At a point in The Sandmana 400-year-old Englishman (Ferdinand Kingsley) casually eviscerates a recent production of King Lear. “The idiots had given it a happy ending,” she scoffs. His conversation partner Dream (Tom Sturridge), the physical manifestation of the concept of dreaming and the ruler of the impossible realm we travel to when we fall asleep, is less upset. “That won’t last,” he wisely predicts. “Great stories will always return to their original forms.”
The Sandman it won’t require such a dramatic reversion to form. Executive produced by comics creator Neil Gaiman (along with Allan Heinberg and David S. Goyer), the fantasy drama is nothing if not respectful of its source material. What is the exchange about? King Lear What’s missing, however, is the way updated versions of great stories can be what makes them feel fresh and relevant in the first place. By prioritizing fidelity over creativity, The Sandman it echoes the comics decently, but falls short of becoming a classic in its own right.
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Like in the books, Netflix The Sandman It starts with a catch. Although Dream, like the rest of his Endless siblings, including Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Desire (Mason Alexander Park), and Despair (Donna Preston), possesses powers the gods can barely comprehend, he is a human wizard, Roderick Burgess. (Charles Dance), who finally casts a spell strong enough to keep Dream imprisoned among the living for over a century. (If you’re trying to figure out which lore explains Dream’s strengths and weaknesses, or why some magics work better on him than others, don’t bother; this is the kind of fantasy series that stirs up even imminent threats to reality. describing them as “incomprehensible”).
When Dream finally breaks free in 2022, he rushes back to his kingdom to find that it has gone bankrupt in his absence, despite the best efforts of his second-in-command Lucienne (an endearingly sharp Vivienne Acheampong), and that several of her subjects have become rebellious. Adapting the first two of the ten trade paperbacks that collect the original series published between 1989 and 1996, the first season follows Dream as he works to regain his powers, reassert his authority, rebuild his world, and perhaps in the way. , to gain a deeper understanding of the human lives he seeks to serve.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest challenges of any adaptation of The Sandman it was meant to be Dream himself. As depicted in the comics, he has the basic form of an adult male but the demeanor of an ethereal alien, with porcelain skin and glowing stars for eyes. It’s a tall order for any flesh-and-blood mortal to accomplish, and Sturridge does the best he can by imbuing Dream with a graceful, deliberate physique and a deep, calm voice. Still, he can’t help but feel human, especially in makeup that does little to distinguish him from every other thirty-something goth guy trudging through modern London, which in turn undermines some of the isolation he experiences when among people.
More vivid is Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian, a fugitive Nightmare loved by serial killers. The creepiest physical feature of the character is that he has sharp-toothed mouths for eyes, but The Sandman he usually keeps them hidden under dark sunglasses; Holbrook is capable of exuding an oddly seductive menace on his own. Elsewhere, Jenna Coleman is so well behaved in her brief appearance as troublemaker Johanna Constantine (a gender-swapped version of the John Constantine from the books, that NBC series, and that Keanu Reeves movie) that she might as well be testing the waters for its own spin-off. And Howell-Baptiste might be the series’ most winning presence as the warm, pragmatic Death.
Having overcome the hurdle of choosing characters that loom large in the imagination, where The Sandman stumbles is to find a purpose beyond its obvious commercial appeal. It is not as aimless or artful as cowboy bebop – another Netflix production based on an acclaimed but seemingly unfilmable property – but it seems to suffer from a similar tendency towards fidelity to the extreme, as well as an aversion to trying something too boldly different. The story starts with Roderick Burgess not because he’s terribly interesting as a character, but apparently just because that’s where the comics start. He wanders off to a restaurant which turns into chaos, not with the expectation that the public used to. game of Thrones either Boys you’ll be surprised by its grim and graphically violent take on humanity, but because it’s a story fans are hoping to see.
The results are mostly not that bad, and sometimes they are quite good. The best individual number of those adapted for the first season produces its best individual episode, as Dream accompanies Death on her errands and engages in a surprisingly moving conversation about life, death, love and loneliness in the process. It’s the warmest, funniest hour of a show defined by a moody inscrutability and its affectionate sibling dynamic (“You’re absolutely the stupidest, most self-centered, pathetic excuse for an anthropomorphic impersonation on this or any other plane,” she scolds him). largely to develop Dream as a three-dimensional character rather than a two-dimensional cipher.
But it’s hard not to notice that for a series about the power of dreams to spark creativity, to inspire the best or worst in ourselves, to change the course of a life or a universe, The Sandman itself feels a bit short on imagination. It is the curse of so many seminal works of art that begin to feel less and less fresh as his influence becomes apparent in more and more other works. An adaptation that’s content to deliver a perfectly pleasing copy of itself rather than wholesale reimagining can’t help but feel safe and familiar, in ways the original never did.
As much as Dream would like to think that nothing has changed in his time away, he is confronted again and again with the reality that nothing is the same as it once was, including himself, though he hates to admit it. The Sandman, too, might be a bit stuck in his ways. It’s a pleasant enough series, with picturesque CG settings (think Asgard meets Rivendell for Dream’s castle), a likeable cast, and an at times disarming sense of curiosity about the human condition. But he is too trapped in the crystal to be carried away by the world of dreams he wants to conjure.
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