The Sandman: Like most dreams, forgettable
After decades in development hell, by Neil Gaiman “unfilmable“masterpiece, The sand man, finally hit the small screen as an 11-episode TV series on Netflix. The sand man is an ultra-faithful adaptation of Gaiman’s evocative, cerebral and critically acclaimed The sand man comic book series beginning in 1989. Under Gaiman’s direction as executive producer and writer, the series is a close replica, regurgitating precisely what’s on the comic book page. Still, the series suffers from its loyalty, as it takes few creative liberties when it should feel free to rework Gaiman’s original words. With all its consistencies, The sand man lacks a pulse, as his writing mirrors the lean pace of the comic.
The show immediately immerses you in the trenches of a complex but fascinating world. Dream is one of Seven Endless Siblings, powerful non-human creatures, which also include Desire, Death, and Despair. After Dream has been captured for 106 years, he sets out to restore his kingdom, the Dreaming, which has fallen into chaos during his absence.
Netflix promised to deliver a sprawling universe that legitimately serves the comic books justice, and it’s a promise they almost manage to keep. First, the goth production of the comics translates beautifully to the screen; each exceptional cast member, including Tom Sturridge like Dream, Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer (The Sandman version of the devil), and Kirby Howell-Baptiste like Death all give nuanced and powerful performances. The cast is also more diverse than the comics, which adds to the series’ appeal.
The show’s finest hour comes in episode six, “The Sound of Her Wings,” which shoots from two of the The Sandman the most beloved, carrying and enduring numbers: “The sound of his wing” and “Men of good fortune”. Dream joins her sister, Death, as she accompanies the deceased into the afterlife. Here, Death encourages Dream to visit an old friend: Hob Gadling. A series of flashbacks ensue, and Dream and his sister grant Hob immortality; Dream and Hob continue to meet on the same night in the same pub every 100 years.
The episode demonstrates that The sand man works best as an anthology, as its themes of the ever-changing and often chaotic nature of humanity shouldn’t feel confined to the confines of an overarching serialized arc. Unfortunately, The sand man always shoehorns a series-wide plot in its standalone episodes.
Adapted from The Sandman Volume Two “The Doll House”, episodes seven through ten are much more serialized than their predecessors. Following Rose Walker, a woman with a unique relationship to the Dreaming, these episodes have an entirely different arc from Episodes 1-6, which are adapted from Volume One, Preludes & Nocturnes, which follows Dream as he attempts to find lost items of Power. The decision to merge the two volumes into one season is a bold move, one that is likely to come as a shock to any casual viewer with no knowledge of the comics. In the end, this merging of volumes is a failure, due to the lack of preparation of the stories of new characters and the development of undeserved characters.
Whatever its plot, The sand man brings little to the table, and it’s disappointing for fans who thought the series could explore more of Gaiman’s world or, at least, fill in its gaps. An adaptation of Gaiman’s complex, intertwined tale has always been a far-fetched fantasy, a dream that staggered and stumbled on the small screen. Like most dreams, we tend to forget it.