Great for Neil Gaiman fans, a snooze for the rest

There is something about The Sandman it feels 25 years old, and not just because the Neil Gaiman comics ended 26 years ago. The new Netflix the series feels like a time traveler from some cultural moment between the mid-90s and late 2000s, and its titular protagonist hearkens back to all the pale, brooding, beautiful sad boys from movies and TV – David Boreanaz i Buffy and AngelBrandon Lee i The crowAidan Turner by Be humanMichael McManus i LexxKeanu Reeves in The Matrixall in Twilightand Johnny Depp in From Hell, Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhandsand, well, pretty much every role outside of Jack Sparrow.

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The special sad boy of The Sandman goes by many names (Dream, Morpheus, Kai’ckul, The Sandman) but looks like an anorexic Nathan Fielder doing a Robert Pattinson impersonation. Played by Tom Sturridge, Dream is a bland, monochromatic mumble, barely audible in the cacophonous noise of this show. There is so much going on The Sandmanand so many interesting characters, it’s a real shame we have to follow this protagonist who belongs in 2008. Nevertheless, the show is a visually stunning and well-directed show that will appeal to fans of the comics.

The Sandman chases his dreams

The Sandman was a series of 75 comics between 1989 and 1996 by Gaiman (with art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and literally dozens of inkers, pencilers, and colorists) that display his usual penchant for anthropomorphism. Predating American Gods (which essentially does the same gimmick), the story follows Dream, one of the many physical manifestations of abstract concepts like desire, fate, despair, destruction, and delirium (because vague metaphysical notions always begin with the letter ‘D’).


Netflix is ​​very faithful to the comics, although they present a more politically correct or ‘woke’ version which changes some of the more disturbing details of the older work, but this only affects the translation to a very minor degree. Nevertheless, many of the storylines are followed and some comic panels are actually recreated. Morpheus (aka Dream), the ostensible protagonist, is captured when some amateur occultists summon him instead of Death. They steal his bag of sand, ruby ​​necklace and HR Giger-like helmet, then seal his naked body in a glass sphere for a century.

Related: Neil Gaiman says Tom Sturridge beat out over 1,000 others to play Dream in Sandman

Morpheus escapes and discovers the world in rather poor shape, with dreams and nightmares roaming free; it’s honestly a pretty clever way to explain the frequent wars, fascism, genocides and crises of the last hundred years, but The Sandman never exploits the potential of this idea and is often muddled in its messages about dreams. Morpheus continues to track down his three magical objects to fix the world, something that literally takes him to hell and back.


The silly story of the very handsome sandman

There isn’t much actual action in it The Sandman. The violence that occurs is based on good ideas, but again fails to translate very well on screen. For example, Morpheus fights Lucifer by doing what amounts to an impromptu acting exercise; Lucifer says, “I am a serpent, and I will bite your horse,” and Morpheus replies, “I am a bird of prey, and I will tear you with my claws.” Like many of the show’s elements, it attempts to dissect the nature and importance of storytelling, but on screen it comes across as children playing make-believe.

Yeah, it’s all pretty silly (this is a show where Patton Oswalt voices a bird, after all). This is generally the problem with adapting comics, especially in the booming fantasy genre; while something may feel natural on the page, it becomes entirely too self-serious, awkward or ridiculous when brought to life with real actors. Lines like “Tonight, humanity will sleep in peace,” or “You dare suggest one that I might need your companionship,” are delivered with such earnest conviction that the show often feels childish, despite its fraught with profanity, nudity, blood and disturbing images.


However, that imagery is a real saving grace. Visibly expensive and lavishly produced, The Sandman mostly looks incredible, with imaginative CGI that seamlessly blends into beautiful set and costume designs. While there are far too many shots of characters walking (at a slow pace, from probably miles away) towards massive buildings, these structures look fantastic and the environments that were developed for each setting are lovingly detailed. Director Jamie Childs covers the best episodes of the series, overseeing what was likely an army of crew members to create a visually stunning universe. His episode in Hell, the fourth in the series, is a pinnacle of dark, creative imagination.

David Thewlis, Diner and Sandman: 24/7

It helps that the fourth episode is followed by a true masterpiece of television, and one that many fans of The Sandman comics fingers crossed. Fifth episode, a kind of self-titled bottle movie 24/7, occurs almost entirely within an all-night diner with a sparse cast of seven. While certainly not as affecting and disturbing as the comics, the episode is a perfectly directed slow-burn, a philosophical nightmare that stands out from the rest of the show.


Related: The Sandman Cast: Other Roles You’ve Seen the Actors Play

One of the main reasons why the one-two punch of episodes four and five is so impressive is David Thewlis, a fantastic actor who elevates everything he’s in (Naked, Fargo, an inspector calls). These are the episodes where he is most prominent and it is clear how crucial he is to their success. He plays John, the man now in possession of Morpheus’ ruby, which he now uses to remove all lies (or dreams) from the world. The episode escalates into a whirlwind of suspense and terror, culminating in some harsh philosophical truths that echo what David Byrne writes in The new sins — “We don’t want honesty, we want better fictions.”

Unfortunately, even though that episode ends in what looks like a global disaster, the show simply resets for its next (and worst) episode, and the remaining run time of The Sandman is something of a blow. The last few episodes pick up the tension and can be quite funny, but overall forgettable.

The Unadaptable Sandman on Netflix Works For Fans

The Sandman was considered one of the unadaptable texts for arguably good reason, with storylines that jump across centuries, focus on broad casts of characters, blur linear narratives, and deal with themes that are intellectually stimulating but unsustainable in practice. The new series, developed by Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg, does an admirable job of trying to piece together The Sandman comics that trust Preludes & Nocturnes and The dollhouse stories to piece together a coherent narrative, but it simply lacks the thought-provoking, disturbing and poignant elements of its source material.

This is not to say that The Sandman is a terrible show. It’s visually brilliant and brings several fantastic characters to life thanks to some excellent direction and design choices. Serious fans of the comics will likely enjoy it a lot and experience the rush of seeing familiar scenarios brought to life. However, they have the advantage of foreknowledge; if you go in The Sandman blind, it can feel like a tangled mess of roots Twilight knock-offs and late 90s goth movies. Therefore, The Sandman almost succeeds in dreaming up what readers have already imagined for more than 25 years, but also fails to let new audiences dream.

All 10 episodes of the sandman, produced by PurePop Inc., The Blank Corporation, Phantom Four, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television, streaming on Netflix now.

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