Netflix’s latest critical hit is the epic fantasy series The Sandman, based on the Neil Gaiman graphic novels of the same name. These graphic novels are beloved works and rumours of adaptations have been around for a long time. The graphic novels are hugely influential across books, television, film and more, for example, the title character of the tv show Lucifer is based on a character from The Sandman.
The main character is Dream, one of the Endless (akin to gods), who has responsibility over dreams. A pale, dour and very gothic figure Dream travels to Earth from his own realm to hunt down a creature escaped from nightmares but whilst on Earth he is trapped by a magic ritual gone wrong. In Dream’s absence his realm goes to ruin and people become sick from his absence, being unable to sleep at all or never waking up. When Dream finally escapes he goes on a mission to rebuild his realm and reclaim the powerful items that were stolen from him.
Behind The Scenes
The driving force behind the show is the triumvirate of Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer and showrunner Allen Heinberg. Obviously, Gaiman is the creator of the material as well as being the main writer and executive producer, Goyer another executive producer who seemed to do a lot of work getting the show made in the first place. Goyer’s most famous credit is probably as the screenwriter on Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy. Allen Heinberg has worked on numerous tv and film projects, most notably as the screenwriter for Wonder Woman.
In Front of the Camera
The Sandman has a big cast. Part of the specialness of the graphic novels was to make characters of great forces of nature and archetypical concepts and to have them be everywhere so there are many important characters who are only in the story for a short while. The graphic novels and show are bursting with mythical, religious, supernatural beings and unusual people.
The central character is clearly Dream played by Tom Sturridge who gives as brooding performance as possible, which is only right for one of the quintessential brooding characters. The graphic novels are said to have given inspiration to a generation of goths and dramatic displays of sadness.
The wonderful Boyd Holbrook plays The Corinthian, the nightmare who escaped from dreams and runs amok in the mortal world. The Corinthian is a clever, wily and manipulative creature, doing whatever he can to keep Dream from catching him and sending him back. Holbrook is best known for his role in Netflix drama Narcos and as one of the main villains in Logan.
Patton Oswalt was the first actor to join the show and was cast as the voice of Matthew the Raven, a companion to Dream. Patton Oswalt has been an extremely successful comedian and actor for many years as well as being one of the god-tier celebrity nerds (see his apparently adlibbed Marvel script rant in Parks and Recreation).
Then on top of these people, we have Charles Dance as Roderick Burgess, the magus who captures Dream, Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar, Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, the librarian of Dream’s realm, and it goes on and on with great actors appearing only briefly.
Does It Work?
Since its release people have talked about adapting The Sandman and more than one person – including current showrunner Allan Heinberg – has said it was unfilmable. In numerous ways, it doesn’t follow a straightforward plot and is exceptionally weird. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s work will especially love this adaptation but it is a great, peculiar tv drama for anyone. As with all beloved books that are adapted not every fan will be on board, for some their love for the original will prevent them from taking to the new version. From others, there have been social media mutterings and complaints about “woke” casting choices for which Neil Gaiman has been mercilessly dismissive of.
The show has an unusual epic scale as much of its grandeur takes place in a world of dreams but nevertheless few programmes have dared work on this scale. This scale is apparent in the sets, the themes and the sheer number of characters who would be deserving of their own series, like Johanna Constantine, the tough exorcist and demon fighter.
The Sandman might not be for everyone. It is an unusual show and is taking some big swings and as such, there is a risk of things not working but for many, it is the show they have been waiting decades for.
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