One of the most tortured projects stuck in development hell is The Sandman, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s classic comic. Efforts to adapt The Sandman began in the 1990s, when the comic was not only a hit, but also reshaping the look and feel of comics. Along with comics like Watchmen, Preacher, and The Killing Joke, The Sandman had a massive impact on the art direction and depth of storytelling in comic books through the late 1990s and 2000s, which in turn influences how the movies look today. Gaiman was a fan of Terry Gilliam directing a Sandman film, though there was never any development in that direction, and at one point, David Goyer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were going to make it into a movie. James Mangold pitched a series idea to HBO, but in the end, Warner Brothers, who owns the rights by way of DC’s Vertigo imprint, partnered with Netflix to make a series.
Good—The Sandman should be a show. It’s too big to work as a movie, even as a franchise. Simpler comics, like superhero stories which are all variations on adventure quests, work well as movies, but The Sandman is dense and lore heavy. Of all the shows that are trying to be “the next Game of Thrones”, The Sandman might actually be it because 1) they’re not trying to be, and 2) it has that combination of personal family drama and magic that drew people to Thrones. (It also has Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance, playing the idiot who starts all the conflict.) Wheel of Time fans got SUPER mad at me for making jokes about the show and doubting its potential, but high fantasy is a hard sell to general audiences. It needs a hook to cross over from its niche fandom and into the mainstream. Lord of the Rings did it by virtue of scale and spectacle at a time when those things were not universal standard for filmmaking, Thrones did it with political intrigue + magic + sex, which is also the formula of The Witcher.
The Sandman has family drama and magic, and Patton Oswalt voicing a magical raven. It has the “let’s see how this finally turned out” meta context from its years in development hell. And it has maybe the best hook fantasy can hope for: it’s our world, just slightly to the left. People f-cking LOVE that hook. It’s a big reason superhero stuff hit the way it did, and it’s a huge part of Harry Potter’s appeal, too. If it feels like we can participate in it, the fantastical elements become more tangible and relatable to general audiences. Even Game of Thrones, set entirely in a fantasy world, borrows heavily from medieval European history for its visual cues and references, allowing us to understand the story as a kind of alternate never-past.
The Sandman, though, it just our world, but one that touches mythic realms of Death and Dreaming. And it has Tom Sturridge looking very odd and menacing as Dream, trapped in his cell. The image of Dream is one of the most iconic of late-century comics. They didn’t go for total fidelity with Sturridge, but I LOVE the look anyway. It’s unsettling, recognizably human but also Other. And the face he is serving, the anger he’s communicating, it’s PERFECT. We have waited so long for The Sandman, and they might have gotten it right.
Attached – Tom Sturridge with Sienna Miller at the Tony Awards on Sunday.