To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘The Sandman’ is a dreamlike and faithful adaptation

­­“The Sandman,” based on the successful comic of the same name, is an enjoyably dark and mind-bending TV series that does not shy away from the more strange aspects of its source material, and in fact, embraces them, with some shots pulling directly from comic book panels and many of the more disturbing scenes still shown in all their gory glory.

Written by Neil Gaiman—known for “American Gods” and “Coraline”—the hit “Sandman” comic series was one of the most influential comics of its day. The series was created at a pivotal time in DC Comics history. The Comics Code Authority had recently stopped censoring most comics to make them more child friendly and the industry was beginning to experiment once again. Gaiman created something so eerie, unique and surreal that it would inspire the creation of the DC Vertigo label as a place for stories that are too dark and strange for standard DC Comics. “The Sandman” show cannot be a trailblazer in the same way the original comic was, but that does not stop it from being just as enjoyable.

“The Sandman” follows Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), the Lord of Dreams and physical embodiment of dreaming, who creates and molds all the dreams for all creatures. The story begins after he is captured and imprisoned by humans hoping to capture his older sister, the physical embodiment of Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Eventually, he escapes from his imprisonment and returns to his kingdom to find his realm in ruins with only his librarian Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) remaining. He soon begins a journey to recover his stolen power and fix a world broken by his absence. Netflix’s adaptation of Gaiman’s original comic closely follows the source material and manages to take a story perfectly adapted to the comic book medium and translate it very admirably onto the screen. Sturridge does an excellent job of portraying the slightly aloof, bordering on emo and duty-driven Morpheus, while a cast of famous actors like Patton Oswalt, Mark Hamill and Jenna Coleman fill out the supporting and recurring roles.

The changes made to the story between the comic and screen are either for the best or so small that only die-hard fans will notice the difference. The adaptation removed most references to other parts of the DC mythos and several minor story beats and characters. The resulting show is tightly focused and surprisingly well made. The locations are beautiful and surreal, the special effects are excellent (the Netflix budget is on full display) and the acting is exactly what you would expect from a big-name show on Netflix. Characters like Lucienne, Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) and John Dee (David Thewlis), antagonists of the series, visibly appear different from their comic iterations, yet the characters themselves remain fully intact and act exactly as fans of the comic would hope. In fact, Morpheus himself, who has very little character growth in the comics, now has a character arc woven throughout the show that still somehow manages to feel in-character and natural.

In Gaiman’s signature style, the concepts presented in the series are strange and mostly rooted in the supernatural. But as with so much of Gaiman’s work, it is also believable, grand in scale and genuinely intriguing. The world he creates is not so random and bizarre that anything could happen, but it certainly is strange enough to keep you on your toes. A crow (that the show insists on calling a raven) voiced by Patton Oswalt? Sure. Real demonic possession requiring an exorcism? Why not? The personification of the idea of Cain and Abel with a pet gargoyle? Of course. It all somehow makes sense within the confines of the elaborate world Neil Gaiman creates.

This is not to say the show is without issues, but they are minor and mostly don’t distract from the otherwise pretty great show. Small things like an unimaginably generic speech from Patton Oswalt’s character during what is otherwise a very cinematic scene feels forced and ruins some of the gravitas of the scene. Excellent effects like the bright starry eyes Morpheus is known for in the comics are used once (to great effect) and then never again, despite iconic scenes that would have benefited from it. The beautiful sweeping scenery shots that are featured several times in the early episodes begin to taper off as the series goes on, and some that remain towards the end start to feel barren and lifeless. 

“The Sandman” is a genuinely intriguing and enjoyable series that feels just as unique and compelling as its source material. Between an excellent cast, striking visuals and some nearly haunting scenes, this show is worth watching if you are ever in the mood for something psychedelic and a little on the dark side.

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