‘Sandman’ will not put viewers to sleep
It would be rather obvious to point out that comic book adaptations have taken over the cultural zeitgeist in recent years. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be a cinematic achievement beyond anyone’s expectations. DC Comics has attempted to catch up with Marvel’s success with adaptations with mixed results. As a longtime fan of comic books, I have been thrilled to see characters and stories that I love being brought to life with such care and faithfulness and from people who really care about getting the source material right.
Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” is considered by many, myself included, to be one of the greatest comic books of all time. It’s a tour de force in how to tell a story in comics and is a poignant exploration of storytelling itself. Gaiman’s adaptations always seem hit or miss for me, with some like “Coraline” being excellent adaptations of the source material, but others like “American Gods” leaving me cold, despite bringing some of the magic that makes that novel good. Gaiman once said that he would rather have no “Sandman” adaptation at all than a bad Sandman adaptation. I am happy to say that if I were Gaiman and watching “The Sandman,” I would be in tears because this is the best Gaiman adaptation that I have ever seen.
I was a bit hesitant to try out the adaptation of “The Sandman,” as I wasn’t sure how the showrunners were going to pull off something like that. It’s a story that’s majestic, fanciful, funny, scary, and even sometimes moving. It’s a story that takes a serious amount of thought to make it work since it often branches off into other weird side stories. But by the first time I started watching it, I was blown away. I was entranced by the acting, I was in awe of the special effects, I was impressed by the storytelling, and I was constantly surprised by the new angles that this series introduced.
“The Sandman” is an extremely faithful adaptation of the source material, down to the point where they’re riffing dialogue and moments straight from the comics. It manages to accomplish the impossible by capturing everything that makes the comic so great, such as its bizarre, imaginative visuals, great storytelling, and evocative atmosphere. With that being said, the showrunners do make changes from the comic that are necessary and complement the tone of the series well. We see the iconic villain The Corinthian (as brought to life magnificently by Boyd Holbrook) be given more of an extended role in the series. He proves to be a great foe to Dream (Tom Sturridge), and Holbrook manages to make him charming, sexy, and terrifying at the same time. I was also impressed with the immense detail of the effects and set design. While the CGI was dodgy at points, I was stunned with the beautiful imagery, particularly with Hell in the fourth episode.
Also, to be noted is the excellent acting. Aside from the phenomenal special effects and atmosphere, we have great actors to compliment the material. None of the performances in this series feel phoned in. We particularly see the talents of Sturridge, Holbrook, and David Thewlis shine in this season. Sturridge makes Dream into the angsty sourpuss that he is in the comics, while also making him sympathetic to the audience. Thewlis, in particular, steals the series as John Dee, who is also known as Doctor Destiny in the original DC comics. He somehow manages to be both sinister and sympathetic at the same time, while also bringing one of the most disturbing moments from the comics to glorious life. We even see Kirby Howell-Baptiste prove everyone wrong as Death. While she isn’t as energetic as the original character, she captures Death’s kindness and compassion beautifully and is a core player in one of the season’s best episodes.
The only issues I have with the show are considerably minor. I was disappointed that they couldn’t secure the rights for John Constantine. Jenna Coleman did a good job as both Johanna Constantines but considering that John Constantine is one of my favorite comic book characters of all time and they have a great actor in Matt Ryan to play the character, I was a bit let down that they didn’t have him for the series. I was also thrown off by the timeline of the series. Dream gets captured in 1916, then is released in 2021. Some of the older characters should either be dead or way older than they already were in the series. The timeline also undercuts the story with Hob Gadling as well since Dream is now 33 years late after his previous meeting with Hob. But those are merely small nitpicks from the numerous praises that I give to this series.
The Sandman’s first season is a masterclass in storytelling, worldbuilding, and atmosphere. I can’t wait to see what season 2 brings, which is currently being written.