The Sandman is one of those intellectual properties that have hovered around the periphery of Hollywood since its inception in 1989. Comic book adaptations have been a dime-a-dozen for the past two decades but Sandman always presented a unique problem. It's really emo and weird, and add to that the fact that it shares almost none of the tropes that comic book storytelling is beset by. This resulted in many production houses and directors taking on the project only for it to languish in limbo between pre-production and execution.
Written by Neil Gaiman, widely believed to be the best Edgar Allan Poe reboot of contemporary times, the stories of Sandman have more in common with haunting short story anthologies than it does your average comic book arcs. Gaiman's stories from the Sandman are mostly allegories about human nature and ruminates quite a bit on existential dilemmas that make up the core of its main pantheon of characters.
The Sandman is about Morpheus (also called Dream), the lord of dreams, who gets captured by an amatuer magician and imprisoned for a century, during which millions of people across the world fall into comas. The first season of the Sandman charts Morpheus's return to the dreaming (his kingdom) and restoring things back to the way they were before he was trapped.
The series manages to fit and finish a lot of subplots within the ten episodes of the season and translates some of the most iconic panels and dialogues from Gaiman's original work. The pilot episode in particular recreates some of the most iconic moments of Sandman frame for frame.
Tom Sturridge fits the mould of Morpheus so well, that he needn't even speak for the audience to accept that this is an eldritch god inexorably linked to the fate of all humans. The casting of the supporting characters is an excellent example of integrating diversity into a pre-existing property without compromising the integrity and the effect of the overarching narrative.
With the notable exception of Death (Morpheus's older sister) all of the race switching and gender bending works in the story's favour. It provides novelty for long time fans and is inclusive enough for newcomers.
Death just doesn't exhibit the happy, bubbly and cheerful exuberance of the character from the comic books, this affects the story because she is supposed to be the exact emotional counterpoint of the guarded, brooding and lonely Dream.
Johanna Constantine on the other hand excels as a character because she embodies the cynical exorcist's essence so completely that the fact that she is a woman in the series, unlike the comic books, actually adds another dimension to her dynamic with the regent of the dreaming.
Neil Gaiman's expertise and influence over his adaptations has been steadily growing as more of the author's work receives the silver screen treatment. 'American Gods' was good and 'Good Omens' was absolutely great. The Sandman falls somewhere squarely in between those two in terms of both entertainment and engagement.
Through his various appearances on press junkets for his latest project, Gaiman has often used the term 'translation' instead of 'adaptation' to talk about episodes and story arcs. This clearly outlines his own approach to reshaping a story to fit a cinematic frame.
Gaiman and the writer's room of The Sandman understand what aspects need to be fine tuned for a successful and engaging translation from one medium to another. Case in point, the show does away with Dream's narration and inner monologue as much as it can in favour of showing (not telling) all of the protagonist's emotional nuance.
The one thing the show fails at, is capturing the sheer visual, psychedelic, absurdity that set the original comic book apart from its contemporaries back in the early nineties. This can easily be fixed by a bigger budget for VFX which seems in the offing as The Sandman has received enough attention for it to warrant a second season.
Some story arcs have been reduced and folded in between the grander narrative of the first season and as such loses a lot of its emotional impact, specifically the plot where Dream asks Death to spare a single human soul so that he may know what it is like to have a friend.
Neil Gaiman is poised to become this generation's Tim Burton and his pedigree is only increasing as more people realise that his stories work better as long form television as opposed to movies.
If you were a goth kid in highschool, or have ever uttered the words "this isn't a phase, this is who I am, mother" will probably find the protagonist compelling and the plot intriguing.
All others should at least give the pilot episode a try to see if it is your cup of tea or at very least realise that the MCU isn't the only type of good storytelling that can come out of comic book translations.
The Sandman is streaming on Netflix and was the No. 1 position on the streamer's top 10 rankings during the Aug. 1-7 viewing window.