singer deserves a bonus. Dream is something of an honest man amongst so many quirks, but Sturridge has just the right combination of babyface and scowl. No wonder he beat out about 200 other actors for the role.

Tom Sturridge and Vanessa Samougnai in “The Sandman”

Liam Daniel – Netflix

In theory, it’s easier than ever to make a CGI-heavy genre show look good, but it doesn’t stop there deep-pocketed studios like Marvel from repeatedly failing to do so. The sandman production designer Gary Steele (a foreigner) uses visual effects much more skillfully. Many of the landscapes in the Dream Realm, Hell, and other supernatural spaces are clearly computer-generated — and for the most part, these elements look purposefully animated, like highly detailed versions of the comic book art. Yet the waking world looks much the same as our Earth, saturated with a higher concentration of bars, greasy spoons and dark alleyways.

The imagery complements the storytelling, which stays true to Gaiman’s sensibility—a mix of fantasy tropes, literary and pop culture references, gothic aesthetics, and archetypes based on global mythology that’s just as attentive in its own way to how people use the all-powerful heroes and villains we invent through fiction as Guards. At times, the series seems too eager to have the characters explain aspects of Dream’s journey toward a better understanding of the human experience that are already evident from the narrative. For viewers who aren’t particular fans of the genre, the artificially large fantasy speech of some characters may elicit the occasional giggle. None of this takes much from The sandmanclever storytelling and magnificent spectacle. A likely megahit at a time when Netflix could really use one, it rivals anything in Disney’s superhero arsenal, but has enough personality to make the comparison meaningless.

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