Neil Gaiman’s work is no stranger to adaptations with American Gods and Good Omens both coming out to mixed acclaim, ire, and deviations from the source material. Now, one of Gaiman’s most important pop culture works, The Sandman has graced our screen as a Netflix Original and I’m excited to say, it’s wicked good.
Developed by Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg, Heinberg serves as showrunner with Goyer and Gaiman writing. And of course, this 10-episode series is based on the DC Comic series (originally Vertigo) THE SANDMAN by Gaiman, Sam Keith, and Mike Dringenberg. And to be honest, unlike the last Gaiman property outings, this is more than close to the source material. And with that comes heaps of emotional damage, depth, and a sprawling story that manages to focus on different characters in each third of the season while honoring them all. The Sandman also stars Tom Sturridge, Boyd Holbrook, Patton Oswalt, Vivienne Acheampong, Gwendoline Christie, Vanesu Samunyai, Charles Dance, Jenna Coleman, David Thewlis, Stephen Fry, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mason Alexander Park, and so many more phenomenal actors that I can’t complete this list.
If you’re unfamiliar, The Sandman’s main world-building element is the Dreaming, a world we all enter where we sleep and where The Sandman, Master of Dreams, named well, Dream (Tom Sturridge), gives shape to all of our deepest fears and fantasies. But when Dream is unexpectedly captured and held prisoner for a century, his absence sets off a series of events that will change both the dreaming and waking worlds forever. To restore order, Dream must journey across different worlds and timelines to mend the mistakes he’s made during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and foes, and meeting new entities along the way.
If there is one thing that Neil Gaiman knows, it’s myth-making and adapting, and here, that is no less a feat. Weaving in Hell, Desire, Death, history, and more, Gaiman and his team play with religious concepts, fantastical visuals, and fear to build out his world on the screen. It’s constantly grasping the emotional moments that made the comic series a fan favorite. Adapting the fantastic to television is important but is put second to making sure that the series doesn’t lose the beauty and darkness of human fears. And that is what propels the television series. With deep and uncomfortable episodes, including the adaptation of “24 Hours,” there are times where The Sandman doesn’t let its audience breathe.
Capturing the darkness floating in humanity is one thing, but managing to capture the hope that dreaming provides is another and one the film does nearly as beautifully in the series itself. While Dream is detached from humanity, every episode of the 10-episode series pushes him closer to understanding the humans he serves. Whether it’s through trying to reclaim his power, befriend and vanquish the vortex, or fighting one of his escaped creations, Dream is coming closer to being a part of those who he guards.
While I can’t get too much into story elements for fear of spoiling some stunning twists for those who haven’t read the series (and some surprises for those who have), I can say that every single actor in this series excels in their type. That means that Boyd Holbrook as the Corinithean is charismatic, evil, and spine-chilling. Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death is empathetic and caring even as she sees to the end of those around her. Dream is stoic and guarded, only to grow in his compassion. Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne is intriguing, curious, and the lifeblood of the Dreaming, regardless of what Dream believes. Vanesu Samunyai as Rose is tenacious and powerful regardless of her age. And all of this while Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer brings a powerful and regal performance as the towering Lucifer, for however small her time on screen as them is. And ultimately each and every storyline is connected through Dream, offering up unique perspectives on the impact the Dreaming has on the waking world and beyond.
I can’t speak highly enough of the way that the team has incisively handled ideas around death, dying, and our futures. Not to mention somehow, the entire series manages to encompass three unique story elements while giving each of them their due and ultimately making them stand out at the same time.
While there are some inconsistencies with the comic series, The Sandman offers up meat and well, the heart of it. Additionally, the CGI elements and effects offer up a smorgasbord of comic references that all feel necessary, offering their own awe. Even though not all of the visual effects moments are perfect, the ones that matter are… one word: teeth.
Overall, The Sandman was well worth the wait and one of the best adaptations I’ve seen. Not to mention, as a series that has long offered up queer characters and commentary, to see that completely embraced in live-action shows more of how much further Gaiman wanted to go with his original stories. From top to bottom, Gaiman’s fingerprints are all over The Sandman and man does it thrive in its magic and darkness.
The Sandman is streaming now exclusively on Netflix.
The Sandman was well worth the wait and one of the best adaptations I’ve seen. Not to mention, as a series that has long offered up queer characters and commentary, to see that completely embraced in live-action shows more of how much further Gaiman wanted to go with his original stories. From top to bottom, Gaiman’s fingerprints are all over The Sandman and man does it thrive in its magic and darkness.