As the long-awaited adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comes calling to conjure our dreams before dawn, who knows what awaits those who consider themselves immune to his advances?
Only time will tell as show runner Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman), creator Neil Gaiman (American Gods) and DC wunderkind David S. Goyer (Foundation) bring their vision to Netflix from 5 August.
First published between 1989 and 1996, the comic series is considered one of the greatest of the medium, and screen adaptations have been mooted since the late 1990s. It was first going to be a movie before a deal was struck with Netflix in 2019 to turn it into a series, after years of trying to get this ambitious tale off the ground.
Thankfully, it was worth the wait as the finished product matches up to the source material. It’s a cavalcade of visual splendour, audacious imagery and spellbinding storytelling that will convince audiences that dreams do come true, as they are taken on a journey through time and space which encompasses every element of human behaviour.
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The Sandman series introduces audiences to anthropomorphised god Dream (Tom Sturridge): an omnipotent purveyor of unconscious expectations.
Imprisoned by Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), an advocate of real-world Satanist Aleister Crowley, Dream is forced to bide his time for a century until time and tide see him set free. Stripped of his vestments and ornaments of office, he must go in search of three items to redress the wrongs which have been wrought on the mortal world during his incarceration.
This undertaking sees him encounter The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), John Dee (David Thewlis) and Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) amongst others.
For those unfamiliar with the folklore of this legendary title there is no need to fret. Allan Heinberg and his collaboration with The Sandman creator proves to be fruitful, as elements of this cavernous tale are unpacked over a ten-hour period.
Featuring biblical characters including Cain (Sanjeev Baskar) and Abel (Asim Chaudry), alongside DC alumni Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), this story remains rich with possibilities which rarely diminish.
As audiences delve deeper into this tale it morphs into many things, encompassing the various facets of human behaviour from wide-eyed wonder through to unfettered self-interest.
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It’s a transformation which directly affects others over time, as it becomes apparent that Dream wields much more power than his helm, ruby and sand may suggest. It’s a power which influences not just every unconscious ambition people may have, but also guards against emotional avarice to maintain a balance.
Watch a trailer for The Sandman
From the pits of Hell and an overly accommodating Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie) to the ever constant guidance of dream world custodian Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong), this rich tapestry of human evolution keeps expanding.
After an opening episode which sets down the foundations of its story, The Sandman takes time to gain momentum. Using every minute of its screen time to maximum affect, making this world an absorbing place to explore.
Tom Sturridge is the bedrock around which this series revolves and his involvement remains crucial throughout. He manages to convey the infinite source of influence which defines Dream, but also adds shades to his persona that imply such gifts come with their own price attached. Much like Damon Lindelof’s take on Watchmen, this Sandman adaptation is close to perfection.
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In adapting comic book volumes Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House into season one, Netflix has laid the foundations for a franchise.
This ten hour warm up gets newbies familiar with the landscape of The Sandman, allowing characters to come and go leaving their mark on imaginations, while granting this story additional layers as they pass by.
The Corinthian is one such character who is woven from dreams and personifies nightmares, consuming our capacity for hope and forever feeding on our desires. His unique disfigurement making him a grotesque creation for mockery, if it were not for the actor beneath the facade. Boyd Halbrook fulfils that creative need alongside Tom Sturridge and Mason Alexander Park’s embodiment of Desire, to give this world substance.
Other characters may offer fleeting moments of levity before Dream strips them of his gifts, but The Corinthian exists beyond the endless, walking amongst mortals seeking to overthrow an old world order.
Aided and abetted by members of the Burgess clan, this clandestine attack on Morpheus defines episode five through random acts of savagery. Conscience free and unshackled from the confines of social convention, this is what happens when humans go native.
However, none of these elements would come together if the production design, composition and cinematography failed to deliver – which thankfully it does in abundance.
Conjuring a world of wonder in his hands, series designer Jon Gary Steele (Outlander) weaves visual effects and real-world locations into a cohesive whole. An achievement which is bolstered further by composer David Buckley (The Lincoln Lawyer), who perfectly mixes tone and time period to inject this Sandman universe with some genuine emotion.
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This long-awaited adaptation of Gaiman’s seminal work proves that given the right concoction of creative influences, any works of imagination can be pulled off the page and brought to life on screen.
The Sandman is streaming on Netflix now.