After decades in development limbo, The sand man finally comes to live-action as a streaming series on Netflix. The show adapts the seminal comic created by Neil Gaiman, who wrote each of its 75 issues, with original artists Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg which debuted in 1989 and ran throughout the first half of 1990s. Gaiman developed the streaming adaptation with prolific comic book adapter David S. Goyer and showrunner Allan Heinberg, turning it into what might be one of the most faithful comic book adaptations of all. time. This fidelity to the source material brings out some changes, some for the better and some not. However, taken in full, Gaiman, Goyer and Heinberg have done an impressive job of making that dream come true.
The sand man follows Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), the lord of dreams and ruler of The Dreaming, that ethereal realm that all humans visit in their sleep. Morpheus held office for centuries without counting until one day he was forcibly summoned and imprisoned by mortals. After a century of captivity, he escapes and returns to The Dreaming to find it in ruins. During the quest to reclaim his lost power and rebuild his kingdom, Dream, as Morpheus is also known, learns that the world around him has changed, and perhaps he should too.
The first two episodes of The sand man can be worrying. The first episode, adapting the comic’s gripping first issue, “Sleep of the Just,” unfolds like an overly long family drama and is probably not what viewers expect. The second episode, “Imperfect Hosts”, is more in tune with what The sand man is, but turns out to be an uneven episode.
What’s worse is that the series doesn’t seem to trust its viewers. While the comic begins with Dream’s occultist invocation, the Netflix series, as if acknowledging that their “Sleep of the Just” isn’t a good first impression, begins with an introductory scene (borrowed from the prequel comic The Sandman: Overture) which preemptively introduces certain characters and concepts. Surprisingly, this leans somewhat into the popular superhero narrative. Morpheus is introduced as a hero tasked with wrangling wandering nightmares who seek to harm the waking world. The show then introduces The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) to play the villain, making the nightmare appear much earlier and more often than in the comics. There’s another superheroic simplification later, when the Dream Vortex – whose nature is somewhat ineffable – is depicted as a mere superpower allowing its possessor to traverse dreams. This nervousness in the storytelling is sometimes felt in the darker episodes of the season, which are heightened by the highlighting (in one case literally) of certain optimistic undercurrents left subtextual in the original narrative.
However, by Episode 3, things start to fall into place. In Exorcist Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), Morpheus finally finds someone he can relate to who isn’t a bullied subject, instantly improving the character dynamic. The series builds from there, pitting Dream against Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie), Lord of Hell, and John Dee (David Thewlis), a man driven to sadistic madness after possessing one of Dream’s objects of power.
Gaiman’s Sandman writing reached depth as it attempted to elevate what was an obscure corner of DC’s superhero universe to literary heights. It’s hard to make such perfectly-crafted dialogue sound natural coming from the mouths of real humans. A few actors struggle to carry that weight, but the cast impresses overall. Coleman, Christie and Thewlis each prove more than up to the task, and Sturridge in particular impresses as Dream. He brings just the right mix of imperious arrogance and fragile emotional vulnerability to the prince of stories as if he were playing Robert Smith after ascending the throne of England.
It’s generally accepted among Sandman fans that the comic doesn’t find its voice until its eighth issue, “The Sound of Her Wings.” The adaptation of this story in the sixth episode of the series proves the highlight of this first season, Sturridge sharing scenes with Dream’s big sister, Death, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste. This death may be a bit older and more mature than its comic book counterpart, but still works well as a more empathetic and cheerful foil to its reclusive brother while avoiding what might have gone wrong as something resembling a maniacal-goblin anthropomorphic personification of a character.
This episode exposes the heart of The sand manand it beats in sync with the comics. The sand man concerns the very idea of dream. By giving this concept a human face, Gaiman and his collaborators leverage the premise to meditate on humanity’s relationship to dreams and all the many things they can represent, from sleep to hope to creativity. It’s a versatile setting that allows for incredibly humanistic storytelling wrapped in a lofty concept, and the blending of the two brands The sand man something special.
Structurally, The sand manThe first season of includes the first two volumes of the comic book series. Although each volume builds on the last, they are also distinct, and here it almost feels like two seasons of the series have kicked off simultaneously. The back half of the season has a different tone and plot, unfolding more like a drama (Gaiman described The sand man as alternating between “masculine” adventure stories and “feminine”, character-driven internal arcs). These later episodes also have an almost entirely new set of supporting characters, a group of human roommates replacing the magicians, demons, and other similar entities from earlier episodes. While Episode 6 is the peak of the season, these final episodes are still stellar, but the transition can feel shocking, especially to viewers.
Likewise, where episodes mostly adapt individual issues from the comic on a 1:1 basis, a few combine two issues into one, which isn’t a problem in theory but leads to the second halves of these episodes walk on the ends of the first half. “The Sound of Her Wings” is a prime example; while the comic ends on a memorable and perfect note, Dream’s discussion with Death here instead shifts to adapting another issue (which won’t be spoiled here). Maybe viewers unfamiliar with the original comics won’t even notice. However, it does feel like someone decided to put two episodes together, and it’s the only odd beat in an otherwise magnificent television work.
Generally, The sand man feels like a much more episodic experience than what Netflix has trained its subscribers to expect from its original programming. In the same way as with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds earlier this year, it’s refreshing to be able to watch a single episode of TV in a major franchise again and come away feeling like it was a complete experience with a beginning, middle, and end. The sand manStandalone issues remain among his most beloved, and those stories continue to shine here.
Visually, The sand man couldn’t and doesn’t match what Keith and Dringenberg brought to the original comics, where the artists depicted the weirdness of dreams with creative layouts, an effect difficult to recreate for television. Instead, the show primarily presents the nature of the dream by having the characters jump from place to place in a single leap through the magic of editing. It’s a less expressive but more realistic approach to dreams, closer to how people remember them once they wake up.
The series uses many digital effects to enhance its visuals, especially in the ever-evolving field of Dreaming. At first, it’s all too noticeable that most of the scenes there are made up of two or three figures, each standing about a COVID-appropriate distance from the others on a flat plane framed by choppy digital views. Eventually, as Dream rebuilds his kingdom, more happens in each plane. After a while, once the viewer gets used to them, the digital horizons come to reinforce the strangeness of being in the dream world. There is no substitute for the original artwork, although some designs and panels are recreated in remarkable detail by artists, directors and VFX production designers, making them a fitting visual translation and thoughtful.
The first season of Netflix The sand man quarrels over what many consider to be the most quirky and heaviest Sand seller stories into a neat package, losing some of the weirdness on the periphery in favor of a more streamlined package. Once past those shaky first steps, the adaptation does justice to the series of source material, serving as a 21st century update to the long-revered epic that will appeal to longtime fans as a new way to engage. with her while bringing this story to a whole new audience. While purists may lament some of the changes, they ultimately deliver a more cohesive viewing experience that still allows the individual short stories of the grand saga the room needed for viewers to fully appreciate them. The sand man The team took the Dream comics and crafted a worthy adaptation of a story that is, after all, about how we take the stuff of dreams and apply it to our lives, our art, and our lives. relationships. And after seeing this tease at the end of Season 1, viewers will almost certainly be dreaming of what’s to come next.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The sand man is streaming now on Netflix.