The long-awaited adaptation to Neil Gaiman's magnum opus The Sandman has, at last, come to the screen via Netflix and most fans couldn't be happier. The first 10 episodes dropped on August 5th and comic aficionados have largely welcomed the revised version offered by executive producers Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and showrunner Alan Heinberg, with its current Rotten Tomatoes rating at 86%.
There's a lot to take in during the initial dip into Gaiman's vast world of dreams and mythology, including stellar cast members, expanded roles for formerly supporting characters, breathtaking cinematography, and potentially controversial tweaking of certain story arcs.
The casting of Dream was one of the most nervous anticipations for most Sandman fans, as it was difficult to envision an actor who could properly emote the subtle nuances of Gaiman's notoriously aloof and often detached cosmic entity. Some time back it was going to be Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and James McAvoy was posed as a possibility after his work on the Audible adaptations.
Yet it was Sturridge, mostly known for his stellar theater work, who won the role after Gaiman and producers pored over thousands of auditions. Sturridge amazingly brings a complex and multi-layered authenticity to a demanding role requiring austerity, vulnerability, and a pervasive sense of omniscience.
Matthew the Raven does play a significant role in the original literature, but the Netflix adaptation dramatically expands his presence throughout story arcs that previously didn't involve him at all. It's a wise choice on the creative team's part, upping the screen time of the frequently smarmy yet genuinely concerned raven, his all-too-human nature providing a grounding balance and a sparring partner to the Lord of Dream's haughty demeanor.
With the help of Patton Oswalt's natural voiceover talents and command of comedic timing, Matthew offers a brief, humanistic respite, much as he does in the comic book storylines, among perilous, world-ending circumstances and altogether too many life-and-death situations.
One of the primary issues over the years in getting a live-action version of The Sandman adapted to either cinema or television has always been the unquestionable cost and technological abilities in rendering a faithful version of Gaiman's wildly colorful world. Gods, creatures, sci-fi fantasy settings, and any number of mystical events, powers, and happenings had to be appropriately fashioned and augmented by the best CGI minds and methods available to storyboard artists and cinematographers.
Luckily for fans, Netflix didn't skimp or cut corners, reportedly spending nearly 15 million per episode to offer some of The Sandman's best artistic visions including dream vortexes, Lucifer's wings, the denizens of Hell, and the varied aspects of the Dreaming itself.
Expanding the Corinthian storyline to provide Morpheus with a compelling adversary in the second half of season one of The Sandman seemed like a good choice, given the live-action need for a more hands-on and less existential danger to present to casual Sandman audiences.
While it works in many ways, providing suspense and certain segments of story progression, and Boyd Holbrook certainly delivers an excellent and charismatic portrayal of the wayward nightmare, the deviation from the source material in the Corinthian becoming directly involved in Jed Walker's life to use him as a bartering chip in convincing dream vortex Rose Walker to take over the Dreaming falls a bit flat and muddles some of the climactic aspects of the 'cereal convention.' Fans can anticipate his character's return in The Kindly Ones story arc in later seasons.
Though some Twitter trolls seem to be taking issue with a gender tweak on the traditionally male-portrayed character of everybody's favorite fallen angel, the actress best known for her role as Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones has manifested a shockingly captivating depiction of the devil.
Amidst a gorgeously CGI-rendered portrait of Hell and its varied demon lords, Christie brings a menacing, simmering malice to Lucifer Morningstar and its disdain for the Lord of Dreams. Sturridge and Christie play off each other beautifully, implying an ongoing rivalry and setting up the stakes for a future Season of Mists story arc, often considered one of The Sandman's crowning achievements.
In a departure tweak from the source material, one of the three major Dreaming arcana which had gone missing while Dream was imprisoned by Roderick Burgess deviated from the literature. One was the Corinthian, another Fiddler's Green, and the last Brute and Glob, a couple of nightmare-type monsters who set up Hector Hall, Lyta Hall's hubby, as a faux kind of 'Sandman' for their interests.
In the Netflix adaptation, an entirely different nightmare named Gault does the same to Rose Walker's younger brother Jed. However, it's for an entirely different reason as Gault simply wants to be a dream rather than a nightmare. Her story arc ultimately shows a more gentle side of Morpheus, when he resurrects her as the dream she always wanted to be, offering humans hope rather than fear.
Dream's sibling Desire needed perfect casting in the adaptation, as the scheming and deviant cosmic entity provides much of the entire Sandman story's adversity. In the books, they're constantly trying to discover ways to make their older brother Dream shed family blood, thus bringing him down for good.
In the first season of The Sandman, they attempt to do this by raping Unity Kincaid during her sleeping sickness, thus becoming Rose Walker's great-grandmother, knowing Dream would traditionally have to kill any dream vortexes. Mason Alexander Park brings a virtually flawless portrayal of the narcissistic and calculating younger sibling. They will continue to harass Dream with their machinations throughout the series.
Neil Gaiman has already discussed at length through interviews and tweets that increased diversity was always part of his plan in adapting The Sandman to screens. Back in his writing heyday, he drew directly from lore-specific archetypes to populate his series with accurate homages to the sources he was incorporating.
The need to offer more inclusive portrayals of originally white or male characters was something he wanted to address forthwith and in season one it's wonderfully omnipresent, from the gender and racially tweaked versions of iconic characters Lucien, Rose Walker, Cain and Abel, Lucifer, and Death herself, much to the chagrin of misguided Twitter trolls.
The initial howling from the social media peanut gallery about the cosmetic changes to Gaiman's most popular Endless sibling other than Morpheus has proven to be wildly unfounded. Despite comic purists' misgivings, Kirby Howell-Baptiste brings Dream's older sister to life with astounding grace and tongue-in-cheek humor, little different than Death as portrayed on the page and, in some cinematic fashions, perhaps more superior.
The first half of The Sandman season one is full of fantastic referential storylines ripped straight from the books but none finer and in the proper spirit as episode six's 'The Sound of Her Wings,' wherein Death takes her younger brother to task and offers him the solace and wisdom for which she is known.
One of the more pleasant surprises of the revised source material certainly has been the replacement of John Constantine in the Preludes and Nocturnes story arc with his ancestor Johanna Constantine. While Johanna, strikingly played by Jenna Coleman, is part of the comic book's lexicon, showing up in the narrative via a couple of one-off appearances set in the distant past of Europe, it's traditionally John who helps Morpheus retrieve his bag of sand.
The gender flip proved to be a valuable character investment as Coleman delivers a riveting performance as a tormented exorcist who's long-lived much in the same manner as Mad Hettie and Hob Gadling. Fans on Twitter immediately called for a spinoff and Gaiman himself enthusiastically concurred.