The personification of the dream concept is accidentally trapped in the human world. Decades later, he will have to rebuild his kingdom and restore balance to the world, meeting an army of interesting characters along the way.
This is one of the most faithful comic book adaptations I have ever seen. Of course, I do not mean who he looks like, because firstly, Neil Gaiman’s stories have been drawn over the years by many people, with very different styles, and secondly, it is not the form, as the author himself says, that is important here, but the broader concepts behind it . So death now has a different skin color, Librarian Lucienne has changed his appearance to just about everything he can, and Constantine looks like Jenna Coleman here. The girl is pleasing to the eye and character, but this is one change that I sincerely regret, because I like Matt Ryan in this role (also Edward Kenway’s voice in “AC Black Flag”). Coming back to the topic, the fidelity to the comic is visible in how the subsequent episodes are cut. Certain things had to be adapted for TV, of course, a little liquid, something to connect there so that the story could fit neatly within the specified time limit, but in general, watching today’s series as comic book fans, we feel at home all the time, we recognize places, characters, events. I think it is both an advantage and a disadvantage of “Sandman”.
Sandman (2022) – review of the series [Netflix]. Two stories
The show’s makers Allan Heinberg, Neil Gaiman and David Goyer essentially give us two seasons in one. The first five episodes are the story I mentioned in the introduction. Sen (Tom Sturridge) is imprisoned by a mage (Charles Dance) and sits locked in a glass cage for decades. His artifacts are handed out / stolen / stolen, so we pass the next episodes on traveling from place to place with Sandman and his new bird, Matthew (Patton Oswald) and successive recovery of lost items. Then, in Episode 6, we get a rather standalone story, and then we follow the story of a dream-threatening vortex until the end of the season.
How do the creators connect these two larger stories? Well … Not at all. Just one adventure ends and the next begins. There are completely new characters on stage, with whom we spend even more time than with the title character. It’s actually more about a girl looking for her little brother than about Sandman, and while it has its moments, it is ultimately less engaging than the first half of the season. Characters as expressive as John Dee are also missing. David Thewlis is simply flawless in this role. By far the strongest, best-played character in the entire series – dark, but also sad, ruthless, but in a way fair – and Thewlis plays him in such a way that you can never be sure what he will do next.
Tom Sturridge has been a mess ever since he took the role of Dream. The comic book version is inhuman, like a combination of the classic image of Death and Edward Nożycoręki, with an admixture of Gaiman himself. Probably it could be done in a similar way and in the series, but I’m not sure if it would work in the mobile version. So the series Dream is a bit of an emo edge-lord, avoiding tensing the facial muscles, giving the text in a rather haughty, sleepy, omniscient way. It makes a rather positive impression, although sometimes it can also look quite funny, which was probably not the intention of the creators. With subsequent episodes, its character begins to slowly change, due to the fact that it encounters more colorful characters on its way.
Sandman (2022) – review of the series [Netflix]. Beautiful sets and a bit too many characters on them
However, not all of the creators’ casting decisions were as good for me. The strangest thing is Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer (again – they had a decent actor on his own show, why not use him?). The mere fact that Lucek is now Lucyna does not bother me in the slightest degree. I just don’t like the way Christie plays this character. She gives the impression that she is trying too hard to do well, as if she is fully consciously making every move, every gesture. There is no naturalness in it – we are not talking about human figures, so maybe that was the intention of the creators, I don’t know, but it does not translate well into the language of cinema.
A potential problem, at least for those unfamiliar with the comic book, may be the sheer number of side characters. Apart from people, there are also Dream siblings, dreams and nightmares created by him (also personified), biblical characters. There are just a lot of them, of which probably about half fall into literally one episode, and then disappear forever. On the other hand, we have characters who are asking for more screen time, like The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), an intriguing and formidable character, but you want more than what we got.
The series usually very clearly separates reality from dream, enveloping the main character’s domain in fog and shooting everything a bit indistinctly. Scenes taking place outside of sleep are, so to speak, rather standard, which only allows to emphasize more clearly the unnatural character of dreaming, which can even cause slight discomfort. Of course, not only Dream can shape reality, so also episodes such as the almost perfect “24/7” overwhelm with the camera work, the play of lights, and music. In fact, the whole series is dripping with climate and in terms of the set design, I was not bought by only some, rather single shots of Hell. They looked a bit artificial.
Given the nature of the series, it should be obvious that there are plenty of visuals in it. Most are decent, and they also make a purely conceptual impression, such as when the demon was revealed in the episode with Constantine. Sometimes, however, it is hard not to get the impression that the artists took shortcuts in several places. The library, managed by Lucienne, gets a beautiful aerial presentation at the very beginning of the series. This may not be the most important thing in the entire series, but it struck me how flat all these books are, how unlike wood the shelves themselves are. And everything looks the same, and therefore artificial. That said, the CGI as a whole makes a positive impression – the Corinthian’s eyes are certainly more compelling than Doctor Strange’s third eye.
The name of Constantine can be associated with the character played by Keanu Reeves in the 2005 film and the same character in the version of the aforementioned Matt Ryan from his own quick-beat series and guest appearances in “Legends of Tomorrow”. And rightly so, because it’s a different version of the same character. Is Netflix Sandman part of the DCEU then? Well no. Gaiman decided to throw the more superhero characters out of history, basing primarily on his own mythology. Constantine is ok as a demon fighter, but a Martian Manhunter like that would fit like a fist in his nose, so he was cut out of the plot. It’s a pity, but on the other hand, not everything nowadays has to be combined with everything else, especially if it would spoil the production climate.
Sandman is a great adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comics, although it will not be good news for everyone. The creators did their homework from the source material, thanks to which the series looks and sounds very good. The actors have a lot of fun with their roles, although not all performances are as perfect as that of David Thewlis. Telling two separate stories within one season was a risky move, and in my opinion it didn’t quite work out. You can clearly feel that the second half of the season is weaker than the first. It’s still a piece of solid television, but when a series starts great and only ends okay, not the other way around, it leaves a bit of a hunger for it. Now, let Red N not accidentally delete it after one season, because it is definitely one of the most valuable productions in their production.