This interpretation of Neil Gaiman's famous comics does everything it should.
I'm not a comic book fan as such. Sure, when I got my first iPad I quickly downloaded the DC Comics app and bought a number of Batman comics, but pretty soon that hobby died amidst the course of daily chores. But for some reason, I then became engrossed in The Sandman by the now near-legendary Neil Gaiman, and I ended up buying them physically via sites like Amazon in whole volumes, which I now proudly have on the family bookshelf.
Then, just a little over a year ago, I was able to partially relive this rather unique tale via Amazon's large-scale audio adaptation on Audible, starring James McAvoy as Dream, and Michael Sheen as Satan. The only problem was that, like so many other audio dramas, I found this interpretation both overplayed, dull and downright flawed. Try listening to the excerpts yourself, and I'm sure you'll soon see, or hear, what I mean.
So can Netflix capture Gaiman's eclectic narrative in a traditional 10-episode series? The short answer is yes, and yes with a relatively thick underline, because where Audible's audio adaptation failed to convert The Sandman's multifaceted and sometimes slightly confusing narrative into one coherent story, the Netflix interpretation does just that. Not only is it easier than ever to salivate over one of the more innovative fantasy universes on the market, the accompanying visuals are so visually sumptuous that even the most cynical person will be compelled.
The first season sticks pretty rigidly to the comics in the first place, and that's pretty easy when the first few volumes of the series in particular are relatively cohesive in structure. Dream, or Lord Morpheus, is captured through an advanced spell cast by cult leader Roderick Burgess, and spends nearly 100 years in his basement. Morpheus is the ruler of the world of dreams, and thus millions are haunted by either infinite sleep, or lack thereof. Moreover, Burgess steals Dreams' key tools from him, his helmet, his ruby, and his leather bag of sand. In order to rebuild his kingdom, The Dreaming, he must find the three artefacts, while the nightmares he could once imprison are unleashed upon humanity.
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That's a pretty limited summation of what, in comic book terms, ends up being a pretty wild story, and the point is that The Sandman also ends up encapsulating quite a few individual, separate and distinct stories, making Audible's audio version a relatively messy affair. The Netflix series is far more focused this time around, and the pacing makes light of the more direct, and as a result more confusing, interpretation. This is how you take eclectic source material and find the central thread.
Moreover, The Sandman delivers solid performances across the board, and while it does feature familiar faces like Charles Dance and Gwendoline Christie, most are relative unknowns, which also ends up being a plus. Tom Sturridge in particular is excellent as Morpheus, or Dream, delivering a heavy performance that has enough gravitas and empathy to sustain the viewer through each of the 10 episodes.
However, it ends up being largely the innovative visual design language that defines The Sandman. It was previously considered to be overly expensive to interpret the story, but Netflix has clearly given the people behind it the resources to create a series that never stops coming up with new tricks. Sure, there are a few moments where the CGI effects are below average, such as the mythical beast Gregory appearing somewhat plastic, but overall it's a bit of a surprise that the entire setting is consistently brought to life with plenty of gothic flair and an eye for detail.
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Moreover, David Buckley provides the music, and it is almost one of the series' absolute strongest cards. It's grand, memorable and filled with all the pomp and circumstance one could imagine an interpretation of The Sandman could offer.
That's not to say that all is hunky-dory, and as with both the comics, and the Audible audio edition, not all subplots are equally exciting. Without spoiling too much, Dream's confrontation with Satan in Hell played by Gwendoline Christie is downright brilliant, whereas his encounter with Constantine (this time played by Jenna Coleman) is less successful. Also, some may find the dialogue heavy, self-serving and pompous, but in my opinion it fits the source material quite well, and there are all the quirky twists that have also made the universe a favourite of many.
The Sandman is among the better TV series I've seen so far in 2022, and I feel inclined to say that it's nothing like a requirement to have become acquainted with the source material before you can enjoy this interpretation in a big way. No, it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it does take itself seriously, and at times it's a bit over the top, but most of the time The Sandman is tremendously effectively put together television.