Many have tried and failed to adapt Neil Gaiman’s pivotal comic book The Sandman. The sprawling story that follows celestial entities through time and space remains, to this day, one of the most intelligent graphic novels of all time. For a long time, it was considered impossible to adapt. Until now.
It’s a relief to report that Netflix has gone and done it folks, and it’s actually done it well.
Netflix’s live-action adaptation of The Sandman stays very true to its source material whilst also bringing the story to life in a new visually fantastic and deeply emotional way.
The Sandman follows a dysfunctional family known as the Endless. They are anthropomorphic embodiments of powerful natural forces such as Desire, Death, Despair and, of course, Dream.
The story kicks off when Dream, also known as the titular Sandman or Morpheus, is captured in an occult ritual by a human named Roderick Burgess and held captive for decades. Upon escaping he finds his godly possessions stolen and his kingdom in disarray.
The premise of The Sandman, despite being highly intellectual, is a lot more accessible than some of Gaiman’s other works. A large chunk of the season is dedicated to Dream recollecting his items and it then pivots to follow his quest to reclaim his title and his fraught relationship with his subjects.
The character of Dream was a crucial one to get right, but Netflix hasn’t missed by casting Tom Sturridge.
The actor captures all the facets of what makes Dream such an interesting character. He’s brooding, aloof and yet deeply thoughtful and vulnerable. An emo king if we ever saw one.
Throughout the series, Dream comes across a cast of fantastical characters, each with their own story to tell, which is aided by incredible casting across the board.
Jenna Coleman’s Johanna Constantine hides a tortured soul behind wit; Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Death brings warmth to a bad omen; and Gwendoline Christie is clearly having the time of her life as the embodiment of evil in Lucifer.
Each of The Sandman’s characters, from major players like the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) or Dream’s raven Matthew (voiced by Patton Oswalt) to cameo appearances like Mark Hamill’s Pumpkinhead, earn their place in the story.
If The Sandman has one fault it’s that it introduces these characters and allows you to invest in them, only to take them away at the end of the hour.
The series is almost anthology-like in its style with each episode feeling unique. But the trade-off is that you’re left wanting more from the captivating characters that are introduced in each instalment.
Neil Gaiman’s tales have always been good at investing audiences in the somewhat small stories of characters that teach a larger lesson in human nature. That’s something that’s very present in The Sandman.
There are some episodes where Dream has only a very small part to play, which is a testament to the strength of the writing and the cast that we remain invested.
Beyond the characters, The Sandman invites us into a viscerally beautiful dark fantasy world.
Netflix did not skimp on the budget for this show. Whether it’s the grim plains of Hell or the vast architecture of the Dreaming, it’s very easy to get lost in the various landscapes of The Sandman.
There are sequences that feel plucked right out of a comic book panel and the visuals that are so stunning I’m ready to frame them on my wall.
The vibe of The Sandman is something between Tim Burton and Harry Potter. It pairs dazzling fantasy and magic with gruesome horror. This show isn’t afraid to get weird, but it’s in such an intriguing, imaginative way that you can’t bear to look away.
There’s something about The Sandman as a TV series that feels like its potential has been unlocked.
It takes you on a fantastical journey that will make you forget everything outside of your television. Like the comic, each episode leaves you contemplating larger philosophies and intricacies of human nature, but it never feels overwhelming or dry because of the entertaining way in which it’s been presented.
It’s been a while since such a vibrant world of fantasy, magic and mythology has arrived on-screen, but The Sandman very much fills that gap.
Hollywood is in a state of ruthless cuts and cancellations right now, but let’s hope The Sandman doesn’t befall the sword because it still has so much more to offer.
The Sandman: The Verdict
Pros: Great performances, captivating fantasy world, does the comics justice.
Cons: Anthology-like nature of the series means screentime for certain characters is lacking.
Watch if you like: American Gods, Constantine, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter.
The Sandman releases on Netflix on August 5.