For years, it was accepted that a Sandman adaptation, the well-known series of graphic novels from Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, and Mike Dringenberg, would be difficult to execute successfully. The property had remained in development limbo, with one version or another floating around the Hollywood ether, for well over two decades. A Sandman adaptation would take until 2022, and fans will be grateful for the wait.
The Sandman, a Netflix project that was filmed in collaboration with Warner Bros., is a great example of a home run of comic book storytelling to screen. The series, developed by David S. Goyer (who worked on the Dark Knight Trilogy with Christopher and Jonathan Nolan), Allan Heinberg, and Neil Gaiman himself, almost perfectly conveys the dreamlike (and nightmarish) imagery and narrative for the screen.
The Sandman is a sprawling dark fantasy story that follows the main character, Dream, who governs the world of dreams and nightmares. The story begins when Dream is captured by human occultists and imprisoned for nearly a century, causing enormous damage to humanity and the dream realm. This is the main plot of both the first issue and the premiere episode.
Each episode that follows follows closely within the plot of each issue, with minor adjustments made to streamline the narrative and build a coherent throughline (something required for television storytelling). These minor tweaks to the narrative, such as introducing the evil Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) right at the beginning, make sense for the medium and do not harm the narrative. If anything, they assist in translating such a vast and sometimes challenging story to the screen.
The Sandman made the correct choice thanks to a series. There's no way one film would be able to capture the many storylines as efficiently as the first. There are moments when comedic relief undercut some of the show's darker aspects. The conclusion also feels rushed due to having to tie together the whole series.
The Endless, a group of beings that exist beyond the human and even divine planes, is portrayed by Tom Sturridge, who plays Death, who is a more optimistic and kind-hearted sister of the series. Howell-Baptiste imbues Death with the same humanity as the character in the comics.
Mason Alexander Park is the perfect choice for Desire, who in the comics never had a defined gender. Their ability to translate the story from page to screen is incredible. It's hard to imagine why anyone would object to her portraying Lucifer.
The rest of the cast acquit themselves nicely, including Vivienne Acheampong, who plays Lucienne, Dream's loyal librarian with sparkling professionalism, and Patton Oswalt who plays Matthew, Dream's trusty Raven companion, who enjoys giving the character more depth and making him more human. Jenna Coleman also plays Johanna Constantine, who adds some new dimension to the famous occult detective in her roles as Johanna.
Without the perfect Dream, the show would not be successful, and Tom Sturridge proves in all of his scenes that he was the right choice. This is a being that has existed for longer than is understandable, and he has little to no interest in the lives of others. Yet, as the story progresses, he learns to embrace humanity and see the good in others.
Comic book enthusiasts will likely have a hard time accepting the show because they wanted it to be perfectly adapted for screen. However, the kingdoms of the dreaming and Hell are both spectacular, with the production design of both retaining their original appearance. Likewise, the Endless are not shown exactly like their pasty white counterparts on the page, but having them just look like people was the smart move.
The Sandman is not a hyperbole, but a triumph that Neil Gaiman must be proud to have been involved in. These ten episodes demonstrate that comic book adaptations are almost always possible, and that large, multifaceted stories with deep themes may be brought to the screen without sacrificing what made them so special in the first place.
The Sandman is now available on Netflix.