Sandman Review: An Incredible Netflix Adaptation

The first moments of Netflix The Sandman They are heart attack. We see a beautiful raven fly from the waking world of humans into the realm of the titular Sandman (Tom Sturridge). Angles bend impossibly, light from unknown sources dazzles the floors, creatures from nightmares and fevers mingle, an eternal library folds in on itself. However, this is also our world, which we enter when we close our eyes. In his voiceover, the Sandman pokes fun at the human assumption that dreams remain innocuous: are we unaffected by our dreams, what we long for and fear?

The Sandman is a dark fantasy and horror comic book franchise primarily written by Neil Gaiman, who also served as an executive producer and writer on the Netflix adaptation. It tells the story of a powerful being who controls all dreams and nightmares and his interactions with the human world. We witness his travels through history, influencing great events, as well as his travels to realms like Hell (a realm that only exists because of human fears). In this first season, Netflix adapted the first two of Gaiman the Sandman books: Preludes and Nocturnessand the doll house.

But the “adaptation” is almost an insult to what the creators achieved. The series is perhaps the best film adaptation of high-concept fantasy literature since Peter Jackson’s. The Lord of the rings trilogy. Beat to beat, iconic frames, lines of dialogue, makeup and costumes of the artists: everything followed the books, except for a few changes.

I don’t want to spoil the episodes, so I’ll be a bit vague about certain plot points and episodes.

Patton Oswalt as Matthew the Raven and Vanesu Samunyai as Rose Walker in The Sandman.
Image: Netflix

In 1916 England, a power-hungry playboy, cult leader, and self-serving buffoon named Magus (Charles Dance) yearns to control death. He casts a spell to trap the incarnation of Death, Sandman’s sister. However, instead of capturing Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Magus and his cult capture Dream, aka Sandman, along with some of Dream’s powerful tools. With Death’s capture, millions are suddenly afflicted with a strange sleeping sickness: they can’t sleep or are basically in a coma.

Trapped naked in a stunningly designed crystal cocoon, Dream refuses to reveal anything to the mortals around him. For over a century, Dream never utters a word and refuses to provide details to his captors, whose lives are prolonged as a result of his proximity to his powerful tools. (There is an escape attempt by Dream’s closest ally, but my heart aches too much to describe what happens.)

Following his eventual escape, during the present day, Dream returns to his kingdom to find it abandoned, desolate, and broken. In order to fix the world of Dreams, he must retrieve the tools her human captors took from her. Thus begins the first arc and his adventures with everyone from a blue-collar exorcist to a male child who wields the powers of gods. In often brutal and gory scenes, battles between demonic and divine forces leave a lot of blood in their wake. Dream is often picking up the pieces, trying to restore the order that, through his absence, he caused.

The second main arc details Dream’s attempt to find an entity called a vortex: a human, named Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai) who draws all dreams to herself, collapsing the waking and dream worlds and thus thus, ending the universe. Here, she can expect childhood trauma, a serial killer convention (yes), and a healthy and diverse group of housemates that includes lesbian spider collectors, a Ken and Barbie couple, and a drag queen.

Rose is on a mission to find her missing brother, currently being held prisoner by a cartoonishly evil foster father. At the same time, she is discovering her powers as a vortex.

Dream, meanwhile, must face the fact that fixing what’s broken doesn’t just mean restoring the world to the way it was before. Sometimes it means changing and adapting so it doesn’t break again. Even his own world demands change, as his subjects found reasons to abandon their core purpose rather than wait for their master to return. Her anger at his abandonment eventually garners sympathy, as it was his short-sightedness as a leader that caused them to leave.

Dream’s somewhat divine perspective on humanity allows us to reflect on human quirks and sensibilities: why we fear death; Why do we cling to obviously superficial dreams? why we give up so much for love and friendship; Why do we want immortality, when so much of life is pain? While these questions are never adequately answered, Dream’s growing curiosity about what makes humans tick makes for engaging writing and conversation.

All of this intersects with, for example, managing Rose Walker becoming a vortex, a battle of wits with Lucifer, confronting nightmares, and preventing the inevitable doom of the universe.

One of the reasons I loved the book franchise was that it’s first and foremost a psychological horror story, but it’s painted on a canvas of the cosmic with a brittle brush made of hope. The intimate stories take up as much, if not more, space than those dealing with beings more powerful than the gods. For example, Rose Walker is trying to find her missing brother, facing serial killers and talking crows, but she too is about to destroy the universe.

This is no better represented than in episode six, “The Sound of His Wings,” our first encounter with the Death of Kirby Howell-Baptiste, the second oldest of these ancient incarnations. It will be Death who, as she says, pile up the chairs and turn off the lights when the last living being takes its last breath in this universe. In this episode, the Sandman is depressed and pondering his purpose. Death asks for his company as he “does his job”: here we witness the existence of people in their final moments, the full weight of their lives colliding with the realization of their sudden end. Like his comic counterpart, Howell-Baptiste’s death is a gentle and welcoming face, the kind you’d like to take with you into the next life. It’s a darkly beautiful episode, as Death reflects on his purpose and how it took him so long to figure out how not to be the ultimate terror. Just as life begins, it ends. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have meaning or impact. It does not mean that life is gone. He simply wants to turn that full stop into an ellipsis.

It’s an episode focused on the blank canvas of ultimate nonexistence, but the episode peppers it with bright stars from individual lives, lighting a path through the darkness with vignettes of very human stories. This is what Sandman is about as a franchise, and the TV series captures it.

Gwendoline Christie, Tom Sturridge and Cassie Clare in The Sandman.
Image: Netflix

Of course, the series makes several welcome changes to the comics that longtime readers might find interesting.

  • John Dee (David Thewlis) is more childlike and less threatening and violent than his comic book counterpart. However, long-time readers can rejoice that the famous restaurant bottle problem (“24 Hours”) is almost perfectly reconstructed in episode five (“24/7”), with its gore, horror, and weirdness. .
  • Unlike in the books, Hell is only ruled by Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) at this stage.
  • Instead of John Constantine, my favorite DC character, Dream retains the services of Joan Constantine (which is Gaiman’s own creation). While she doesn’t smoke, she is a sarcastic, misanthropic bisexual like John, who sees exorcisms as nuisances rather than momentous events.

Speaking of casting, I won’t dwell on gender-swapped characters as the book character’s genders were largely irrelevant to their stories. But cast-wise, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of black women cast, not just as background characters, but as recurring on-screen roles: Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai), her mother (Andi Osho), and her grandmother (Sandra James). -Young) are central to the story; Dream’s librarian and dream world caretaker, Lucienne, is played by Vivienne Acheampong; Death, as I pointed out, is played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste; Ann Ogbomo plays a nightmare that helps change Death’s mind about the purpose.

This is not to mention the casting of non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park as Dream’s non-binary brother, Desire. In addition, sexuality was constantly portrayed as a spectrum, heterosexuality was never presumed, and relationships or queer moments were never discussed.

In the end, The Sandman It was not only better than I expected, but better than… well, I dreamed. There is a lot of sadness, horror and melancholy, but I never felt drowned in these emotions. Driven by trust, wholesomeness and acceptance, it is a series that depicts both the horrors of humanity and our place in an unknown and terrifying existence, but also shows us how our humanity unites us to face the failures of the world and our fears of everything else. It is looking at the flame of hope in a glass jar painted black.

Sleep well.

The Sandman is streaming on Netflix now.

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