Those familiar with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” may have thought an on-screen adaptation not possible. Gaiman, Allan Heinberg, and David S. Goyer are here to prove to us that dreams can come true. The key word when it comes to the Netflix series is “adaptation” for it is not exactly the same as the comic. We believe that the best on-screen transformations bring something of their own to the story.
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One of the most noticeable changes from the original comic run is that the series now takes place in the 2020s. Though the inciting incidents still take place in their original timeline. This decision certainly impacts some of the smaller plot points from the books with the addition of things like cell phones and the internet. Ultimately it frees them from some of the slightly more outdated references.
For those new initiates “The Sandman” follows the experiences of Morpheus, king of Dream. He is one of the Endless, and his siblings include Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, Destiny, and Destruction. An alliterative family to be sure. Things go awry when he is captured by mortals and held prisoner for 105 years. Tom Sturridge assumes the titular role and feels pretty ethereal most of the time. As far as physically embodying the character they did a pretty damn good job with casting. His performance was fitting, but not the most outstanding one to us though. That crown is split amongst a few others.
Much like the books, episodes follow a variety of storylines. Some contain the entire plot of one trade paperback collection. Others are more liberal in peppering in stories from across the series. Some of the most remarkable performances belong to the singular story episodes. A particular shout out to David Thewlis as John Dee, Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar, Stephen Fry as Gilbert, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death.
The most Dee centric episode takes place in a diner (if you know you know) and is one of the better examples of a singular collection into singular episode translations. Though there are some changes, less people in the diner for example, it felt like it waltzed off the comic page. Lucifer’s episode is one that bounces back and forth but all we wanted was more of Christie through the whole series. Fry and Howell-Baptiste bring a warmth to an intentionally cold series. We found ourselves cathartically sobbing at the Death centric episode.
While the first season of “The Sandman” manages to cover a fair amount of ground, yet it simultaneously merely scratches the surface of the books. There are dozens of references to important characters and stories for later down the line. They might be lost on non-readers, but they don’t detract. We’ll admit that sometimes the show is a bit indelicate in trying to let new audiences know that someone or something will be important later. There are some characters and plots we’d have liked to see brought in more prominently, but that might just be us being greedy. We understand the decisions to try to make it contained, but would have loved to see more of the Endless, and more of some of the larger plots that impact the overall story woven in.
At the end of the day our biggest question is “when are we getting more and is everyone involved committed to doing this whole thing?” Our great fear is they don’t see it through or people drop out due to scheduling etc, because we truly want to see the rest of this done this way. The adaptation (and again we stress that it’s an adaptation, and not meant to be a direct translation) is a dark and compelling delight.
The series also stars: Boyd Holbrook, Patton Oswalt, Vivienne Acheampong, Charles Dance, Jenna Coleman, Mason Alexander Park, Donna Preston, Vanesu Samunyai (formerly known as “Kyo Ra”), John Cameron Mitchell, Asim Chaudhry, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joely Richardson, Niamh Walsh, Sandra James Young, Razane Jammal, and Mark Hamill.
“The Sandman” is streaming now on Netflix.