How ‘The Sandman’ on Netflix brings Neil Gaiman comic to life

After a failed attempt at film adaptation, author Neil Gaiman has turned his comic book epic The Sandman, a casserole of invented and borrowed mythological characters, into a deeply satisfying 10-episode Netflix series. “The great stories will always return to their original forms,” ​​Gaiman’s eponymous hero will say, and fans of the book should rest assured that the television show — developed by Gaiman with David S. Goyer (the “Blade” trilogy, the “Dark Knight” trilogy) and Allan Heinberg (“Wonder Woman”) – will not deviate significantly from what Gaiman (and artists Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, always credited as co-creators) have put on the site.

At the heart of the story is Dream (Tom Sturridge), aka Morpheus, aka the Sandman, who rules the world of sleep and what goes on there from his CGI kingdom called Dreaming; He is one of a pack of magical siblings called Endless, whose names all begin with D (Desire, Despair, Destruction, etc.) and who have some vague rule over human affairs, although like the Greek gods, they seem to spend much of their time not bothering about business or plotting against each other.

There are many rules to how this world works that were developed by Gaiman as necessary to serve his narrative, but it’s better to treat these characters as walking metaphors – “anthropomorphic personifications,” in the series’ own words – and their antics and seeing their universe as such is more of a kind of poetry than fret about cosmological mechanics. It’s not hard to go with the flow of the story, whether you know the original or its prequels or any comics or have ever seen a movie based on it. It’s a world of its own.

With his sticky black hair, pale skin, and dark clothing, Dream cuts a goth character (not a goth character), like a tall, thin version of Robert Smith from The Cure; There are times when he seems to have the expressive emptiness of a digitally created video game character, but that dissipates over time. Speaking softly, as if not wanting to wake anyone, he can be a bit stiff, sullen and formal, and unlike his life-affirming older sister Death (a glorious Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the only family member he gets along with, he’s not very sociable. But ultimately he is on the side of humanity and the waking world, and much of the storyline involves him attempting to keep the two interconnected worlds – ours and his – whole, sane and existent.

The series begins in 1916. Sir Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), “a rival of Aleister Crowley” who tried to capture Death to revive his son, instead accidentally captures Dream and steals his “tools” (a helmet, a ruby, and a bag of sand) and hold him captive while he tries to extract a gift of power. After the younger son takes over as jailer, it goes on for a century until Dream manages to escape. Finding his once-beautiful CGI kingdom in ruins, he must recover his belongings and embark on a quest that will take him to contemporary London, the United States and Hell in order to rebuild it. Meanwhile, some of his creations—dreams and nightmares personified—have escaped to the waking world, most notably the season’s main antagonist Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), a nightmare run amok there as a serial killer.

There are some gender reversals in the books: Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) is now female, Dream’s librarian and right-hand man Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) was formerly Lucien, and demon hunter John Constantine has been folded into Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman). , originally a separate character. So also by race. Certain fans of the comic will nag, as certain fans always do, but as someone who watches the TV show and books in reverse order, this all looks to me like an improvement — interesting at worst.

We’re decades away from the series’ release, and Gaiman (and his staff) may have had some better ideas. The rethinking makes the show livelier and more balanced and contemporary, and no reasonable viewer could fault the actors’ performances, which do not resemble their graphic originals; everyone is great who they need to be. Change is an explicit theme of The Sandman, and if an immortal can learn to loosen up a little, so can we. Additionally, the history of the comics in general, and the Sandman character in particular – which Gaiman has plucked from the DC archives and built a new world around them – is one of constant transformation.

And once you put human actors in the skin of pen and ink characters, you inevitably get something new and different, something with fresh shades of meaning, something whose constant, often subtle, modulations of voice and expression and intention are comical can only suggest; the quiet brilliance of David Thewlis as sad quasi-villain John Dee is a case in point. This isn’t an engagement with comics being their own medium, but other than just exploiting intellectual property, the only reason for these adaptations is to bring them to life. And The Sandman is really very much alive.

Based on the first 16 issues of the 75-issue series collected as graphic novels Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House, The Sandman is made up of longer and shorter arcs, some of which survive the season. others a few episodes or even just part of an episode. Some are extremely dark, others relatively light-hearted, and even the digressions add to the larger, interconnected mythology or work on Dream’s self-image. Some characters leave early, others arrive late. The pacing feels unusual at first – well, it’s unusual – but it works and has the benefit of giving the right amount of time to each action; The series doesn’t feel rushed or bloated.

Dream’s seriousness, feudal formality, and inability to crack or even understand a joke all begs for the story to be acidified with humor. So it’s good to find comedian Patton Oswalt as the voice of Dreams Raven Matthew; Stephen Fry as Gilbert, a chivalrous Edwardian gentleman who comes to the aid of human “dream vortex” Rose Walker (Kyo Ra); and a cute baby gargoyle named Goldie, the pet of a Tweedledee Tweedledum version of Cain (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and Abel (Asim Chaudhry).

While it’s not entirely true to say that the show is at its best when it’s at its funniest – it deals with horror…in a chilling way – it certainly is at its best when it’s at its most social. (“Who am I charging, the Church of England or Buckingham Palace?” asks Johanna Constantine after performing an exorcism involving royalty.) Some of Dream’s creations (including caretaker Mervyn Pumpkinhead – his name describes him – voiced by Mark Hamill in a guttural New York accent) talk about him behind his back, a happy counterbalance to the “My Lord” homage they must pay him his face.

In fact, Dream’s learning to live a little, to understand his own humanity, so to speak, is the emotional backbone of the story, and Sturridge pulls a lot of expressive miles out of the smallest smile. Immortals that humans need are the luckiest immortals in the world. How ‘The Sandman’ on Netflix brings Neil Gaiman comic to life

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