Izzie Corley, Contributing Writer
When I first saw the promotional photos for Netflix’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” I was frankly disappointed. The titular character, known as Morpheus or Dream of The Endless, looked very different from the way I remembered him when I read the comics in high school. He looked less like a ghostly trad-goth with inky black eyes and more like Edward Cullen. Dream is the linchpin that holds together the expansive, meandering plot of this 90s DC cult classic and I was worried that if they couldn’t get his looks right, not much else would be right, either. I’m glad I didn’t trust my initial disappointment. The introductory sequence alone, with colorful wide shots of the dream world that Morpheus rules, had me thrilled to revisit this brilliant, morbid fantasy. Just as soon as Tom Sturridge spoke as Dream, I melted. What Sturridge’s appearance lacked in convincing me that he was the protagonist, he more than accounted for it with his acting.
It seems the showrunners avoided overusing CGI effects on characters, possibly to avoid making everything look fake. Another major change was scrubbing every reference to the DC universe from the show. The writers used these changes to their advantage, as an opportunity to refine, improve and even modernize certain elements. One good example is the antagonist, John Dee, who originally appears as a zombie-like monster, and in the show simply looks like David Thewlis in pajamas, which was undoubtedly easier to make for live-action TV. The original Dee was an Arkham Asylum escapee whose primary motivation was watching the world burn, but Thewlis instills a more engaging pathos to the character, playing a traumatized manchild using a god’s artifact to impose his childlike naiveté onto humanity.
The climax of Dee’s plotline, “24/7,” is one of my favorites. A cast of new characters are introduced here, and typically for “Sandman,” you become deeply connected with them just to soon watch them suffer. This episode, like many of the others, is paced slower than the average superhero story. It is a drawn-out exploration in crushing suspense, a series of gut punches as one worst case scenario after another is foreshadowed and then fulfilled. I felt like I couldn’t breathe the entire time. It was incredible.
“24/7” is just one example of Sandman bringing out emotion in me. Just as David Thewlis gave me a series of heart attacks, Kirby Howell-Baptiste made me cry in her portrayal of Dream’s sympathetic older sister Death. I do not exaggerate when I say I squealed in delight when Stephen Fry moseyed his way onscreen as Gilbert, whose positively whimsical performance was so deliciously contrasted with the gruesome situations in store for him.
This adaptation does a wonderful job translating everything I loved from the comics into a different format. Anyone willing to set aside their desire for exact comic accuracy and relish in the new angles the story is given will be rewarded with over nine hours of a beautiful, terrifying, fascinating experience.