The Sandman Review: Netflix’s Love Letter to Neil Gaiman’s Comic Book Classic

For decades, it’s been a bit of generally accepted conventional entertainment wisdom that Neil Gaiman’s landmark series The Sandman it was essentially unadaptable. Although various stakeholders have been trying to figure out how to bring some version of this story to the screen since the early 1990s, they ultimately found themselves torn apart by the comic’s epic scope, complex story, and ever-changing genres.

Originally published in 1989, the comic series ran for 75 issues, spawned multiple spin-offs, and essentially became a gateway drug into the world of comics and graphic novels for an entire generation of temperamental Gen-Xers and English students who loved Gaiman’s mix of classical mythology. , familiar literary tropes, and excellent costume choices. (Raise your hand if you also wore an ankh everywhere thanks to Death of the Endless. Sorry, no sorry.)

A story that is essentially about telling stories, The Sandman features nods to classic literature, art, and folktales from around the world. Its cast of characters includes anthropomorphic immortals, monsters, demons, talking animals, real-life historical figures, and literal nightmares, and its narrative encompasses life, death, and everything in between. (Sometimes literally!) It’s full of stand-alone tales that are often only connected by very thin narrative threads (i.e. the existence of the titular Sandman) and seemingly bizarre interludes whose relevance to the larger story of comics is left unclear. until much later. (much later. In brief: The Sandman it’s really strange and profoundly beautiful and honestly, there’s nothing like it.

All of this is to say that I was ready to hate Netflix’s new exuberant and extremely expensive 10-episode adaptation of Gaiman’s seminal work, if only because I’ve spent more than half my life waiting for someone to do a live. -Action version of this story and breaking my heart repeatedly in the process. And to be clear, Netflix The Sandman It’s not perfect. But, my God, it’s much, much more than I ever thought I’d get. Fans of the original will inevitably find things to criticize, and to be fair, there are some pretty significant changes to the source material, but the heart of the comics story is here, with many scenes that feel like they were lifted straight from the specific issue pages. and an incredible cast that manages to embrace even the strangest twists with open hearts.

In the most basic sense, The Sandman is the story of Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), informally known as Dream, the Lord of Dreams, and one of the seven immortal beings known as the Eternals, who are essentially personifications of various aspects of human reality. (His siblings are Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction. He tries to say that five times faster.) The series begins with Dream’s capture by a deadly occultist named Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), who strips him of his office tokens, a sandbag, a powerful magical ruby, and his very disturbing Helmet of Dreams, and holds him prisoner for the better part of a century.

In the episodes that follow, the Dream Lord attempts to rebuild the kingdom that has fallen into disrepair during his absence, tries to find his missing power totems, and reconnects with his family, several members of whom have mixed feelings. his return. Along the way, he will be forced to grapple with how his incarceration has changed not only the waking and dream worlds he left behind, but also his view of his own role within both. But part of the beauty of The Sandman is that Dream’s journey is not the only narrative line that the series follows. Reflecting the episodic nature of the comic itself, the show is a magnificent exploration of family and mortality, loss, and gender-swapping life that incorporates elements of serialized and anthology-style storytelling from episode to episode.

As it transitions seamlessly between time periods, settings, and genres, the show transitions from high fantasy to horror and everything in between. Dream’s story doesn’t always unfold in a straight line (and sometimes he’s not even the main character in the episode we’re watching), and it’s apparent that while he may be the main lead on this show, he’s not always its lead. . Rather, there is an ever-present sense that Dream is part and parcel of a much larger, interconnected world, full of hidden corners to explore and new stories to seek out.

The Sandman takes us from dreamland to contemporary London and even Hell itself, introducing a host of intriguing supporting characters along the way, including Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), a gender-swapped version of DC Comics’ famed sorcerer; a Burgess descendant named John Dee (David Thewlis) who wants to use Morpheus’ stolen ruby ​​to create a more honest world; and Lucifer Morningstar herself (a tremendous Gwendolyn Christie, clearly having the time of her life decked out in a pair of towering black wings).

If the scope of all this sounds incredibly daunting, that’s because it is. This is a vast, epic story with dozens of minor and supporting characters, some of whom may only appear in an episode or two this season (although many of them will no doubt return if the show returns for a second outing). . But the lush visuals and fully lived-in feel of this expansive universe help make it all feel full of not just magic, but possibility, and Sturridge’s central performance as Dream is the quietly burning glue that holds it all together.

It must be said that Dream, essentially an immortal god who has his world shaken when he learns what it means to be truly vulnerable, isn’t the easiest of roles, especially given that much of the story is essentially based on him being basically alien and unknowable. . But Sturridge’s performance seamlessly bridges the remote and the immediate, showing us a Morpheus who is capable not only of real growth but also of new understanding as he is forced to, for what appears to be the first time in his very long life, ask for and accept help from those around you, both human and not. Kirby Howell-Baptiste also stands out as Dream’s sister Death, whose performance feels so fully embodied and necessary that she’ll forget she technically only appears in one episode.

It will be interesting to see how people who haven’t spent half their lives absorbing Sandman Lore responds to this Netflix version of the story, which doesn’t necessarily make it easy for people pushing to play episode one with no idea what the Endless are or why the Dreamings matter. Will this story resonate with people who aren’t already familiar with these characters and their connections, or who don’t audibly gasp when one of the Endless references “the prodigal” out loud? Thankfully, the second half of the season adapts the “Dollhouse” comic arc, which features a simpler kind of story involving a human girl named Rose Walker, whose search for her missing brother Jed helps ground her. the Sandman expansive myths into more relatable real-world stakes.

In the end, however, Rose’s story becomes more than it initially appears on the surface, exploring much grander themes and deeper truths than viewers were likely expecting. The same can be said of The Sandman itself, whose seemingly disparate parts are something bigger when taken together as a whole, and, when we hopefully get a second season, it will only grow from here. Welcome to the world of dreams.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the book editor for Paste magazine, but she loves learning about all kinds of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

For the latest TV news, reviews, listings, and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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