There are a clutch of movies where the story of how the movie got made is actually far more interesting than the movie itself. Tales of Hollywood excess, of tone-deaf producers driving screenwriters and novelists to distraction with their silly ideas and of $200 million dollars being on the table at 1pm, only to disappear by the time the producer had returned from a long liquid lunch.
The story of how the ludicrous development and production of Superman reboot Superman Lives wound up with Nicolas Cage being paid $20 million to ultimately not play Superman is far more entertaining than the eventual reboot Superman Returns proved to be, and there are countless other stories to pick through if you were so inclined.
Right now, Neil Gaiman’s sprawling graphic novel series The Sandman is one of them.
Set in 1916, The Sandman begins with a secret society, led by a magician named Roderick Burgess, who has decided to do the much-tried and never-succeeded task of obtaining immortality by imprisoning Death himself.
Sadly, Burgess mistakenly binds Death's brother Dream instead, and fearing retribution, Burgess keeps Dream imprisoned. Eventually, Dream escapes, and, finding himself in the modern world, sets about avenging those who captured him and rebuilding the kingdom of dreams.
Dream is one of the seven Endless, powerful beings that are older than gods. A son of Night and Time, he and his siblings each represent an aspect of life: Dream, Death, Destiny, Despair, Desire, Delirium and Destruction. As the series winds on, we follow Dream, who most people come to know as Morpheus, throughout time and history on a series of dark adventures.
Originally running for DC Comics for 75 issues, the narrative is gigantic, genre-spanning and beautifully told. It has been showered with awards and has a feverish fanbase, which is very excited about the fact that the story is finally being taken to screen by Netflix.
I count myself fully as one of those fevered with excitement. I devoured every inch of the comics and Audible's excellent adaptation of the story. I've been reading reports about The Sandman being filmed for 20 years now and it’s the key reason I’m still holding onto my Netflix subscription.
So when the first full trailer dropped earlier this week, I was excited to get a first proper look at the show. But, I’ve got to be honest, it made me more worried rather than excited. Maybe Dream should have stayed in his kingdom after all…
Hollywood producers have been trying to make The Sandman for a long time, before Gaiman even finished the series in fact.
After agreeing to a deal with Warner Brothers back in 1991, the first attempt at getting the story on screen came from Pirates of the Caribbean writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Gaiman liked their script, but producer Jon Jon Peters, a man so notorious in Hollywood that an entire book has been written about his misadventure, didn’t, and fired the pair.
Peters then brought in William Farmer, who would later adapt the almighty flop Jonah Hex. His 1998 script reimagined Gaiman’s creation as a slasher movie villain and put him in a race against the turn of the Millennium. Gaiman hated it, he hated it so much that he would later tell fans at the San Diego Comic-Con that it was "not only the worst Sandman script I've ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I've ever read."
After that, various writers and producers came and went, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was attached for a while, while Jack Thorne, who would later go on to adapt His Dark Materials for HBO, and Eric Heisserer, writer of Arrival, both delivered scripts. Nothing ever seemed to happen afterward.
That was until 2019. In June of that year, Netflix announced that it was making The Sandman as a television series, with Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg had been booked to serve as showrunner and Gaiman was on board as producer. Hallelujah.
Netflix seemed like the perfect fit for the show. They were respectful of creators, awash with cash and had done superbly with adult science fiction dramas in the past. But that was in 2019, and Netflix is beginning to feel like quite a different beast. It needs hits, hits that people watch quickly, and The Sandman might take some time to get across to people.
Embrace the darkness…
You should never trust a trailer. Bad films have been teed up by very good trailers, and very good films have been seriously undersold by poor ones, but if this one captures The Sandman’s feel and tone then it’s a long way from the majesty of Gaiman’s comics.
The scale is impressive, and star Tom Sturridge’s transformation into the Lord of Dreams is quite something, but it looks a lot like Doctor Who with a vastly enhanced budget.
From Jenna Coleman’s comedy Mockney accent to the portentous voiceover, the trailer has none of the darkness or swagger of Gaiman’s source material. The Sandman is not a sweeping epic led by a hero who wants to right wrongs, the Lord of Dreams is a cold, self-obsessed, and ultimately tragic figure.
Some of The Sandman is really nasty, horror is a key part of its make-up, and it is very much adults only. There are hints here that Netflix may be eyeing up the same audience that made Shadow and Bone such a big hit. Shadow and Bone is very good, but it is a young adult drama with all the highly-strung angst that comes with that, and The Sandman is a long way from that.
Have some faith…
Neil Gaiman has always been unequivocal that he would rather The Sandman stayed in print forever than a bad adaptation be made and he is a producer on this show as well as being heavily involved in its promotion.
His record on TV adaptations is rather good too, especially the excellent American Gods and Good Omens, so I’ll put my trust in him and keep my fingers crossed that this trailer doesn’t capture the tone and majesty of the series to come.
They say good things come to those who wait, hopefully that’s true for The Sandman too.
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Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…