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REVIEW: THE SANDMAN managed to adapt the impossible and bring us into The Dreaming

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Image via Netflix

For a long time, it seemed like trying to adapt Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg‘s seminal comic The Sandman was nigh impossible. From the scope of his settings to the eccentric nature of the story, it was hard to imagine The Sandman getting reduced down to a two-and-a-half-hour movie, even with our modern movie movies clocking in at nearly three hours it was just too much to adapt. And Gaiman has stated many times in the past that he has been offered adaptations and turned nearly all of them down. But, now in the era of prestige television and tv shows that feel more like long movies, The Sandman can finally thrive from page to screen.

In this adaptation, while the general soul of The Sandman is intact, it’s clear that there has been some shifting and readjusting in order to make for more compelling television and with the combined efforts of Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg. For one, the story has been reordered, bringing forward some of the comic’s most interesting storylines and characters. The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) plays a large part in this first season even though his character remains largely contained to his own arc in the comics. John Dee (David Thewlis) gets a revamp as well, distanced from his DC Comics ties and giving him a more substantial relationship with his mother Ethel (Joely Richardson).

Image via Netflix

One of the larger successes of the series is that it manages to give the titular Sandman aka Morpheus a bit of personality and identity. Tom Sturridge manages to capture the character as the cipher he often is, but not one that is unaffected. From his interactions with Kyo Ra‘s Rose Walker to his conversations with his faithful librarian Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong), we often catch glimmers of the potential for emotion that Morpheus has.

For those who aren’t familiar with The Sandman comic, the show has to do a lot of heavy lifting. It has to introduce you to the unique universe the story takes place in, make you understand who the Endless are, what a dream vortex is, what is eating at Morpheus, and string together the vast amounts of metaphors and motifs that are presented throughout. In most respects, the show succeeds. Although “Preludes & Nocturnes” and “The Doll’s House” are separate arcs, the show demonstrates just how easily the two can be braided together with relative success.

Image via Netflix

Among the strong performances from Sturridge and Acheampong, Holbrook delivers a quite nuanced performance as the Corinthian, a suitably monstrous nightmare who is a favorite among serial killers. Thewlis, as well, as John Dee is creepy and subtly threatening, and his episode “24/7” is easily one of the best episodes of the season. Full of tension and anxiety, Thewlis is a spider as John Dee, weaving his web and watching as his victims walk blindly into a trap.

Used less effectively is Gwendoline Christie‘s Lucifer Morningstar. Although physically Christie is perfect as the fallen angel and ruler of Hell, there’s not enough for her to work with and what should have been a standout episode – “A Hope in Hell” – ends up falling flat. Though Tom Ellis, who technically plays the same version of the devil as the one in The Sandman was given consideration to reprise his role, it’s clear that would have been a mistake. One can only hope that with more screen time, Lucifer will be an equally as interesting character as Dream in future seasons. The same can be said for Jenna Coleman‘s Johanna Constantine. While she has all the verve and charm of the character, she sometimes feels like she’s leaning a bit too much into the character, making Johanna feel more like a caricature than a fully formed occult detective.

Image via Netflix

Although the season is jam-packed with talent, from Mark Hamill to Stephen Fry to Charles Dance, the story feels rather contained. Aside from the sixth episode which feels more like a bottle episode than anything else, it’s a smooth transition from Dream’s pursuit of his ruby to his investigation of the dream vortex. For “The Sound of Her Wings,” the sixth episode, it’s hard to land on whether the episode is enjoyable or if is trying to connect two stories that have no business being combined. We meet Dream’s sibling Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and we are taken on a journey with Death as she helps people transition to their afterlife. From the elderly who have lived full lives to the young who have their time cut short, Howell-Baptiste gives an emotional performance in an episode tailor-made to make you weepy.

From there, we transition to Dream’s friendship with Hob Gadling (Ferdinand Kingsley), which also makes for an exciting story as we watch Dream move through the ages (in a varying amount of outfits that all scream Hot Topic, in the best way). While both arcs demonstrate the Endless and their relationship with humanity, it doesn’t mesh perfectly and the episode itself feels like two completely separate stories because that’s what it is.

Ultimately, Netflix’s The Sandman is a worthy adaptation of the original source. It will likely inspire modern viewers to revisit the comic, one that was very progressive for its time and have them clamoring for more from the story. The first season barely touched on Dream’s contentious relationship with his siblings Desire (Mason Alexander Park) and Despair (Donna Preston) but leaves enough crumbs to make us hungry for more. Although Netflix has not confirmed a second season, chatter around the series seems to count it as an inevitability and that’s a very good thing.

Grade: A

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m having trouble with it. I think I’m 4 episodes in and all I can see is what has been changed. I’m simply too close to the source material to give a real opinion of the series. Also, I really disliked the Cain character. It was badly realized and the actor wasn’t up to the job. He should be way more of a creep. And why did they do that to Gregory?

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